Junior Joel Stave isn't injured, but he's also not the No. 2 quarterback for Wisconsin right now.
Not a physical issue
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Joel Stave has been throwing a football for much of his life. Thousands of throws throughout his 21 years and yet, right now, he can’t do it the way he wants to. Call it a case of the yips if you want, but the University of Wisconsin quarterback knows something isn’t right.
“Maybe on some level,” Stave said of a possible mental block. “The yips, a golfer who can’t hit it straight and stuff like that.
“I mean I know I can throw the ball. That’s something that since I’ve been a kid, not even just a football, I’ve been good at throwing things. I can throw a baseball. Give me a volleyball (and) I can chuck it across the gym. I’ve been good at throwing things since I’ve been young.
“It’s not a lack of confidence. It’s not a lack of preparation or anything like that. It’s just a matter of getting back to feeling comfortable and feeling like the ball is coming out the way it should.”
That was the word Tuesday night at the end of a day that started with Stave reportedly being injured and ended with him saying he could be ready to play as early as this week against Western Illinois.
“Physically, nothing’s wrong,” Stave said after Tuesday’s practice. “I just haven’t thrown the ball the way I’d like to.
“I’ve thrown how many thousands of balls in my life? I know when it hurts and when it doesn’t. I don’t know what it is. It’s just isn’t right.”
Though there is plenty that we don’t know, here is what we think, for now, that we do.
At 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday, UW sent out a press release that said Stave had been dealing with a shoulder injury for the past couple of weeks and that he’d be shut down to rest it. UW coach Gary Andersen is quoted in the release as saying they weren’t putting a timetable on his return.
Nearly seven hours later, Andersen made an impromptu stop where reporters were standing following practice to clarify the earlier statement, saying the words injury and shutdown were not accurate.
“Is he injured? No. Is he ready to play right now? No,” Andersen said. “I used the word injury, so that may be a bad choice of words.”
The sudden change in prognosis would lead you to believe that Andersen was initially covering for Stave in the event that Tanner McEvoy were to leave a game due to injury or a blowout, and the next quarterback in wouldn't be last year's starter. Reports indicate that somewhere between the press release and Andersen's comments after practice, Stave, who was not supposed to be available for comment, told UW communications officials that he wanted to speak to the media and explain why he was no longer the No. 2 quarterback.
“I think a lot of it is just a matter of, and I don’t know how to change this, but on some level I’m kind of a perfectionist. And I think a lot of quarterbacks are,” Stave said. “This game is so incredibly important to me that when I maybe miss a throw or something like that, then I start to think, ‘Well, what can I do to fix it.’ Sometimes I may tend to overthink things being, I like to think, a fairly intelligent kid who can a lot of times figure stuff out. Sometimes you just tend to overthink things.”
If the issues aren’t physical, then they are largely mental for a guy that has started 19 games over the past two seasons. He lost his battle, surprisingly, to Tanner McEvoy for the starting spot in fall camp.
It’s not clear when his current struggles began, but it’s believed to have been around the time McEvoy was named the starter, which happened about 1 1/2 weeks prior to the game against LSU. UW offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig admitted on Tuesday that Stave hadn't been himself of late. Ludwig was asked if the Greenfield native's recent issues contributed to the decision to go with McEvoy.
“No, what I think it impacted was Joel’s performance, which led us to make the decision we made," said Ludwig, who watched McEvoy go 8 of 24 for 50 yards and two interceptions in the loss to LSU. "And I feel good about that decision, but you’d like to have every man on the roster full-go, so we’re anxious to get Joel back with us."
Stave has continued to practice but is only doing individual drills and 7-on-7 work. He’s not taking part in any 11-on-11 portions of practice and won’t be until he tells the coaching staff he’s ready.
“He needs to get to terms where he feels like, ‘you know what, I’m the quarterback. Let’s roll.’,” Andersen said. “As soon as he comes up to coach Ludwig and myself, away we go. We’re here to try and help him get to that point.”
That he’s at this point is a bit of a surprise. He’s 13-6 as a starter at Wisconsin and appeared poised to start again this season based on what was seen by the media through the first 2 1/2 weeks of fall camp.
A year ago, he threw for more yards (2,494) and touchdown (22) than any sophomore quarterback in UW history, but also tossed 13 interceptions, which was the most by a Badgers’ signal caller since 1997.
A shoulder injury in the Capital One Bowl sidelined him for the winter. When he returned in the spring, he still had pain and was eventually shutdown early in an effort to let him be as healthy as possible when fall camp opened. He started throwing in May and was pain-free by the time the team came back together in June.
He appeared full strength heading into fall camp and looked improved in his footwork and delivery over the past month. That he’s now not even involved in the game-planning portion of the week marks a dramatic fall from starter to off the depth chart.
The timeline in getting to the point where he feels comfortable enough to place himself back in a team situation is murky at best. But it is his decision.
“When Joel feels he can do that, Joel will be right back in that process,” Andersen said.
Right now, it’s McEvoy’s team. Behind him, it’s redshirt sophomore Bart Houston, who would have gone into the game on Saturday night against LSU if the starter had gotten injured. And the No. 3 quarterback is true freshman D.J. Gillins.
“He is unbelievably frustrated,” Andersen said of Stave. “He just needs fight himself through this. We need to support him. My whole goal right now is supporting Joel and helping him get back to a position to be able to play.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin