Wisconsin offensive coordinator works with inexperienced QBs
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig stood on the field waiting to speak to a group of reporters when an observer approached and noted the makeup of his quarterback depth chart.
Starter: Tanner McEvoy, a converted safety who has one start at UW at quarterback.
No. 2: Bart Houston has two games on his college résumé, with one pass attempt.
No. 3: D.J. Gillins, a freshman who until Tuesday had been working with the scout team.
“It’s football,” Ludwig said of the inexperienced depth chart.
With redshirt junior Joel Stave out indefinitely until he can iron out mechanical issues that have significantly affected his accuracy, the aforementioned trio is Ludwig’s to mold.
McEvoy is set to make his second start for UW at quarterback when the Badgers (0-1) host Western Illinois (1-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Ludwig’s most difficult task in practice this week is to make sure all three quarterbacks are ready if needed.
McEvoy, who threw two interceptions and finished 8 of 24 for 50 yards in the opener against LSU, needs all the work he can get. Yet Houston has even less game experience than McEvoy, who played safety for 10 games last season.
“My thought right now is to get the No. 1 quarterback to be the best that he can be,” Ludwig said. “I think he needs the No. 1 workload. So that’s not going to change.”
Houston moved up to the No. 2 spot in preparation for the opener against LSU after the staff determined Stave wasn’t ready to contribute.
Gillins has obvious physical tools, but head coach Gary Andersen said during camp that in a perfect world the freshman would redshirt this season.
Depending on Stave’s ability to get back into the rotation and the play of McEvoy and Houston the staff might need Gillins at some point.
“It’s not a perfect world,” Ludwig said. “It’s a long season. We’re not ruling it out. We pulled him out of the scout team.
“He doesn’t have mastery of the offense. We’ll try to get him a small package of things he can go in there and execute very well and be confident in. Hopefully that will grow week to week.
“He’s got some catching up to do. He is at every quarterback meeting we have, but there is no replacing taking reps with the No. 1 or No. 2 offense.”
Houston, a touted prospect from De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., played sparingly in two games last season (Tennessee Tech and UMass). He completed his lone pass attempt, for 8 yards, against UMass.
Houston acknowledged this week his study habits have improved since last season. Those habits contributed to his inability to challenge for playing time.
“I’m a little more prepared every week,” he said. “Last year I was not a smart freshman. I didn’t prepare as well for every game.
“But this year football has been another 10-credit class for me. I’m watching film every night, breaking down the plays, going through the checks and everything.
“I’m more prepared for every single game, every single thing the coaches could throw at me.”
It took time, but after watching Stave and Curt Phillips put in the extra time needed to prepare each week Houston realized he had to do the same.
“It’s different than high school,” he said. “In high school you just go out there and play.
“I see things quicker now. Last year it took me (longer) and I’d either get hit or… you know what I mean.”
UW should be able to run the ball well against Western Illinois, an FCS program that allowed 156.3 rushing yards per game last season.
The Badgers averaged 6.9 yards per carry and finished with 268 rushing yards in the loss to LSU, but the passing game was pedestrian and needs work this week.
Wide receiver Alex Erickson had three catches for 33 yards, but no other player had more than one catch.
“The coordination of the scheme takes time,” Ludwig said. “It is a young group on the perimeter with youthful players and a new quarterback.
“There is much improvement to be made on our end of it regardless of who we were playing. And that was a very good opponent. But we’ve got to judge ourselves, and it wasn’t good enough.”