Almost everything went right for Wisconsin's offense in 2010 and 2011.
Almost everything has gone wrong in 2012.
The latest setback for a star-crossed unit came Monday, as Badgers head coach Bret Bielema confirmed starting quarterback Joel Stave suffered a broken left clavicle in Saturday's loss to Michigan State and likely will miss the rest of the season. Stave doesn't need surgery but will be out at least eight weeks. There's a slight chance he could return for Wisconsin's bowl game, Bielema said, but Stave most likely won't be back on the field until the 2013 campaign. The good news is he has three years of eligibility left.
After moving into the starting job in Week 4, Stave led Wisconsin to four wins, including three straight in Big Ten play. Wisconsin's offensive production spiked during the win streak. Stave appeared on his way to his best performance against Michigan State, completing 9 of 11 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, before sustaining the injury while being sacked on Wisconsin's first play of the second half.
"Joel was very upset," Bielema said. "It wasn't so much he was in pain. He was upset that he knew something was severely wrong and he was going to miss some time. Statistically he had gotten better every week, and it's a shame."
Stave has had clavicle issues his entire life. Because of his large birth weight (10.5 pounds), doctors actually had to break his clavicle to safely deliver him. He also broke the clavicle while playing baseball in the fourth grade.
Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips will compete this week in practice for the top job when Wisconsin returns to action Nov. 10 at Indiana, a game that all of a sudden could be pivotal in the Leaders Division. O'Brien, who started the Badgers' first three games this season, relieved Phillips against Michigan State and completed just 5 of 11 passes for 44 yards. He also was sacked three times in the 16-13 Badgers' loss.
Phillips competed for the starting job way back in 2009 but has suffered three ACL tears and undergone subsequent surgeries. He performed well early in training camp before fading a bit during two-a-days, but he's definitely in the mix to lead the Badger offense down the stretch.
"There's probably not a kid who's invested more time to get on the field than Curt Phillips," Bielema said. "He's got that 'it' factor that quarterbacks need to have."
Bielema had a lot of praise for Phillips, and some believe the time has come to give him a real chance. Listening to Bielema on Monday, I think Phillips, who, despite his knee issues, brings more mobility to the backfield, has the inside track to start against the Hoosiers. Asked what the decision hinges on, Bielema said, "A lot of it depends on practice, but on the same account, you have to weigh what you've seen in games."
With O'Brien, what we've seen hasn't been very good. He's averaging just 87.2 pass yards per game with three touchdowns and an interception.
On the flip side, O'Brien hasn't always been put in positions to succeed with Wisconsin. The Badgers' offensive line was a mess during the games he started in September, leading to an assistant coach change after Week 2. Wisconsin brought him in during crunch time against Nebraska, leading to a mix-up that ended the game. And it's never easy to come off of the bench and face a defense as intimidating as Michigan State's, as O'Brien did Saturday.
"We understand the difficult scenarios he’s been a part of," Bielema said. "Those moments, if you take them the right way, will make you better for the future. Danny has done that."
The coach added that it'll be interesting to see how O'Brien performs in practice this week. Wisconsin might not publicly announce its starter for the Indiana game, but the team will know by next Tuesday, at the latest.
Bielema noted that the open week comes at a good time for Wisconsin, which must regroup following its latest setback before finishing the season with three Leaders division foes (Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State).
"This team could easily be 2-7, whatever the numbers are," Bielema said. "The kids have really handled the situations very, very well."
They'll have to get through another one to have a chance to win another Big Ten title.