Hardly a Phill In

Redshirt quarterback Curt Phillips didn't approach this season wanting to be the back-up quarterback, but came in with the mindset of wanting to contribute in any way possible. After playing under center in four games, Phillips has taken every snap as a learning experience.

MADISON – In past seasons when the backup quarterback came into the fold for the University of Wisconsin, it was either because he was the human victory cigar, helping the Badgers salt away another victory, or the limit the damage, trying to get UW off the field as quick as possible after a humbling loss.

This season's second string quarterback – redshirt freshman Curt Phillips – is anything but.

It goes without saying that Phillips is a different breed of quarterback; something Wisconsin fans haven't been accustomed to in many years. A highly-touted prep quarterback from Kingsport, Tennessee, Phillips is an efficient duel-style quarterback, able to make plays happen with his feet and his arm.

It was that ability that made him the front runner for the starting quarterback job after the second week of fall camp.

"The one thing Curt can do is if something breaks down, he has the ability to make something out of nothing," UW coach Bret Bielema said during camp. "Curt because of where he is in his maturity here, the more reps he gets the more opportunities we'll see if he can do something."

Phillips showed promise, but struggled to continue that momentum throughout the duration of camp, allowing junior Scott Tolzien to take the starting job. But that ability to make plays made the UW coaches include Phillips in various game plans.

"Obviously, coming into the season, I hoped I might be contributing a little bit more," Phillips said. "It's just been really fun being apart of everything that is going on here."

It's also been a humbling learning experience at times. With the Badgers (8-3) heading to Hawaii for their regular season finale Saturday, Phillips will leave having played in four games, completed 7-of-13 passes for 65 yards, has run for 138 yards and has been involved in controversial decisions, although they haven't always been his fault.

After Tolzien led UW on a scoring drive against Iowa, Phillips entered the game, but couldn't parlay the momentum, rushing for two carries and nine yards. UW was forced to punt and its offense was never the same in the loss to Iowa.

In UW's 37-0 shutout over Purdue, Phillips directed UW's last five series, completed 3 of 6 passes for 28 yards with one interception, rushed four times for 3 yards and helped UW get a field goal in 22 plays.

"I think he has progressed, certainly every game rep is valuable," Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst said. "There are times you look back and you wish you could get them all more reps. I think he is learning all the things that go into playing quarterback off the field. It's been a productive year for him all around."

Against Purdue, Phillips took over the offense at the Purdue 20 after a fumble, but struggled to properly execute two running plays, forcing the field goal. The next series saw Phillips throw a pass for up for grabs that resulted in his first collegiate interception.

He also was humbled by his final pass of the game, when he rolled to his right and had David Gilreath wide open past the 40-yard line. But over running himself in the end zone and having to throw across his body, the pass came out like a wounded duck and fell 13-yards short of its target.

"That was something I thought into a little too much," Phillips said. "I was in my own end zone so I wanted to be safe with it, but I should leave a pass 30 yards short. It's good to get in there and learn from it. The big thing is not getting too worked up. It seems something new happens every time with a situation you have to deal with so take it, learn from it and move on."

Much like fifth-year senior Dustin Sherer, Phillips is getting a jump on the offensive playbook as an underclassman by being in Chryst's ear on every play, taking the play call and hand signaling the play into Tolzien, allowing Phillips see the big picture from the safety of the sidelines.

"You aren't rushed or pressured when you see the play develop and you can hear the coaches talking about it on the headset," he said. "It's definitely a good learning experience having all that go on."

All of that has helped Phillips make significant strides in his progression. Understanding the defenses, seeing the different schematics of opposing teams and developing the mental part of the game along with his timing, Phillips is laying the foundation for his future at the position.

With the amount of skills he had coming in, the finish product could be something to behold.


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