STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nobody can ever doubt the resiliency of University of Wisconsin fifth-year senior quarterback Curt Phillips.
Whatever limitations Phillips might have, he absolutely never stops fighting.
That was apparent in his rehabilitation from three ACL surgeries on his right knee and it was evident again in the Badgers’ 24-21 overtime loss to Penn State on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
For the second straight game, Phillips drove the Badgers down the field in a 2-minute offense, tying the game in the final seconds of regulation, only to lose in overtime.
That was of little solace afterward for Phillips, who fell to 1-2 as a starter.
“It’s really frustrating,” Phillips said. “The 2-minute (drive), that’s exactly how we practiced it, same thing again (as a week earlier against Ohio State). We just didn’t finish it in overtime. I don’t really know exactly why or what it is. We just need to learn from it.”
It was a struggle most of the game for Phillips, who completed 12 of 25 passes for 191 yards, with two touchdown passes and one interception.
Other than a 57-yard touchdown pass to running back Melvin Gordon, who lined up in the slot and went in motion, on the first possession, the passing game struggled until the final two drives.
The biggest issues were on third down, which has been a year-long problem. The Badgers converted only 5 of 16 third downs — which included 4 of 5 on the final two drives in regulation.
“I feel bad for Curt,” tight end Jacob Pedersen said. “We didn’t make plays and had a couple drops that needed to go different ways.
“It all goes back to execution; you’ve got to make the plays when given the opportunity. We didn’t do that.”
The Badgers had eight straight punts and an interception following touchdowns on their first two drives. Phillips was sacked three times and hit on several other throws as Penn State blitzed effectively on third downs.
Left guard Ryan Groy and right guard Kyle Costigan both had problems with Penn State senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who finished with two sacks.
“You definitely want to be able to extend drives and be good on third down,” center Travis Frederick said. “We have not been that way. There were obviously a few pressures and a couple sacks. That is what kills your drives. If you have that on third downs, it really kills you.”
A few drops didn’t help, either. One of the biggest was by sophomore wide receiver Kenzel Doe early in the fourth quarter. Doe had sparked the Badgers with a 44-yard kickoff return. But on third-and-5, Phillips delivered a perfect throw and Doe dropped it at the Penn State 38.
“It was a perfect ball, perfect throw by Curt,” Doe said. “It was just a mental (lapse), a catch I make every day in practice. It slipped right through my hands. I tried to let that go and move on to the next play.”
Despite the adversity, Phillips never stopped battling. Against Ohio State, he threw the game-tying touchdown with 8 seconds left.
“The 2-minute, that’s exactly how we practiced it, same thing again (as last week),” Phillips said. “We just didn’t finish it in overtime.”
Phillips directed an 11-play, 59-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with an interception on fourth-and-8. He tried to force the ball to Jared Abbrederis, who took a big hit and left the game with a head injury.
But after the UW defense forced a three-and-out, Phillips came back with a 66-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass with 18 seconds left on fourth-and-goal to Jeff Duckworth, who was filling in for Abbrederis.
“He never gets nervous,” Pedersen said. “He never blinks an eye. He showed composure. That’s what we needed in him. He’s done it for us, we’ve got to make some plays for him.”Given all Phillips went through to get back on the field, he said resiliency is likely his strongest trait. It just hasn’t been enough to win the last two games.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “Having to fight back to be here shows how much it means to me. I wanted that one bad.”