Big Ten

Big Ten preview: How good can a yips-free Joel Stave be for Badgers?

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Big Ten preview: How good can a yips-free Joel Stave be for Badgers?

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.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Paul Chryst seems like a Badgers coach who's here to stay]

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.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Corey Clement poised to be Badgers' next star running back]

“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.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.