by Rexford Shield
Editor's Note: Technical issues delayed the release of this article prior to the Indiana game. Though posted after the Badger's 62-14 victory is was ready for publication prior to the game and has been posted in it's original form.
With week eleven of the college football season upon us, did any fan in their right mind anticipate the Wisconsin lining up their third starting quarterback? This is the first time a third different signal caller will start for the Badgers in a single season since 1975. Given the circumstances who better to be that third starting quarterback than redshirt senior Curt Phillips?
Phillips, a native of Kingsport, Tenn., is an individual that fans know little if nothing about leading up to the showdown against Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday. However, those who closely follow Badger recruiting should be well-versed in his play-calling ability. Prior to suiting up for the cardinal and white, he was a highly touted recruit expected to add a dual threat dimension to the quarterback position that was practically non-existent in the Wisconsin program. He was expected to make an impact early in his career as the favorite to start leading up to the 2009 season but was beat out by Scott Tolzien, who had a solid career at the position, and the dominoes started to unravel for Phillips. Three ACL surgeries later and now the position is his to claim.
His comeback has been well documented. Perseverance. Courage. Determination. These have all been adjectives that have driven his unlikely path to finally becoming the starter that at least some fans have been anxiously awaiting. As I was able to get to know Phillips on a little bit of a personal level outside of football as a classmate I was convinced of his aforementioned intangibles but those should not strictly be focused on. While it makes for a heartwarming, underdog story, he ultimately won the job on the field and not on paper.
Sure, it helped that Joel Stave suffered a season-ending collarbone injury against the Spartans but, when the chips were on the line, he delivered. He beat the outside distractions that buried his chances at ever seeing the field again. However, more importantly, in a one-week tryout during the bye week, he beat out opening day starter Danny O'Brien fair and square and proved to the coaching staff that he is the guy that the team can rally around en route to a possible back-to-back berth in the Big Ten Championship game and an unprecedented third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance. I get that he has minimal game experience, not having appeared in a meaningful snap since 2009, but O'Brien had plenty of game reps at Maryland and Wisconsin and failed.
He is also coming off three significant knee surgeries that have surely hindered his mobility in the pocket. How can he possibly lead the Badgers to victory when they are playing in arguably their biggest game of the year? Looking at past Wisconsin quarterbacks, excluding Russell Wilson because he is Russell Wilson, and you will find that they had little or no mobility to begin with and that was without any reconstructive surgery. In order for the offense to be successful against Indiana and the rest of the year, Wisconsin doesn't need Phillips to be a dual threat quarterback. Of course, it would add another dimension to keep opposing defenses on their heels but all that will be expected and should be expected out of him from the coaching staff and the fan base will be a prototypical Wisconsin game manager, who hands the ball off to Montee Ball and Co. 30-40 or more times per game, completes a respective percentage of his passes and makes the key throws on third and long to keep the offense afloat. Moreover, his transition will be vastly aided by the return of Ricky Wagner, who will obviously bolster the overall production of the offensive line and the running game that was lacking in the home loss against Michigan State.
Badgers fan, I'm asking one thing of you: take a deep breath and give this young man a chance. For those traveling to Bloomington, don't boo him when he underperforms on a drive like you did for O'Brien when he was in. For those sitting comfortably in front of the television set or watching at a sports bar, don't exaggerate and say he is the worst quarterback you have ever seen put on the Motion ‘W” and tell everyone around you how awful of a coach Bret Bielema is for starting Phillips.
The Badgers will indeed have a make-or-break game Saturday to against the Hoosiers, as they look to punch their ticket to Indianapolis with a victory. What player is better to have under center than Phillips, who has had his back up against the wall more times than not.