MADISON, Wis. - The quarterback competition is over, according to Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema. The seventh-year head coach said he knows which quarterback will start for the Badgers when they take on Indiana this weekend, but he wasn't ready to say if Danny O'Brien or Curt Phillips will be standing under center against the Hoosiers.
Bielema said he would discuss his decision with his staff later in the day, and the rest of the team will find out Tuesday during practice. This is the second time this season the Badgers have had an open competition at quarterback, after Joel Stave supplanted O'Brien as the starter just before the start of Big Ten play. But with Stave sidelined for at least the rest of the regular season with a broken collarbone, the Badgers have had to go back to the drawing board.
In picking their new starting quarterback, the Badgers will be choosing between two different styles of quarterback play. Bielema said O'Brien and Phillips bring their own skill sets to the table, but the nature of Wisconsin's offense won't change based on who wins the job. If O'Brien is named the starter this week, Bielema said O'Brien's previous experience in the program would make the transition for him a little bit easier.
"[O'Brien] has started three football games, he's come in in a couple others, so he brings experience in the system that we already have," Bielema said. "I think he understands the importance of ball security now more than ever."
But the Badgers found some glaring flaws in O'Brien's game during his brief tenure as the starting quarterback, as well as when he was backing up Stave. Bielema said O'Brien needs to work on throwing the ball away to avoid a sack, which was a particular problem for him after he took over for Stave against Michigan State. The Spartans sacked O'Brien three times during the game, costing the Badgers several crucial yards in a game where the Badgers lost 16-13 in overtime.
On the other hand, Bielema said Phillips boasts a lot of intangibles, even if his playing time has been limited over the years. Phillips is a fifth-year senior who missed the last two seasons with several ACL injuries, and Bielema said Phillips' struggles helped him in the long run.
"Kids rally around [Phillips] extremely well," Bielema said. "He did a lot to get to where he is, and sometimes when you have that in somebody it's very hard to deny them the opportunity to have success."
Phillips is also reputed to be more mobile than O'Brien, since he was recruited as a dual-threat quarterback out of high school. It remains to be seen how much of that mobility Phillips lost after the surgeries, but Bielema still believes Phillips can use it as a weapon.
And now that Bielema has made his decision, he's hoping the Badgers will finally be able to stick with one quarterback for the rest of the season. The Badgers dabbled a little bit with an extra offensive package for Phillips earlier in the season to take advantage of his mobility, but it doesn't sound like that will be an option if O'Brien wins the starting job.
Injuries and other circumstances might force Bielema to make another change this season, but it sounds like Bielema is hoping this will be his last open competition at quarterback for a while.
"It's one guy in, you hope he takes the ride and runs," Bielema said.
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