Bret Bielema played coy with reporters earlier this week about his pick to start at quarterback for the University of Wisconsin on Saturday, but apparently wasn't so tight-lipped with the program's boosters.
Joel Stave will get his first career start against Texas-El Paso, Bielema said at a Mendota Gridiron Club meeting Wednesday night, a source told Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal.
Stave, a redshirt freshman and former walk-on from Whitnall High School who earned a scholarship in August when Joe Brennan left the program, got his first game action last week in the second half against Utah State.
He entered after the coaching staff opted to pull junior transfer Danny O'Brien following his fumble late in the second quarter Saturday that the Aggies turned into a touchdown for a 14-3 lead. Earlier, a bad interception had been wiped off by a marginal roughing the passer call.
Restricted to a severely conservative game plan based partly on poor field position, Stave's chief task against Utah State was handing off.
He completed 2 of 6 passes — that includes a key third-down drop by Kenzel Doe — for just 15 yards, as the Badgers ran 22 running plays in the final two quarters, rallying for a 16-14 victory behind Doe's 82-yard punt return for a score.
"It wasn't a realistic picture of what maybe Joel's strengths are," Bielema said Monday at his weekly press conference.
Still, many observers expected the Badgers to return to O'Brien on Saturday. He transferred from Maryland in the offseason after making 17 starts for the Terrapins, with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
After an efficient effort in the opener against Northern Iowa in which he completed 19-of-23 passes for 219 yards, two scores and no interceptions, O'Brien struggled in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State and again in the first half against Utah State.
His combined totals in those two games: 15 of 48 for 235 yards, no touchdowns and a pick, while taking five sacks and coughing up the aforementioned fumble.
There were extensive mitigating factors, including subpar efforts by the offensive line amid a switch in their position coach, and the injury to Jared Abbrederis that sidelined the Badgers' lone proven threat at receiver for four of those six quarters and most of a fifth.
At his Monday press conference, Bielema was unwilling to divulge his starter, but said the quarterbacks already knew his plan. Stave took snaps with the first team at practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Starting Stave on Saturday allows him a chance to get his feet wet at home prior to the Badgers' game Sept. 29 at Nebraska, the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams.
Bielema spent extended time Monday underscoring Stave's strengths.
"I think any of the quarterbacks ... would admit that Joel has the best arm out of all of them, strength-wise (and) ability to throw the football," Bielema said. "He's got great composure.
"I think the one thing you can count on with Joel is what you called and what you expect to see, the reactions ... whether it's pre-snap reads (or) whether it's reads within the play.
"Joel's pretty educated. Now, obviously, he's only got one half under his belt ... so that's the part that's the unknown."
Stave compiled some impressive stats at Whitnall, where he threw for 5,094 yards and 41 touchdowns, while adding 12 rushing TDs in his career, but had just one scholarship offer — from Western Michigan.
The Badgers were interested, and he participated in their summer camp following his junior year, but they never offered a scholarship, in part because they pursued Florida prep QB Jacoby Brissett even past signing day. Brissett eventually committed to Florida.
Stave was content to walk on at Wisconsin and wait for his opportunity, which it appears has arrived.