MADISON, Wis. - It's official- Curt Phillips will start for the Badgers at quarterback against Indiana, according to head coach Bret Bielema. It'll be Phillips' first career start, and it comes after the dual-threat quarterback from Kingsport, Tenn., missed two full seasons with three different ACL injuries.
Bielema said Phillips' start would be "a neat thing for him," considering the struggles the fifth-year senior went through over the last two seasons. Phillips played sparingly as a redshirt freshman back in 2009, and again this season behind Joel Stave, but the Badgers were forced to look elsewhere at quarterback after Stave broke his collarbone against Michigan State.
Phillips competed with Danny O'Brien to replace Stave, and Bielema said Phillips started to separate himself from O'Brien late last week.
"Last week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday both of them did ok, but Curt really found some rhythm on Thursday and late Wednesday," Bielema said.
O'Brien started the season as Wisconsin's starting quarterback, but lost the job to Stave three weeks into the season. O'Brien came on to replace Stave against Michigan State, but the offense stalled against the Spartans' defense and the Badgers lost 16-13 in overtime. Bielema said O'Brien handled the news well after offensive coordinator Matt Canada delivered the verdict early this week.
"I give him a lot of credit- he's a strong kid," Bielema said.
Phillips competed with Stave and O'Brien for the starting job in fall camp, but at the time it was clear Phillips was still working his way back to full health. At the time Phillips had trouble planting his right leg to drive the ball downfield, but Bielema said he's not concerned about Phillips' health.
The three surgeries might have sapped the former four-star prospect of some of his old mobility, but Bielema said Phillips could still bring an extra element to the offense.
"He's physically fine. From what I've seen of Curt, his strength, his ability, his mental toughness gives me a lot of confidence in what he'll do Saturday," Bielema said.
"You've seen what he can do. It may not be a traditional Wisconsin offense, you'll see some different things, but it's something we're excited to see."
But above all else, Bielema complemented Phillips on his resolve to stay around the game and compete for playing time. Bielema said he never told Phillips he might need to give up football at any point during his rehab, but Bielema said the notion definitely crossed his mind that Phillips' playing days might have been over.
But Phillips stuck it out, and is getting the shot he said he was hoping for back during fall camp. Phillips' first start is coming a little later than planned, but at long last his comeback is complete.
"Anytime you sign with a school at quarterback your dream is to be the starting quarterback, and he unfortunately has battled through a lot," Bielema said. "But the key point there is he's put himself back on top and I'm really looking forward for him to play."
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