Published September 18, 2012
Bret Bielema seems to have a pretty good idea of how he'll handle Wisconsin's murky quarterback situation this week. He's just not sharing it right now.
After replacing starter Danny O'Brien with redshirt freshman Joel Stave in the second half of a narrow victory over Utah State, Bielema said Monday that he already had discussed the situation with his quarterbacks going into Saturday's game against UTEP.
"They already know," Bielema said. "They already know what's going on. You won't talk to them, but they know."
The two were listed as co-starters on a depth chart released by the program Monday.
"It's not really a competition," Bielema said. "I think we have a plan we'll move forward with as coaches. It isn't a thing we're sitting and waiting and wasting time on."
Bielema's decision to replace O'Brien was intended to send a message about turnovers, and Bielema said he reinforced that thought in a meeting with O'Brien.
"I told him on Sunday that the No. 1 reason he got the job to begin with was because of the way he took care of the football," Bielema said. "Some of the things I said on Saturday are really true. So where we're going to be on this coming Saturday will really be how we handle the week and make sure we put the right guy in there."
O'Brien transferred to Wisconsin from Maryland and was eligible to play right away because he already had graduated, following a similar path to that of last year's standout quarterback, Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson.
Before the season started, coaches and teammates cautioned observers to avoid making direct comparisons between O'Brien and his predecessor, saying O'Brien needed to grow into the job on his own.
Unlike Wilson, who essentially came in as the starter, O'Brien had to win a three-way competition in camp, beating out Stave and senior Curt Phillips to win the starting job.
"I said when that decision was made we had three guys we felt could win football games," Bielema said. "That hasn't changed."
O'Brien was solid in the Badgers' season-opening victory over FCS school Northern Iowa, then struggled in the loss to Oregon State — as did the rest of the offense, including an offensive line that has yet to find the dominant form that has become Wisconsin's signature.
O'Brien fumbled twice in the Oregon State loss, losing one. Then he lost a fumble and threw an interception in the first half of Saturday's game, although the interception was nullified by a Utah State penalty.
Bielema praised O'Brien for supporting Stave after the decision was made.
"That's why we have a chance," Bielema said. "We have great kids that pull together and do things in the right way."
Had the Badgers been on the road, Bielema acknowledged that the more experienced Phillips might have gone in instead.
"It probably would have been Curt just because of a hostile environment in Oregon State and also the first game against UNI," Bielema said. "But halftime, just feeling where we were at, we wanted to give Joel a shot. And (he) didn't do anything to think that he can't continue to get better as well."
Stave wasn't asked to do much, going 2 of 6 for 15 yards. But Bielema has been impressed with Stave's arm strength and composure.
"Joel's pretty educated," Bielema said. "Now, obviously he's only got one half under his belt as a quarterback that's out there on the field. So that's the part that's the unknown."
Bielema acknowledged that the Badgers didn't play especially well on offense against Utah State, a team that missed a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds. But Bielema expects improvement.
"Apples and oranges and all that goes into it, we beat a pretty good football team on Saturday," Bielema said. "It wasn't great. But we'll get better and we're nowhere close to playing as good (as they can), but I felt a lot better Saturday night going to bed than I did the week before, that's for sure."