LINCOLN — Curt Phillips stayed ready.
Wisconsin started the season with Danny O’Brien at quarterback. It then went to Joel Stave and briefly back to O’Brien when Stave was hurt in late October.
All along, Phillips waited for the call to take over. The call finally came for the Badgers’ game at Indiana on Nov. 3.
“Obviously, early on I’d have loved to be in there,” Phillips said. “At the same time, I just tried to prepare for each game like I was going to be the starter, whether I was going to be in the game or not. That helped me be prepared for when I did get a chance to make the most of it.”
Phillips will make his fourth straight start Saturday night when Wisconsin meets Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. And the little-used fifth-year senior will be asked to try and lead the Badgers to a third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance.
“I think it speaks to the character of this team that three quarterbacks have played and we’re in the position we’re in,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “Everybody has kind of had a hand in it. And it’s fun to see the resiliency.”
Resilient doesn’t begin to describe Phillips, who has survived three ACL surgeries on his right knee and watched the Badgers bring in transfer quarterbacks Russell Wilson and O’Brien during his time in Madison.
Now he’s just savoring his chance, especially after not taking a single snap in either the 2010 or ’11 seasons. Asked to describe himself, Phillips said he tries to be a leader on the field, but mostly is just having fun with his teammates and “living in the moment.”
Phillips has completed 30 of 57 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns in five games overall. He also offers the Badgers some mobility, although he joked this week that the trips to the operating table have neutralized some of that threat.
Phillips has led game-tying drives the last two weeks against Ohio State and Penn State — the top two finishers in the Leaders Division — but the Badgers have then failed to make the necessary plays in overtime to get wins, leaving them 7-5 heading into Saturday night.
Despite the changes at quarterback, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said Wisconsin appears “very similar philosophically” to when the teams met Sept. 29 in Lincoln. Making his first career road start at NU, Stave completed four passes of 25-plus yards and finished 12 of 23 for 214 yards.
“Obviously I feel bad for Joel Stave because he was having a good year and he was growing as a quarterback,” Pelini said. “Now they’re going with this other gentleman, Phillips, who’s doing a really good job. And I think they have a lot of confidence in him and he’s shown the ability to run their whole offense.”
Phillips threw for a career-high 191 yards in the 24-21 overtime loss at Penn State, but also was sacked three times and intercepted once.
Phillips was the 2007 Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year and was rated the nation’s No. 7 dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com coming out of high school. Compared to Stave, the Huskers will have to be at least a little cognizant of the running ability of the 6-foot-3 214-pounder from Kingsport, Tenn.
“I’d like to consider myself a dual-threat quarterback,” Phillips said. “Maybe it’s diminished a little bit with all these knee surgeries, but I still like to think I can take off if I have to.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1042, email@example.com, twitter.com/RKaipustOWH