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Improving QB Joel Stave adds a dimension to Wisconsin’s offense

Wisconsin's Joel Stave throws pass against ArizonState second half an NCAA college football game Saturday Sept. 14 2013 Phoenix.

Wisconsin's Joel Stave throws a pass against Arizona State in the second half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in Phoenix. Arizona State defeated Wisconsin 32-30. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) ORG XMIT: AZRF124

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Saturday

No. 19 Northwestern
at Wisconsin

The facts: 2:30 p.m. Ch. 7, 720-AM.

The records: NU 4-1, 0-1 Big Ten; Wisconsin 3-2, 1-1.

The line: Wisconsin by 10.

Updated: November 13, 2013 6:13AM



Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald got to know Wisconsin redshirt sophomore quarterback Joel Stave well during his recruitment. But the Stave that Fitzgerald will see Saturday when his team plays in Madison is vastly different from the player he knew in high school.

With the Wildcats on a bye, Fitzgerald was able to watch the Badgers game at Ohio State on Sept. 28 on television. His reaction was no different than many onlookers who saw Stave have his best game of the season, one that answered any questions about whether he could handle starting at quarterback for the Badgers.

Wisconsin’s rushing attack understandably gets most of the attention from opposing defensive coordinators. But after Stave demonstrated the ability to make nearly every throw in his team’s playbook, Northwestern can ill-afford to load guys in the box and ignore the ­passing game.

“I was incredibly impressed, our whole staff was impressed — we had a chance to watch that game — with the job that their offense did,” Fitzgerald said. “Then you come back and you watch the coach’s copy and you’re even more impressed. He played with great poise. It seemed like he just kept getting better and better in that game.”

It wasn’t just Stave’s performance in the raucous atmosphere of Ohio Stadium that impressed Fitzgerald.

Beginning with the Badgers’ loss to Arizona State on Sept. 14, Fitzgerald noticed Stave got increasingly more adept at handling pressure and reading defenses. That was never more apparent than when he hit receiver Jared Abbrederis on a 36-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter of Wisconsin’s game against Ohio State, recognizing Abbrederis had an advantage in coverage.

Now that Wisconsin has emerged into a dual-threat offense, the Wildcats’ defense will be tested when it comes to assignment football. Northwestern cannot freelance against Wisconsin.

In Northwestern’s loss to Ohio State last week, the defense often lacked in its fundamentals.

“It all comes down to execution,” Wildcats linebacker Collin Ellis said. “If we execute [last] Saturday, the outcome is a little different as far as maybe some of the rushing yards. But we’ll be OK against ­Wisconsin as far as getting ­downhill and holding our own.”

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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