April 25, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Perhaps the best way to measure how firmly Joel Stave has taken control of the quarterback reins at Wisconsin is to underscore how little he needed to display at Saturday's spring game.

The fifth-year senior led the Badgers' starting offense to a touchdown on his only series of the day before ceding the field to a host of underclassmen vying for the backup role.

Stave completed both passes he attempted - a 38-yard, double-clutch sideline heave to his favorite target Alex Erickson and a 17-yard back-shoulder strike to emerging threat Rob Wheelwright on third down for the first score of the day.

It was a banner day for the starters in a 35-7 victory for first-year coach Paul Chryst, before an announced crowd of 9,630.

''Joel has played a lot of football,'' Chryst said of Stave, who has a 21-7 career record as starter but entered spring as the top gun for the first time in his career. ''He still needs to continue to learn this offense. There's a trust factor, trusting himself within the offense.''

That task has been made more difficult this spring by a lack of continuity and proven threats at receiver. And it's been compounded by a series of injuries to an already rebuilding offensive line, which graduated three starters - including first-team All-American's Rob Havenstein and Kyle Costigan - from the 2014 unit that paved the way for standout running back Melvin Gordon to rush for a Big Ten-record 2,587 yards.

Additionally, Wisconsin was without two projected starters on the offensive line Saturday in center Dan Voltz (ankle) and Ray Ball (unspecified).

Chryst indicated both will be healthy for training camp. And he's confident the Badgers will again boast a steady running game behind top returnee Corey Clement, junior Dare Ogunbowale and redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal.

The onus remains on Stave and the receivers to improve a passing game that ranked 112th in yardage among FBS schools last season at 2,082.

''I think we can be pretty good throwing the ball, but we've got a lot of work to do,'' Chryst said. ''I do think we can be a team that can be two-dimensional.''

Stave's confidence has soared this spring since being reunited with Chryst, a Madison native who mentored Stave in 2011 while serving as the Badgers' offensive coordinator before taking his first head coaching job at Pitt.

The former walk-on from Greenfield, Wisconsin, quickly reacquainted himself with the terminology and concepts of Chryst's offense and has taken a more prominent leadership role.

''Joel puts in the work,'' said Wheelwright, who finished with seven catches for 79 yards and two scores Saturday. ''He knows everybody's job, what they need to do and when they need to do it. His confidence is starting to build, and I can't wait to see him play this fall.''

Steve is eager to rebound from a challenging 2014 season. Former coach Gary Andersen bypassed him in favor of running threat Tanner McEvoy, who has since returned to a starting safety role for Wisconsin.

Stave regained the starting job for the final nine games and guided Wisconsin to an 8-1 mark, including an overtime victory over favored Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

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