Protect the football. It will be a primary focus for Alabama and Wisconsin, despite nerves and first-game jitters. Quarterbacks are the overseers on the field, and Saturday’s matchup will have Joel Stave against two to three Crimson Tide quarterbacks. Now comes a breakdown.
Wisconsin’s head coach Paul Chryst recruited Stave in 2011, prior to taking a coaching position at Pittsburgh from 2012-14. The 6-foot-5, 219-pound redshirt senior hasn’t had the most productive career; however, the return of Chryst and having Joe Rudolph as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks’ coach may help. Stave played in 10 games last season, totaling 1,350 passing yards with 9 touchdowns to 10 interceptions on a 53.4 percent mark.
The Badgers will go as far as running back Corey Clement and its offensive line will allow, but there still lies a role that Stave must play. He doesn’t have to win the game, yet he can’t afford to struggle with ball placement, accuracy and confidence. A great unknown is in the mix when it comes to Wisconsin’s wide receiver corps. Senior Alex Erickson stands as the veteran.
He caught 55 balls for 772 yards and a touchdown in 2014. Not much in game experience comes after him, nevertheless Wisconsin still has some potential playmakers on the outside.
Tanner McEvoy started his career at safety. The 6-foot-6, 229-pound senior has played at defensive back, quarterback and will get a crack at wide receiver this season. Senior Jordan Fredrick and junior Reggie Love both will look to be involved in the passing game.
Jacob Coker ended Alabama’s fall camp session on a high note. He did a better job of stepping into his throws and leading receivers downfield with pinpoint accuracy.
Coker is expected to take the field first, but Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman will be seen against Wisconsin. Coker has elite arm talent, but his job will be to manage the game.
Being able to function when a play breaks down is the test for him. The ability to check the ball down or throw it away when something isn’t presented are things he must do Saturday night.
It’s a huge uncertainty for the Badgers, but Alabama has some experience at wide receiver. Redshirt junior Chris Black caught 15 passes for 180 yards last season.
Sophomores ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster saw much needed field time in 2014 and emerged in the team’s spring game. Graduate transfer Richard Mullaney is new to the Southeastern Conference, but isn’t a stranger to football. He played at Oregon State for three seasons (2012-14), totaling 1,160 career yards and five touchdowns on 83 catches.
For Morris and Bateman, Saturday night gives them one final chance to win.
Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban wants to see which guy can play with the most leadership, urgency and command on a consistent basis. Both guys have pushed Coker in fall practice, but can they do when the lights come on at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas? Time will tell.
Production at running back, offensive line and defense are all similarities. The Crimson Tide should have an advantage at wide receiver, but it all boils down to quarterback play.
Can Stave guide Wisconsin to an upset? Will Coker fully win the job against the Badgers?