Badgers turn to Joel Stave, look to kick-start stagnant offense against UTEP

[caption id="attachment_39" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Wisconsin hopes redshirt freshman QB Joel Stave can turn around an offense struggling to move the football."][/caption]

Danny O’ Brien may have been a transfer quarterback from the ACC, but that’s about where the comparisons between him and Russell Wilson stop.

After graduating from Maryland in three years and having a falling out with new coach Randy Edsall, O’ Brien arrived in Madison with high expectations and enormous shoes to fill. Despite having to earn the starting job in fall camp, it was evident from the very beginning why he was being brought in – to replace Wilson.

It’s nearly impossible for anyone to replicate what Wilson – who transferred from N.C. State – did in 2011, his only year with the Badgers.

Wilson completed 225-of-309 passes for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions to set the NCAA record for passing efficiency (191.8). He also added 338 yards and six more scores on the ground to lead an unstoppable offense that averaged better than 44 points a game.

O’ Brien was the ACC’s Freshman of the Year in 2010, throwing 22 touchdowns against eight picks. However, he saw his numbers fall off dramatically last year under Edsall, who installed a spread offense that DOB struggled to comprehend.

The former Terp showed flashes in his first three games as a Badger, but it was easy to see he didn’t quite have a firm grasp of Matt Canada’s offense, settling for short throws and appeared scared to throw down field.

After leading UW to just 10 points in a game and a half span, O’ Brien was lifted at halftime last week for redshirt freshman Joel Stave, who will start tomorrow against UTEP.

Bielema confirmed this week that Stave will get the nod despite going just 2-6 for 15 yards in his two quarters of work last week against the Aggies.

Wisconsin (2-1) has gotten off to a horrendous start across the board offensively in 2012, scoring just 49 points in three games, including a dismal seven points against Oregon State in a loss.

Last week wasn’t much better with the offense again scoring just one offensive touchdown and had to rely on a missed 37-yard field goal as time expired to beat Utah State at home.

To say the Badgers have been a disappointment so far might be the understatement of the Bret Bielema era.

Coming off back-to-back Big Ten Championships and Rose Bowl appearances, UW started the year ranked No. 12 and had Heisman candidate Montee Ball coming back for his senior season.

An ugly, five-point victory over Northern Iowa in week one was chalked up by most as just some first game jitters. After losing the following week to the Beavers, some panic started to set in.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of all of this has been the play of Ball and the offensive line.

The Badgers became the program they are today for one main reason – elite offensive lines helping to create elite running backs.

Through three weeks, UW ranks an embarrassing 91st in rushing with just 119.7 yards per game, a number they’re used to seeing at halftime. The line looked mediocre against UNI. They were disturbingly bad against Oregon State, getting pushed around and dominated at the line of scrimmage.

Things were so bad that Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson after just two games with the team.

There’s no lack of talent up front. Ricky Wagner was a projected first round draft pick before the year began and Travis Frederick wasn’t far behind. In fact, Bielema referred to this particular group as the best one he’s had from tackle-to-tackle in his tenure in Madison.

Ball has carried the ball 84 times for just 320 yards, an average of 3.8 per carry, almost half of the 6.3 he averaged in 2011.

The Badgers turn to Stave looking for something, anything to jump start what has been an historically bad offense to this point.

If Wisconsin is ever going to get back on track, this is the week it needs to happen. UTEP comes into Camp Randall with one of the nation’s worst run defenses, surrendering over 215 yards a game and their pass defense ranks 66th.

This will be the final opportunity for the Badgers to get themselves straightened out before the games start to matter a whole lot more, and they had better.

If you haven’t heard, conference play gets underway next weekend with a trip to Lincoln, Neb. That’s not exactly the place for a young, inexperienced quarterback and get on the same page with a sputtering, lackluster offense.

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