What in the heck has been going on in Madison the past few days?
Well, the Gordon story makes total and complete sense compared to the absurdity of Joel Stave's situation.
Stave, of course, is the quarterback who started all 13 games for Wisconsin last year yet got beat out for the starting job this preseason by Tanner McEvoy. As McEvoy struggled mightily vs. LSU, Stave remained on the sidelines. I asked head coach Gary Andersen after the game if he considered bringing Stave in, and Andersen said no, because the pass protection was so bad that it wouldn't have mattered.
That seemed weird to me, but then on Tuesday morning, the school sent out an official statement saying Stave and tight end T.J. Watt would "miss time due to injuries."
“Joel has been dealing with some issues with his throwing shoulder for the last couple of weeks and we have come to a decision, after talking with Joel, that the best thing for him right now is to shut it down and give him some rest," Andersen said in the statement. "It was a tough decision because Joel is a great competitor and has a tremendous desire to help this team. We will continue to monitor his progress but we’re not putting a timetable on his return at this time.”
Case closed, right? Not so fast.
Reporters attending the end of practice on Tuesday night found out Stave wasn't hurt. Andersen backtracked from the statement put out just a few hours earlier (Listen to audio from Andersen and Stave here).
"He has not re-injured anything," Andersen said. "When he gets himself to the point where he's ready to play, he'll be ready to play. 'Injured' is probably a bad word, I guess, of choice by me that I decided to use in the press release."
Stave, who injured the AC joint in his throwing shoulder in the Capital One Bowl and was limited this offseason, said everything was structurally fine with his arm. But he added that it "just wasn't working the way I'd like it to, I guess. I don't know what it is." The reports out of early fall camp were that he was throwing the ball much more accurately than McEvoy. But then something apparently changed.
Shoulder injuries are notoriously unpredictable; just ask Braxton Miller. But Andersen and Stave are now saying he's not hurt. It could be a mental thing. Stave told reporters that he's a "perfectionist" and can overthink things when he misses a throw; he said "maybe on same level" that he has the dreaded "yips." To put it in baseball terms, Steve Blass Disease comes to mind.
Adding to the chaos, initial reports suggested Stave might miss the season because of his "injury." Later Tuesday night, the Badgers said Stave -- who'll keep throwing but is not currently involved in game prep -- could return as soon as Week 3.
So ... to sum up: Stave was hurt, but then he's not. Gordon was not hurt, but then he was. Coaches sometimes go to great lengths to protect their players when injuries or other issues are involved, and I can respect that. But by not being on the same page with either Gordon or Stave or his own earlier statements, Andersen -- remember his "I don't know" quote when asked why Gordon didn't get more carries? -- has opened himself up to criticism, and the team's overall credibility has suffered. This isn't Utah State; Wisconsin prides itself as a national program and needs to carry itself like one.
I don't believe there's any grand conspiracy going on behind the scenes. Andersen has always struck me as a pretty straight shooter who only wants what's best for his players and the team. But by crisscrossing messages and giving out conflicting information, he only gives the appearance that there's disarray in a program that's usually pretty drama-free.
Wisconsin looks pretty silly right now, though the good news is that the next few opponents appear to have little chance of beating the Badgers. The team has done a pretty good job of inflicting its own wounds the past 72 hours or so.