Joel Stave’s 2014 season was unfortunately defined by one word: yips.
The junior quarterback lost out on the starting quarterback job to begin the season and simply couldn’t throw a football the way he wanted to. It was an unexpected challenge that took a while to fix. Tanner McEvoy held on to that starting job despite his own lack of success for several weeks before Stave was capable of taking the reins of the Wisconsin offense back again after sitting out the first four games of the season.
When he did return, he wasn’t very impressive. Without the help of reliable receiver Jared Abbrederis, who he teamed with in 2013 for a big season, Stave was turnover prone, throwing 10 interceptions in 10 games compared to just nine touchdown passes. He threw for 1,350 yards, well off the 2,494 yards he passed for when he started all 13 games in 2013. Head coach Gary Andersen swapped out Stave and McEvoy in the middle of games throughout the season.
Stave had three games with three interceptions: his first game of the year against Northwestern and the final two games of the season against Ohio State and Auburn.
This season, Stave doesn’t have college football’s best running back to rely on. There’s no Melvin Gordon to turn around and hand the ball off to, though Corey Clement figures to carry on the tradition of terrific Wisconsin running backs.
But Stave does have one safety valve in the form of new head coach Paul Chryst. Chryst returned to Madison this offseason to take over the program after spending three seasons as the head man at Pitt. Prior to that, he was the Badgers’ offensive coordinator for six years, the final season of which was Stave’s freshman year in 2011.
The familiarity between the two — and the fact that Chryst ran some prolific offenses in his previous gig with the Badgers — could give Stave a real boost heading into his final season at Wisconsin.
“I think that’s helped a lot, having that one year under him,” Stave said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “Obviously I didn’t take any snaps or anything like that, but I was able to enroll early so I got a spring ball where I was able to take a decent amount of reps with only three quarterbacks. And then getting a chance to watch him and Russell (Wilson) work throughout that whole year, I really learned a lot about the way he operates, the way he prepares and the way he likes to call a game. It gives me a lot of confidence going into this year.”
“When I was here last, Joel was a freshman in our room. And so when I had an opportunity to come back and after the bowl game and he came back, started second semester, you know, we were going to talk anyways, but we were going to talk about all things and wanted to know where he was at and really for the sole purpose what can we learn and how do we go forward,” Chryst said. “And, fortunately, I had a relationship with Joel. And so the conversation — we got down to some of the core topics pretty quick. And I have appreciated the way that he's approached the whole transition. And Joel is — he's played in a lot of football games and won a lot of games. And yet he's got that desire to continue to grow and — he wants to be the best quarterback he can be. And he wants to be a leader on this team. All the things you want your players, your seniors, your senior quarterback to be. So I think we were able to get to that pretty quick.”
Hopefully free of the yips that caused him so many headaches a season ago and re-teamed with a proven offensive mind in Chryst, Stave’s confidence is on the rise heading into 2015. That could be the determining factor in how high his numbers rise, as well.