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Cory Jennerjohn: Quarterback position needs work at Wisconsin

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Winning football is completely predicated on the quarterback.

A mediocre to bad one and the rest of your team, no matter how good the defense, running backs or special teams are, will stall.

That’s been the case for the Badgers for the last two seasons. They have lost two straight bowl games because of inept quarterback play.

The 34-24 Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina on New Year’s Day marked the Badgers’ fourth straight bowl loss and signals the program needs to take its quarterback position a lot more seriously.

At the end of spring practice last year, Gary Andersen said flat out that the Badgers have to throw the ball better. And he made mention of that several times during the season and leading up to the bowl game.

It all started when he named Joel Stave the starter. Stave has a live arm and is sold as a dual threat, but the most running he does is when the punt team comes on the field. Unfortunately it became apparent rather quickly that the sophomore cannot make all the throws. Now, most college kids outside of Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater can’t make all the throws but Stave was having trouble hitting Jared Abbrederis 20 yards downfield completely wide open, not to mention the occasional bubble screen, crossing route and tight end seam route. The majority of his throws are high, which signals that his fundamentals can be fixed, but how much more time can Wisconsin invest in this kid?

Then Andersen surprised everyone by naming Curt Phillips as the backup. Now Phillips is a seasoned veteran that has been around the block, but he didn’t fool defenses because all he has in his arsenal is a slew of changeups. He is a great story that came back from three knee surgeries but Phillips couldn’t throw against a Gamecocks defense that dared him to throw as he finished 7 for 12 with 37 yards and two interceptions.

The biggest surprise came from the guy that didn’t even play. Bart Houston came to Wisconsin with a lot of fanfare as the last great recruit of outgoing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Houston is the classic dropback passer that throws lasers and owned a 38-1 record in high school. Which of course, begs the question, if Houston was that good coming out of high school, how in the world can he not beat out Phillips for at least the backup job? And if it’s a situation where Houston doesn’t fully grasp the offense, then that’s on the coaches.

The Badgers had a chance to win the first bowl game since 2009 but the quarterback position has been put together with scotch tape and a lot of prayer.

So the battle for the quarterback job begins in earnest this spring. Either Stave, Houston, Tanner McEvoy — Andersen’s dual-threat quarterback recruit that played safety this season — and freshman D.J. Gillins have a shot to start. Andersen has implored the importance of a dual-threat quarterback, which would seem to make McEvoy and the speedy Gillins leap up the depth chart. But then again, Stave was named the starter this past season and only tallied two games where he rushed for positive yardage.

Whoever is the starter will be at an enormous disadvantage compared to Stave this year. Top targets Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen are gone and there hasn’t been much in the way of developing young receivers.

When Russell Wilson surprised everyone and made his free agent transfer to Wisconsin I thought that he would open the door for other top quarterbacks to give the Badgers a second look and not just pass Wisconsin off as Tailback U.

Either that hasn’t happened, or the coaching staff cannot unearth a gem that is currently on the roster.

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