Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave led the Badgers to a 9-4 record last season and an appearance in the Capital One Bowl, which is one of the bigger non-BCS bowl games. Stave, now a junior, threw for 2,494 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season but has been unable to play this year because of an injury. Or maybe not.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen announced that Stave would be shut down indefinitely to rest his injured shoulder. Later that day, both Andersen and Stave admitted the whole injury excuse was a lie. In reality, Stave’s shoulder feels fine. He simply can’t make throws he once could.
“I’ve thrown how many thousands of balls in my life?” the quarterback told reporters, per Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin. “I know when it hurts and when it doesn’t. I don’t know what it is. It just isn’t right, I guess.”
Stave said he can’t put his finger on what exactly “isn’t right.” When asked if he is suffering from a variation of the yips, the No. 10 all-time passer in Wisconsin history would not rule it out.
“Maybe on some level,” he said. “I’ve heard of that, too. The yips, a golfer who can’t hit it straight and stuff like that. I know I can throw the ball. That’s something that since I’ve been a kid, not even just football, I’ve been good at throwing things. I could throw a baseball. Give me a volleyball, I can chuck it across a gym.”
Stave’s problem is obviously between the ears. Broadcasters noted during warmups before Wisconsin’s game against LSU that his throws appeared to be well off the mark. The Badgers went on to suffer a tough 28-24 loss to LSU. Tanner McEvoy, who got the start over Stave, completed just 8-of-24 passes for 50 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Badgers may end up desperately needing Stave, and he knows he has to find a way to stop overthinking things.
“I’ll be throwing it good, throwing it good and then all of a sudden I feel like I hang on to it too long,” he explained. “One will sail, one will slip and then you start thinking, ‘Oh I’ve got to hang on to it longer.’ That’s what happens when you start thinking too much.”
Stave wouldn’t be the first quarterback to struggle because of pressure, but what makes the situation bizarre is that he played so well last season. You would think his confidence would be high after an impressive year, and Stave insists confidence is not an issue. Hopefully he can work the problem out sooner rather than later.