The Great Debate

Election Day is less than a week away and so is Decision Day for Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, who must vote and elect either fifth-year senior Curt Phillips or fourth-year junior Danny O'Brien as the quarterback to lead the Badgers' offense against Indiana. As the moderator, Badger Nation looks at each candidate.

Name: Curt Phillips

Hometown: Kingsport, TN

Height: 6-3

Weight: 214

Throws: Right

Highlights: 2008 scout team player of the year … set career highs in pass attempts (six) and passing yards (28) and tied career high with three completions and a long pass of 13 yards against Purdue on Oct. 31, 2009 … led team with career-high 92 rushing yards on four carries, including career-long 37-yard run, and completed lone pass for career-long 13 yards against Wofford on Sept. 19, 2009 … has overcome three ACL surgeries on right knee … well liked and respected by his teammates.


Just the fact that he returned to the field week six against Illinois appeared to be a victory in itself for Phillips. After being sideline the last two seasons because of surgeries, setbacks and rehabilitations, Phillips was inserted under center on Wisconsin's third series against Illinois to run a special package designed for him.

Although his one pass completion was wiped out by penalty and he was technically on the field for only two plays, the competitive juices are still alive and well for the fifth-year senior.

"It obviously had been awhile, so it was excited to get back out there," Phillips said after. "It's something we had talked about for awhile before we pulled the trigger. To get a chance to do it feels good. I was excited just to get back out there.

"Hopefully in the future it'll be more than three plays, but it's a start."

After handling most of the fourth quarter against Minnesota by simply handing the ball off to the tailbacks, Phillips appears to be have made solid strides since fall camp when it appeared he still wasn't at 100 percent, as going through double practices for the first time in nearly a year and a half started to take a toll.

Even so, Phillips still was more mobile than the other quarterbacks despite having the three knee surgeries. With practice having been closed to the media since mid August, Bielema reported Monday that the limited reps during practices have helped Phillips take a step forward in his abilities.

"There is probably not a kid that has invested more time to get on the field than Curt Phillips," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "Our kids love him. Our coaches like him. Matt (Canada) has been intrigued with Curt since Day 1. He's got that 'it' factor that quarterbacks need."

Having the ability to apply for a sixth year of eligibility after the season, Phillips has traditionally been used as a change-of-pace quarterback. Because of injuries, however, Phillips has started to develop a pocket passing presence. Not giving a chance to air it out for three years, Phillips says he feels "great" running Wisconsin's offense and he "doesn't need to be a different-look-type guy."

"I looked at (the Illinois game) as a chance to, maybe, earn a bigger role," said Phillips. "I need to make the most out of the ones I get … I just want to play. I don't make decisions when that is, but I take what they give me. Whatever I get to go in, I am going to go. I feel like I have been ready to play for awhile."

Name: Danny O'Brien

Hometown: Kernersville, N.C.

Height: 6-3

Weight: 223

Throws: Right

Highlight: Transferred from Maryland in June … Ranks fifth in Maryland history in career passing touchdowns (29), seventh in career passing attempts (603), eighth in career passing yards (4,086) and eighth in career completions (342) … FWAA Freshman All-America honors in 2010 … First-ever Terp to earn league rookie of the year (award initiated in 1975) … In his first start as a Badger against Northern Iowa on Sept. 1, went 19-of-23 for 219 yards and 2 TDs. Pass efficiency of 191.29 was the second-best mark of a Badgers quarterback in his UW debut (minimum five completions).


Earning the starting spot after a long battle in fall camp, O'Brien started UW's first three games before being benched at halftime of the Utah State game. Even though O'Brien wasn't put in the best of situations (limited playbook, struggling offensive line and without No.1 receiving target Jared Abbrederis for two halves), O'Brien was replaced by Joel Stave primary because the transfer struggled with turnovers and poor decisions.

"I would be lying if I said it wasn't tough," said O'Brien last week. "It was tough. At the same time you have two options: throw in the towel and be a cancer on the team or be positive and be a teammate. You have to put the team first and I'll be ready if I am ever called. I've been working really hard."

As fate would have it, O'Brien would up playing virtually the entire second half after Stave was injured on the first offensive play against Michigan State. Only playing on the final drive at Nebraska and in mop-up duty at Purdue, O'Brien completed 5 of 11 passes for 44 yards against the Spartans. He was sacked three times and UW scored six points on the eight full possessions with him on the field.

"He did make some plays," Bielema said.

In six games, O'Brien has completed 60.5 percent of his passes (52 of 86) for an average of 87.2 yards per game. He has three touchdowns and one interception but has been sacked eight times, struggling sometimes to avoid the pressure.

While on the bench, O'Brien has taken advantage of his background as a film junkie, studying him game and opponents to figure out ways to improve on the field. He's also been working with offensive coordinator Matt Canada, being able to relate to someone else who is looking to find his rhythm in his first year at Wisconsin.

"It's been humbling," O'Brien said of the benching, "but I think in the long run it will help me out. My confidence in my ability has not dropped at all. I am pretty sure it hasn't on the team either."

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