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Cory Jennerjohn: Bart Houston is a forgotten man in Madison

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen had his first spring game as the Wisconsin football coach on Saturday. The announced crowd for the chilly April day was 12,050.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen had his first spring game as the Wisconsin football coach on Saturday. The announced crowd for the chilly April day was 12,050.
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First-year Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen has continually stressed how important the passing game is this spring.

I couldn’t agree more. Without a consistent passing game that can get down the field, the running game will either be stalled at the line of scrimmage or the green and not very deep offensive line will be leaned on like never before.

Last year, the Badgers passing game continually let them down. They were last in a run-happy Big Ten with 156 yards a game. Wisconsin was 10th with 2,197 passing yards — and it played one more game than 10 other teams in the Big Ten thanks to the conference championship game.

So let’s fast forward to now. The Badgers had their spring game this past Saturday and people are excited for Joel Stave who was 15-for-20 with 161 yards through the air and a touchdown. Those are good numbers but let’s not forget that he only started six games last year, which is a very small sample size. The 4-2 record looks fine, but in the losses to Nebraska and Michigan State he showed that his arm strength was a hinderance.

“Obviously the coaching staff change is different for us,” said the sophomore Stave on the difference between this spring and last spring. “The defense is completely different too, so it has a completely different feel to it when you’re trying to look out there and get a feel for what they’re doing.”

The other guy that is primed for a starting quarterback spot, that is currently on the roster, was Curt Phillips. His spring game numbers were a pedestrian 8-for-13 with 82 yards. Phillips proved a lot in coming back from three ACL tears and his leadership shouldn’t be questioned but his decision-making has been head scratching by forcing balls into windows that he cannot complete.

And finally there was Bart Houston. Coming into the game, the less mobile Houston etched his name above last year’s transfer mistake Danny O’Brien. However, Houston never was able to get in a groove behind the future No. 1 offensive line or armed with the No. 1 stable of receivers.

I understand that Andersen has wanted all along to pencil in a quarterback with mobility that can make defenses wilt. But, in doing so, Houston has been the forgotten man. Which is odd, because Houston has said that his arm is 110 percent and even fellow players have marveled at strong his arm is.

“If the ability is there for him to make some plays with his legs, we’ll allow him to do that,” said Andersen on the future Badgers quarterback. “I believe the young men in this program can do that. So the ability to have a touch option in the future will be there for us without question.”

Not only that, but Houston is a winner. He came to Wisconsin via California powerhouse De La Salle High School, which is where guys like Amani Toomer and Maurice Jones-Drew got their start, and he finished with a 38-1 record.

Just because a quarterback doesn’t run as quick or as smooth shouldn’t make him fall off the depth chart. Let’s not forget that Houston was offered by Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, San Diego State, UCLA, Utah and Washington. Every one of those schools knew he was a pro-style pocket passer and would love to have someone on the roster that can throw accurate laser beams.

Unfortunately, to improve the passing game Andersen would rather have someone with a lesser arm but strong legs.

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To contact Cory Jennerjohn e-mail him at jeobs@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @CoryJennerjohn.

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