This time, it wasn’t some fake Twitter account trying to spill the beans.
That was last Friday, after first the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and then the Wisconsin State Journal reported multiple sources said Tanner McEvoy had beaten out incumbent Joel Stave and would be the starting quarterback when the 14th-ranked University of Wisconsin football team meets 13th-ranked LSU at Houston on Saturday night.
In the ensuing Twitter frenzy, one local television station reported on and several reporters from other news outlets retweeted a tweet, purportedly from McEvoy’s account, saying how grateful he was for the opportunity, though it didn’t specify exactly what that opportunity was. It didn’t matter. It was a fake account, and the fact media outlets used it as confirmation for a story had UW coach Gary Andersen a bit perturbed Monday.
“It was just another social media debacle, in my opinion,” Andersen said, correctly.
Andersen has tried to keep the final decision in UW’s quarterback derby a secret and had hoped to maintain the mystery right up until gametime with the Tigers. Again on Monday, he declined to get into specifics when asked who would start at quarterback.
“At the end of the day, we’re right where we were,” he said. “We’ve got two quarterbacks that I think are going to help this football team throughout the year and whoever takes the first snap it doesn’t necessarily say he’s going to be the guy for the whole season. We’ve got two kids that want to compete and will continue to compete. That’s where we’re going to stay with it. You’re going to hear the same thing from the coordinators, you’re going to hear the same thing from the quarterbacks.”
A short time later, however, tailback Melvin Gordon, UW’s Heisman Trophy candidate, confirmed McEvoy had indeed won the quarterback battle. Speaking to a group of reporters, Gordon matter-of-factly referenced the outcome several times.
“They’re going with Tanner,” he said. “I hope that Tanner plays well. I wish the best for Tanner and hopefully he can lead our team.”
That decision has taken many observers by surprise because McEvoy clearly hadn’t outperformed Stave in those workouts open to the media and fans. The prevailing opinion was Stave, with 19 college starts under his belt, would give UW its best chance to win against LSU.
It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. Andersen has spoken often of his preference for a dual-threat quarterback and Stave is purely a pocket passer while McEvoy can both run and throw.
Andersen said the final decision was made sometime last week but he considers quarterback to be like every other position and didn’t make an announcement to the team or the media.
“Tuesday, Wednesday of last week, we kind of shifted gears a little bit,” he said. “I think it’s important to make sure the kids — I’m talking about the position group that’s involved — understand exactly where they sit and the direction that we’re moving forward as a staff.”
It’s likely the decision is based in large part on McEvoy’s ability to run. Andersen has talked throughout the offseason about having more big-play threats on offense and having a quarterback who can run the option and scramble adds to the arsenal.
Still, there will be positives and negatives with McEvoy at quarterback.
Andersen loves UW’s productivity in the running game, but he wants to find ways to get Gordon and Corey Clement out on the edges more so they can break long runs. Running the option is one way to do that. Plus, McEvoy adds a big-play running threat with his great speed.
Second, Andersen has talked about making more big plays throwing down the field, something that appears to be more realistic given the influx of young wide receivers who showed playmaking ability during camp. In that respect, McEvoy and Stave are a push. Both throw the deep ball reasonably well.
Finally, Andersen has made converting third downs a priority this season. In that area, Stave has an edge over McEvoy since he has been more accurate on short and intermediate passes. Of course, McEvoy can convert third downs with his feet, something Stave doesn’t do particularly well.
Stave’s greatest asset is his experience as a two-year starter compared to McEvoy, who started at quarterback only one season in junior college. Andersen downplayed that lack of experience in large part because McEvoy started games for the Badgers at safety last year.
“He’s prepared to play in Big Ten games; he’s prepared to play in a bowl game, which is great for him,” Andersen said. “I think obviously we feel like he’s throwing the ball much better. To even be in the QB race, he would have had to be solid and consistent throwing the football. But the biggest thing for Tanner is the growth within the offense.”
Andersen can only hope that’s the case because this is a decision that will be heavily scrutinized — and not just on Twitter.