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Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Joel Stave (2) hands off to running back Montee Ball (28) in the third quarter against the Utah State Aggies at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Saturday evening, Sept. 15, 2012. M.P. King-State Journal

Michael P. King

University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema is sticking with redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave for the same reason he went to him in the first place at halftime of the last game — to protect the football.

Bielema confirmed on Thursday various reports that he had picked Stave to make his first start against UTEP on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Stave got his first playing time last week in the second half against Utah State.

“When we went with him at halftime, the No. 1 thing was ball security,” Bielema said. “I told him that; I told all of (the quarterbacks) that when the first decision was made.

“I think it has resonated with our entire team. There’s been a huge emphasis on it. We just can’t play winning football if we turn the ball over as much as we were.”

Junior Danny O’Brien, who started the first three games, committed three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — over a span of three halves before getting pulled. He had another interception overturned by a penalty and a fumble that he recovered.

Stave completed 2 of 6 passes for 15 yards but showed good poise and was at the controls when the Badgers rallied from a 14-3 deficit to pull out a 16-14 victory.

“The fact Joel responded so well, didn’t have any issues, no fumbled snap exchanges, there wasn’t any incorrect calls or anything that really was his fault,” Bielema said. “(He) didn’t show me any reason not to stay with him.”

Bielema praised the way O’Brien handled the decision, which was made on Monday, and practiced all week.

“I think the part I’ve been very impressed with, Danny’s been great, probably practiced as hard as anybody on Tuesday and Wednesday,” Bielema said.

Bielema said he could see a possibility where O’Brien could get some playing time, possibly in 2-minute situations. In addition, senior Curt Phillips has practiced well and could also be used at some point.

But Bielema emphasized he made the decision with the idea Stave would be the long-term starter.

“I make every move with the idea it’s going to be long-term,” Bielema said. “On the same account, you understand we have a number of (quarterbacks). Danny O’Brien has come in and done a great job during 2-minute. I’ve seen him do that. In my mind ... right now there’s nobody better in that situation than Danny O’Brien.

“Curt and what he brings to the table, in certain situations, gets you excited about him as a player. Then obviously Joel, having a wide range of being able to do all of it.”

Stave, from Whitnall High School, was limited by a conservative game plan in the second half. Bielema said it was not an indication of any lack of faith in Stave’s ability to execute in the passing game.

The two main issues were Stave not getting much work last week in practice as the backup, as well as the offense being backed up in the fourth quarter and trying to run the ball to hold on to a lead.

“One thing we kind of made sure — he’s had full reps this week (with the starting offense), full opportunity to see the game plan,” Bielema said. “He’s known since Monday ... that he was going to be the guy.”

Stave compiled some impressive statistics in high school, throwing for 5,094 yards and 41 touchdowns, while adding 12 rushing TDs. But his only scholarship offer was from Western Michigan.

Stave accepted UW’s walk-on offer and went on scholarship prior to the start of this season, when sophomore quarterback Joe Brennan left the program.

From the start, coaches and teammates have praised Stave for his arm strength and poise.

“I don’t think things get to him,” Bielema said. “You love that in a QB, that (he) doesn’t get rattled.”

Coming into a game trailing by 11 points, with the offense floundering, was a tough situation for his first college action.

“Obviously, he didn’t do a lot throwing the ball, but I liked his response,” Bielema said. “One of the first times he came off the field, there was a third-down incomplete pass. The look wasn’t there.

“He said, ‘I threw it low and away, which is the only thing I had.’ He was 100 percent right. You know he’s seeing the right things, which gives you a lot of belief, when the picture is there and it’s clear, he’s going to make the right call.”

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