MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is staying quiet when it comes to his quarterback for Saturday’s season opener against No. 13 LSU, while at least one of his best players says Tanner McEvoy will get the start for the 14th-ranked Badgers.
“At the end of the day, we’re right where we were,” Andersen said Monday. “We’ve got two quarterbacks that I think are going to help this football team throughout the year. And, whoever takes the first snap doesn’t necessarily say he’s going to be the guy for the whole season. We’ve got two kids who want to compete and will continue to compete and that’s where we’re going to stay with it.”
When standout running back Melvin Gordon was asked about the quarterback situation, he said McEvoy would start the first game over incumbent Joel Stave.
“I think Joel’s a great player, people definitely overlook him,” Gordon said. “But, even though Tanner was named the starter, I think Joel will continue to work and wait for his chance.”
He added: “They’re going with Tanner. Obviously I hope Tanner plays well and I wish the best for Tanner and I hope he can lead our team.”
Stave started all 13 games last season, passing for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns, second-most in school history behind Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson. But he also threw 13 interceptions and had a penchant for missing open receivers as the Badgers finished 9-4, including a 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
The more mobile McEvoy, who passed for 1,943 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for 414 yards and six touchdowns at Arizona Western College in 2012, struggled last fall during the Badgers’ quarterback competition. He eventually moved to wide receiver and then safety for the final 10 games, including three starts.
With a full year in the system, however, McEvoy has shown significant improvement, said Andersen, who prefers a versatile quarterback.
“Obviously, we feel like he’s throwing the ball much better to even be in the QB race,” Andersen said. “He would have to be solid and consistent throwing the football. But the biggest thing for Tanner is the growth within the offense.”
Andersen does not equate McEvoy’s lack of playing time at quarterback with lack of experience.
“The one thing I would say is he has played in big-time games,” Andersen said. “He’s been a starter at free safety, which is the quarterback of our defense. He has a lot of alignment issues, it’s very technical back there. There’s a ton of communication that has to take place. So he’s been in that moment. He’s prepared to play in Big Ten games. He’s prepared to play in a bowl game.”
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Badgers will rely heavily on a running game powered by Gordon, who rushed for 1,609 yards last season as a sophomore.
“We want to run the ball first,” Andersen said. “We want to take some shots with our play action. Our goal is to obviously be a physical, power football team that gets in the fourth quarter and ultimately tries to wear people down and ground it, pound it. That will never change.”