It looked like quarterback Joel Stave was finally finding his rhythm in the offense — and against one of the best defenses in the nation, nonetheless.
But all it took was one destructive hit to leave Wisconsin’s (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) season in question.
With what is now being reported as a broken collarbone, the UW training staff helped Stave off the field during the opening minutes of the third quarter when a hit from star MSU (5-4, 2-3) defensive end William Gholston slammed the Badgers’ quarterback to the ground.
Stave finished the day going 9-for-11 through the air, amassing 127 yards and a touchdown before his injury. But the redshirt freshman was also sacked twice with the final takedown proving to end the quarterback’s promising game and season, as the Badgers fell to the Spartans 16-13 in overtime.
Initially getting up, Stave went down on the field after walking towards the sideline, clutching his arm with his face contorted in pain.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, who praised Stave for playing well before the injury, noted that his young quarterback tended to hold on to the ball for too long.
“We’ve been on him to try to get rid of the football when he’s feeling pressure,” Bielema said. “I can’t remember the exact schematics of the play he got hurt on, but they had [the receivers] covered up and you just wish he would have gotten rid of the football quicker.”
Paired up with the 2011 second team all-Big Ten defensive end Gholston for a majority of the game, Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein had the big defensive end in front of him on the play. But as Stave stepped up in the pocket with nothing open, he found himself with a face full of the 6-foot-7, 278-pound monster of the Spartan D-line as Gholston was able to roll off the block to the inside and deliver the punishing blow.
“Gholston’s definitely a great player,” Havenstein said. “I have to stick on him longer, and obviously, I gave up that sack and I’ll put that one directly on me. It’s unfortunate that Joel got hurt because of my mistake.”
Before his injury, Stave led the Badgers on what may have been the young quarterback’s finest play donning the cardinal and white. The native son of Greenfield, Wis., took the reigns on Wisconsin’s only series resulting in a touchdown, going 5-for-5 for 78 yards and a touchdown to Jacob Pedersen with 13 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half.
Michigan State’s defense made it evident throughout the first half that if anyone was going to beat them, it was going to be the play of Stave’s arm, stacking the box heavily against the run. However, it looked like there was a distinct possibility Stave would do just that. But due to the injury, once-touted transfer Danny O’Brien stepped into the game for the Badgers to direct the offense for the first time since running the two-minute drill at Nebraska nearly a month ago.
It seemed like everything stalled on offense with O’Brien under center, or rather, what little momentum the Badgers garnered with Stave under center completely vanished.
“I mean obviously you have a plan with Joel … a change at quarterback changes the game,” Bielema said. “It doesn’t really change anything play wise or anything like that. It was a difficult spot there for him to come into but Danny handled it.”
While O’Brien didn’t turn the ball over, he also failed to show why Wisconsin should feel confident with him directing the offense moving forward. Hampered by a poor awareness in the pocket, O’Brien went 5-for-11 for just 44 yards as the Spartans sacked him three times.
It put Wisconsin’s offensive line in another tough spot. After enduring a quarterback transition over a month ago in the second half against Utah State, the group had to once again adjust to a new signal-caller.
But the Wisconsin run game and offensive line didn’t exactly help themselves either, gaining just 19 net yards on the ground for the entire game.
“We just were not able to perform offensively and I think that comes down to the offensive line,” center Travis Frederick said. “Kind of going back to our old ways when we weren’t getting quite the movement we wanted. Obviously abandons trust in the run game and once that happens, things are up for grabs.”
With the Badgers’ run game all but bottled up — Montee Ball and James White finished with a combined 62 yards on 29 carries — the Spartans and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi were all too happy to challenge O’Brien to beat them through the air, sending a plethora of blitzes that discombobulated the second-string quarterback and sent him scrambling to keep plays alive.
“I think as the game went on when they were down, we kind of knew, and they did pressure us more,” O’Brien said. “A lot of different blitz looks with some tricky coverages behind it. But we knew that, as the game was winding down, just with the lead they were going to blitz us more to try to get a turnover. It was a field position game all day.”
“We didn’t turn it over but at the same time we got to make some plays.”
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