With Joel Stave Out for Season, Curt Phillips Will Split Reps With Danny O'Brien

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

In a discussion of signal callers ranging from Joel Stave to Jon Budmayr, head coach Bret Bielema made clear Wisconsin's quarterback job is up for grabs in his Monday press conference.

Joel Stave is indeed out for the season after breaking his left clavicle in Saturday's 16-13 loss to Michigan State, as reports suggested. With Wisconsin facing its bye week, head coach Bret Bielema said that while the quarterback job is not an open competition, Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips will split the practice reps with the No. 1 offense.

O'Brien, the junior transfer from Maryland who lost the starting job after three games, entered after Stave went down on the first drive of the third quarter. He completed just 5-of-11 passes for 44 yards while the Badgers squandered their 10-3 lead before losing in overtime.

Phillips, meanwhile, has appeared in only the Oct. 6 Illinois game. The senior quarterback, who has undergone three separate knee surgeries, did not attempt a pass and rushed once for minus-two yards. Phillips has been a popular player around the Badgers considering all the hard work he's put in since coming to Wisconsin in 2008. The Kingsport, Tenn., native also displayed impressive mobility in 2009 (his lone healthy season), carrying the ball 14 times for 138 yards (9.9 per carry).

"I think [O'Brien] and Curt both are guys that have had some playing experience," Bielema said in his weekly Monday press conference. "Danny's had his shot a couple of times year. We'll take this first week, this bye week right here and pretty much give him and Curt equal reps, see where at we're at going into Sunday.

"We may not make a public announcement, but for sure would let our players know who's going to start the game Saturday."

Bielema noted that if he does not tell the team who will start by Sunday, he would do so by next Tuesday.

As for Stave, Bielema confirmed the redshirt freshman will not undergo surgery after he met with doctors this morning. Stave's left shoulder will be X-rayed every week, and an eight-week recovery is expected. That ends Stave's regularly season, though Bielema said there was an outside chance he could return for postseason action. Either way, Stave will use his medical redshirt, giving him three more years of eligibility and putting him on track to return for spring practice.

O'Brien taking his moments "the right way"

Given the highly publicized nature of his transfer to Wisconsin -- as well as the resounding success of Russell Wilson's similar circumstances in 2011 -- O'Brien faced sky-high expectations from the moment he arrived in Madison.

Simply put, he hasn't met them. O'Brien has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 523 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, and his case as a starter wasn't helped when the Badgers went 5-1 after the switch was made to Stave.

Saturday, Montee Ball rushed for a loss of four yards on O'Brien's first play. On the subsequent 3rd-and-17 at Wisconsin's 25-yard line, O'Brien was sacked by MSU linebacker Max Bullough for an 11-yard loss.

The Badgers punted and forced the Spartans into a three-and-out, but could only respond with a 10-play drive that gained just 35 yards over 5:58. O'Brien was 2-for-2 on the drive for 19 yards.

"The first one obviously wasn't pretty," Bielema said. "We wanted to move him out of the pocket on third down because we thought they might bring pressure, but it didn't happen very, very well."

In the fourth quarter, a Kyle French field goal extended UW's lead to 10-3 with 6:06 remaining. But after MSU tied the game five minutes later, O'Brien had 1:08 to bring the Badgers into field goal position. After Ball rushed for six yards on first down, O'Brien missed him with a pass on second down. Ball gained 13 yards on the subsequent 3rd-and-4, putting Wisconsin at its own 42-yard line. But after an incomplete pass, O'Brien was sacked on for a loss of 13 yards for the last play of regulation.

In overtime, O'Brien threw two incomplete passes on the possession that ended with French's go-ahead 43-yard field goal. Michigan State won the game five plays later on a 12-yard pass from Andrew Maxwell to Bennie Fowler.

"We've understand where he's popping himself into and the difficult scenarios he's been a part of," Bielema said. "Even at the end of the Nebraska game was a difficult scenario. Those moments, if you take them the right way, will make you better for the future and I think Danny's done that.

"But a lot will be shown this week in practice, as well as next week."

Phillips' perseverance could pay off

As Wisconsin's revolving door at quarterback continued, well, revolving much longer than most expected, the Phillips bandwagon gained quite a few passengers.

Noting his admirable perseverance in working past his injuries and aiding previous UW quarterbacks like Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson, Phillips maintained a notable presence on the team even without any playing time. Bielema said Phillips has also managed to improve as a football player during practice, particularly in the heavy work days on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I know this, there's probably not a kid that's invested more time to get on the field than Curt Phillips on our football team," Bielema said. "Our kids like him, the kids love him. I think our coaches like him. [Offensive coordinator Matt Canada] has been intrigued with Curt ever since Day 1. He's got that it-factor that quarterbacks need to have. It'll be fun to see him really compete this week, and when he gets his opportunity, I expect him to have a little bit of success."

Quotable:

Bielema on this surprisingly trying season: "As a head coach, in a sick way, I've kind of enjoyed some of the challenges that have come in my way. I really enjoy being in difficult situations. It kind of gets your juices flowing a little bit, being able to see success and adapt to failure."

Bielema on prepping for Indiana's high-octane offense: "I think Oregon prep [for the 2012 Rose Bowl], that was definitely the fastest preparation we've ever had. I was just talking against coaches that have played against Indiana within our league and stuff; it sounded like they go at a tempo that is trying to do just that, go as fast as you possibly can, and then they'll slow it down and make you race to the line and kind of change it. You can see definitely where there's times where they maximize all of the clock, as well. It's a little bit of a mixed bag. The good thing is, we do have two weeks to prepare."

Notable:

  • The Indiana game on Nov. 10 will kick-off at 11 a.m. CT. The television details remain TBA.
  • Left tackle Ricky Wagner was close to playing on Saturday and will practice this week. X-rays were also negative on defensive tackle Beau Allen, who Bielema said shouldn't miss any time.
  • This is the third time Stave has broken his clavicle. The second, Bielema said, came in fourth grade when Stave was diving for a baseball. The first? According to his mom, Bielema said doctors had to break Stave's collarbone during birth, as he weighed 10 1/2 pounds.
  • Redshirt junior quarterback Jon Budmayr was in Bielema's office. Budmayr is recovering from arm and hip surgeries and will evaluate his playing future in December or January. Bielema said doctors have been excited by Budmayr's progress.
  • Freshman quarterback Bart Houston is on track to practice during Wisconsin's bowl prep.
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