The Badgers knew they would be young this year but at least they would have some veteran presence at running back and quarterback. That was what they thought anyway. But plans have a funny way of being adjusted. Junior transfer Danny O’Brien didn’t play all that well at QB and was yanked in favor of freshman Joel Stave halfway through the Utah State game. And in the first half of the UTEP game senior Montee Ball went out with a head injury, elevating freshman running back Melvin Gordon to #2 status.
So Stave and Gordon were thrown into the fire sooner than Bret Bielema hoped, but neither one of them got burned. In fact both were major contributors to the win over UTEP. Stave played a steady game at QB, mostly taking care of the ball, completing most of the short easy stuff he was called upon to throw and even hitting a couple deep playaction balls to Jared Abbrederis. Gordon meanwhile went on a tear. The Badgers changed up their plodding running game, hitting UTEP’s defense on the flanks. By day’s end the speedy Gordon would have 8 rushes for 112 yards, a cool 14 yards-per-carry average.
The performance of those two young players gave the Badgers a quick little glimpse of what they might have down the road. In Stave they should have a solid-if-unspectacular quarterback who avoids turnovers, shows a lot of grit and moxie and has enough arm to hit a few big plays down the field. A classic Wisconsin QB in the mold of Jim Sorgi, Scott Tolzien and John Stocco.
In Gordon they could have a truly great speed running back who shreds defenses on the inside and outside. Gordon’s receiving skills could also come to the fore soon. He could develop into a double-threat back in the mold of Brian Calhoun.
Both players are getting more early experience than either of them expected. It’s still possible both could end up back in less prominent roles soon, but these early chances to get on the field will certainly help them with their development later. The Badgers didn’t plan for this to happen, but it could end up being a great boon to them in the future.
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