Tanner McEvoy figured it was only a matter of time before offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig added a new wrinkle to the University of Wisconsin football team’s two-quarterback system.
So the junior backup was hardly surprised last Thursday when Ludwig unveiled plans to switch McEvoy and starter Joel Stave on a play-by-play basis at times during games.
“I kind of expected it,” McEvoy said. “You kind of have to do it if you really want to use the system.”
Prior to UW’s 34-16 victory at Purdue last Saturday, McEvoy had played an occasional series during the previous three games but had never shared time with Stave during the same drive.
That changed on UW’s third series when McEvoy took over at the start of the drive but gave way to Stave after two plays.
During the Badgers’ opening possession of the fourth quarter, Stave was under center for the first two plays. After that, it went McEvoy, Stave, McEvoy, Stave, Stave, Stave, McEvoy, McEvoy, McEvoy, Stave, Stave.
The goal was to make it difficult for the defense to change personnel — “It forces them to prepare for a lot,” Stave said — and Purdue coach Darrell Hazell admitted that certainly was a challenge.
“It’s difficult,” Hazell said on this week’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “We knew what they were going to do when they brought (McEvoy) in. We knew he was more of a mobile guy that could run the football.
“It presents somewhat of an issue getting people in the right direction. Those are two good quarterbacks. I think they play off of each other pretty well.”
Offenses substitute running backs, wide receivers and tight ends on a play-by-play basis, but it’s rare for quarterbacks to platoon within a series.
Ludwig, who is stationed in the coaches’ box high above the field during games, let third-string Bart Houston know the quarterback he wanted in the game, the personnel grouping and what play the Badgers would run. While Houston relayed that message to either Stave or McEvoy, assistants Chris Beatty and Thomas Davis would make sure the Badgers had the correct personnel on the field.
Despite another step being added to the substitution process, UW didn’t run into any clock issues. The Badgers’ only administrative penalty — for having too many players in the huddle — occurred on a series in which Stave was in from start to finish.
“We try to make it simple,” Ludwig said. “It’s a little bit different with that position, but the guys handle it really well and I’m really pleased with their production in their role. We’ll just continue to build from it and vary it from week to week as the game plan changes.”
It wasn’t even the only new look Ludwig added against the Boilermakers.
UW has had success this season using a formation that includes McEvoy in the shotgun with tailback Melvin Gordon on one side of him and backup tailback Corey Clement on the other. Against the Boilermakers, UW twice used a diamond formation that included wide receiver Kenzel Doe lined up behind McEvoy, Gordon and Clement. Clement took a handoff and gained six yards to convert on third-and-2 in the first half, while Gordon got the ball and gained three yards on third-and-3 in the second half.
“I think each week we’re just getting more advanced and more and more tough to stop,” McEvoy said.
Don’t be surprised if Ludwig unveils more tweaks Saturday when No. 22 UW (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) hosts No. 11 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) in a critical West Division game at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Cornhuskers lead the Big Ten in third-down defense — opponents are converting just 26.6 percent of the time — and pass efficiency defense. They rank third in scoring defense, fifth in rushing defense and eighth in total defense.
UW, meanwhile, is coming off a game in which it featured a balanced attack (264 rushing yards, 225 passing yards) and matched a season high by converting 53.3 percent of its third downs.
“We’re getting better,” Ludwig said. “We’ve still got a lot of things to improve on and be productive. But I’m really comfortable with the direction we’re going.”
It helps that Stave and McEvoy have settled into their roles and didn’t flinch when a new wrinkle was added against Purdue.
“To have two guys who have bought into that system,” UW sophomore center Dan Voltz said, “the potential is limitless for what we can do with those guys.”
McNamara injures leg
An ambulance was called during practice Wednesday after redshirt freshman offensive lineman Aidan McNamara suffered a leg injury, according to a UW official.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound McNamara was a first-team All-Big Eight Conference selection in 2012 as a senior at Madison West.
“From a player standpoint, you never like to see a teammate go down,” UW linebacker Vince Biegel said.
“But at the end of the day, it’s football. Stuff like that happens. I wish Aidan a speedy recovery. He’s a good dude as well.”
— Jason Galloway
contributed to this report.