If there was any doubt what Russell Wilson meant to the Badgers, it’s being answered this season.
This year’s quarterback position was supposed to be answered with the newest transfer arrival — this time via Maryland instead of N.C. State. However, Danny O’Brien never grasped the offense fully and his lack of mobility has been an eyesore.
That led to the freshman Joel Stave. He came in and steered the ship back toward a return voyage to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game with another shot at the Rose Bowl. The Whitnall, Wisconsin kid stepped into action in the third game and has gone 4-2 as the starter — counting the Michigan State game when he was sacked by 278-pound defensive end William Gholston on the first play of the second half.
However, a hush came over Badger Nation after that play as Stave broke his left clavicle, thereby putting the rest of this season to bed. There is a chance that Stave could play in a bowl game, but after missing eight weeks, it’s highly unlikely he would play.
So where do the Badgers go now? O’Brien came in and looked like he was learning the playbook for the first time. In 29 plays O’Brien was on the field for the injured Stave, the former ACC Rookie of the Year led the Badgers to amass just 27 yards. He was 5 for 11 for 44 yards through the air and was sacked three times when dropping back to pass 14 times.
I realize that the Badgers got absolutely nothing going on the ground against one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. Wisconsin ran it for 19 yards on 37 carries for a whopping average of 0.5.
But that’s when a veteran starter is supposed to come in and take charge. Instead he wilted under the ABC cameras and gave Indiana mathematical chance of representing the Leaders Division.
Before, Wisconsin talked about how they didn’t need Ohio State’s or Penn State’s help to claim the Leaders Division. Now, with the No. 6 Buckeyes still unbeaten and Penn State with just one Big Ten loss, the Badgers won’t get out of the Leaders Division without an asterisk.
It’s time to give Curt Phillips his first start. The Kingsport, Tenn. native has torn his right ACL three times but the senior would be a welcome reprieve from O’Brien anxiously barking out signals before missing badly with a receiver or getting sacked simply because he didn’t assert himself and step up in the pocket.
Coach Bret Bielema is at a crossroads now. With the team off this week, Wisconsin will treat this as a mini in-season camp to determine the starting quarterback. At his Monday press conference, Bielema kept saying, “This is the hand that we’ve been dealt.” That may be, but you don’t have to keep playing with a mediocre pair of eights when you don’t even know that you may be sitting on an Ace.
By now the experiment is over. O’Brien possesses most of the traits necessary to be a quarterback. He has a good arm and he has better than average accuracy. But his biggest wart is his awareness. He has no idea where the rush is coming from, how to audible to thwart a huge pass rush and he isn’t exactly the sparkplug on the sideline when something right happens.
Ever since Montee Ball was jumped in August, this season has spun out of control. But now Bielema has the chance to step into the cockpit and grab hold of the steering column.
And the way that happens is by sitting O’Brien.