Let the Joel ‘Sunshine’ Stave era begin. For now, anyway.
As the first freshman quarterback to start for Wisconsin since Jim Sorgi in 2000, Stave led Wisconsin to a 37-26 win over University of Texas at El Paso in its final nonconference match of the season Saturday.
The Greenfield, Wis., native completed 12 of 17 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. His performance wasn’t spotless; he threw one interception and was sacked three times. But regardless of his shortcomings against UTEP, there was plenty of positivity surrounding the young quarterback.
“There was only one play out there right now that I didn’t like and that was that pick he obviously wishes he could take back,” head coach Bret Bielema said. ” … Joel is going to be a good quarterback. He’s tall, athletic, he’s smart at the line of scrimmage, he doesn’t hide things. … He tells it the way it is.”
Leading up to the matchup, questions lingered as to how well Stave would manage the game. Prior to playing the second half against Utah State Sept. 15, Stave had no game experience at the collegiate level. In his first two quarters of play, he was 2-for-6 for 15 yards.
As the starter against UTEP, Stave didn’t waste much time to show he could manage the game and throw the ball. On the second play from scrimmage, Stave found junior tight end Jacob Pedersen for a first down over the middle. And his passing game was just getting started.
The redshirt freshman quickly formed a connection with junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who finished the day with six catches for 147 yards and a touchdown.
That connection was all the more noticeable – and important – on Wisconsin’s final drive of the first half. The Badgers were handed their best starting field position of the day, starting at the Miners’ 47-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Stave dropped back and found a wide-open Abbrederis for a 47-yard touchdown pass to put Wisconsin up 23-6.
The touchdown wasn’t even UW’s longest play of the day. In the second quarter, prior to that score, Abbrederis caught a 60-yard bomb, which fell just eight yards short of six more points.
“That was fun,” Stave said of airing out the ball. “We’ve got guys that can run down the field and go get it. I’m really glad they gave me the opportunity to throw it to them.”
“I think he did a really good job today,” Abbrederis said of Stave. “It was his first start. I thought he handled himself pretty well and he can improve on some small things. But he did a real good job today.
“The sky’s the limit for him.”
Abbrederis’ return to the field certainly had a marked impact on the offense, especially in that connection with Stave.
Prior to UTEP, UW was averaging 156.3 passing yards per game and 10.2 yards per catch. Against the Miners, the Badgers bumped that average up to 17.5 yards per completion and finished with 210 passing yards.
While Abbrederis’ presence draws more focus, allowing other teammates to make plays, Stave’s poise in the pocket and the consistency players said he brought to the huddle drew comparisons to a former UW quarterback – Scott Tolzien, who led the Badgers to a 2010 Rose Bowl appearance.
“If I had to relate him to a quarterback that I’ve seen play, he kind of fits into the Scott Tolzien, where [he] just came out and played the game,” junior center Travis Frederick said. “Joel does that. He comes out, he doesn’t make a big hoopla, he doesn’t try to pump us up – he comes out with confidence and calls the play and gets the play done. And he does that every single time.
“He’s a great presence in the huddle. He’s a guy that approaches the huddle and approaches the game the same every time. It doesn’t matter if you’re down or you’re up.”
One thing is certain. At Wisconsin, the Badgers have their own reincarnation of Sunshine from Remember the Titans.
“He hears a lot of (grief). You can hear kind of the catcalls, ‘Sunshine,’” Borland said, imitating a high-pitched, feminine voice, “when he’s walking by, so it’s a good time.
“He’s just a cool customer. He doesn’t flinch and he’s calm and he did a great job.”
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