UW FOOTBALL

Badgers football: Curt Phillips' competitive nature gives him an edge

2013-04-18T05:00:00Z Badgers football: Curt Phillips' competitive nature gives him an edgeTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

It hasn’t taken University of Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig long to understand the essence of quarterback Curt Phillips.

“He’s competitive,” said Ludwig, who coaches the quarterbacks. “He is a competitive, competitive player.”

Whether Phillips, a sixth-year senior, is playing ping-pong in the new players lounge or going through a spring practice, his competitive desire never wanes.

It’s a big reason he overcame three ACL surgeries to his right knee, starting the final five games last season after Joel Stave suffered a broken collarbone. It was the first extensive playing time in Phillips’ career.

It’s also a reason, as the Badgers conclude spring drills with their intrasquad game on Saturday, Phillips doggedly clings to the top spot on the depth chart.

The competition between Phillips and Stave, a sophomore, will continue into preseason camp, when they will be joined by junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy. But Phillips has been first in the rotation all spring.

Ludwig stopped short of saying Phillips has the best grasp of the new offense, but said his overall experiences are a strength.

“He’s been there and done that,” Ludwig said. “There’s a tremendous amount of respect for Curt in the meeting room and on the football team for what he’s been through and the leadership he provides for this football team. His voice carries a lot of weight. I appreciate it very much.”

As good as Phillips’ story was last season, it lacked a fairytale ending.

The Badgers had the ball with a little more than 2 minutes remaining in the 20-14 loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl, driving past midfield for a potential winning touchdown. Phillips threw a pass for tight end Jacob Pedersen that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted. Fighting back tears in the post-game locker room while talking to reporters, Phillips looked devastated.

“It was tough, at the time, I didn’t know it was tipped,” Phillips said. “So, I think I felt a lot worse about it. I kind of got hit on the play, so I didn’t know what happened.”

While he may not be obsessed by the memory, the competitor in him desperately wants another chance to make it right.

“You move on, but at the same time, any loss sticks with you,” he said. “It’s definitely a motivating factor. As soon as you get a taste of it, especially being in a big game like that, you want more of it.”

It wasn’t just that missed opportunity that drives Phillips. He was 2-3 as a starter, with agonizing losses to Ohio State and Penn State.

Phillips tied both games with touchdown passes in the final seconds, only to lose in overtime.

“We were in a position to win the game three times when I was in there and we didn’t do it,” Phillips said. “It’s an advantage having been in those situations, so you’re more comfortable in them, but we’ve got to find a way to finish them.”

Phillips played the final quarter of the Rose Bowl with torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee, suffered on a run near the end of the third quarter. He threw for only 83 yards in the game, adding 64 rushing.

“With that much adrenaline, it wasn’t an issue,” he said of the injury. “To be honest, I don’t feel much in my right knee anyway. ”

Said Ludwig, “He’s a tough son of a gun now. Incredible physical toughness, mental toughness. I’ve got great respect for that.”

Another year removed from his knee problems, Phillips expects to throw the ball better this season. He threw for less than 100 yards in three of his starts and finished with 540 passing yards, completing 46 of 81 passes with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

He is starting to get some zip back on his passes, which he said also has to do with the increased work he gets in practice.

“A lot of that has to do with confidence, just cutting it loose, when you’re not second-guessing things,” he said. “Also, having the knee (injuries), it definitely changed my throwing motion. I was having to throw without really planting off my back foot.

“I think having a chance to work on that (over the summer), along with the confidence, it’ll be completely different (in the fall).”

Phillips knows he may not be a popular choice among fans to win the starting job. Stave is a more polished passer with a stronger arm, and some fans would be happy to go with McEvoy, sight unseen.

“I like it when they (doubt me),” Phillips said. “I think every now and then you do kind of need something to (tick) you off and give you a little bit of a spark. I welcome that.”

With the Rose Bowl memories still fresh, Phillips has plenty to spark him. The NCAA granted him a sixth year due to missing two full seasons with knee injuries.

“I’m just trying to make the most of it and not have any regrets with it,” Phillips said of his final year. “I couldn’t be more excited to have it. I will continue to push myself toward being healthy and being the player I was before I was hurt.”

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(5) Comments

  1. bladerunnerxxxxx
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    bladerunnerxxxxx - April 19, 2013 2:25 am
    Need to start fresh with new coaches. CP and Staves just "protected" the ball. They are not quarterbacks who can actually win games like Russel was. Need to look hard at the upcoming quarterbacks and groom then for the future years. I would put this year as a transition.
  2. Bigtenwi
    Report Abuse
    Bigtenwi - April 18, 2013 4:48 pm
    Did I miss anything. CP has a freshman year last year and with a true freshman you see the same mistakes as CP, second guessing throws that miss the target or should have thrown etc. give the guy a chance. Obviously coach thinks he has what it takes to run the offense he want to run. Maybe he can't throw as deep as Stave or Houston but he can throw and runs better right now. As Houston becomes more comfortable e could stun us and become the guy. Man I get tired of this banter so early and they are just practicing. Lets cheer them on and back them up. On Wisconsin. Lets go Red
  3. Yoopermn
    Report Abuse
    Yoopermn - April 18, 2013 11:23 am
    Well, you were going down the right path for a little while there...you definitely start the guy that gives you the best chance to win NOW. Along those same lines, this isn't some throwaway year just because of the coaching transition. One way or the other, QB play will be improved from last year; some other pieces are lost, but replacements could do as well or better...as is the case with just about every team. Bottom line: if CP is looking like the best all-around, then he's the guy, I don't care who's arm is stronger (obviously arm strength is only one component, and not the most important). Sounds like CP's arm is getting better as he continues to get back to full strength.
  4. Badger in Lexington
    Report Abuse
    Badger in Lexington - April 18, 2013 7:47 am
    Not so, you go with the guy that gives THIS YEARS team the best chance to win! If Houston and stave aren't capable of beating out Phillips then why on earth would u send them out there to run the show? You don't waste a season to develop a qb UNLESS ur sitting at 3-5 after 8 games... Not to mention why on earth would u send the "future" out with the worst line in years and only 1 true weapon to throw too? Let Anderson implement his system this season and let Houston learn from the sideline where he will stay healthy and let Anderson bring in solid lineman and receivers for him to throw to next year and later. Let Phillips be the whipping boy in a transition year.
  5. Farmdog
    Report Abuse
    Farmdog - April 18, 2013 6:39 am
    Phillips situation is a feel good story and feel good stories can obscure reality. He does not throw the ball well and has had multiple knee operations. He is a sixth year senior and thus not our future at QB. His comeback, while admirable, is taking away needed reps from Stave and Houston, and later from McEvoy, who frankly are the Badger future. It is time to move on.

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