O’Brien, Phillips to Battle for Badgers Starting QB Spot

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Well, let the QB marry-go round at UW begin again as Joel Stave's collarbone injury will keep him out for the rest of the season and thus there needs to be a new starter in place. Expecting that to be Danny O'Brien would be the go to guy would be the easy assumption. However, after Bret Bielema's weekly press conference, don't expect that to be the case.

Bielema opened up the door for Curt Phillips to come in and contend for the starting quarterback spot, something fans were claimoring for already during the 2nd half of the Badgers 16-13 overtime loss to Michigan State this past Saturday.

"Danny's had his shot a couple times this year," Bielema said when asked about what he saw from O'Brien on Saturday. "We'll take this bye week and pretty much give him and Curt equal reps and see where we're at on Sunday. May not make a public announcement, but for sure we'll let our players know who's going to start the game. If it's not Sunday, then Tuesday for sure."

That's about as clear an indication that things are wide open as you'll ever see from a head coach. Clearly something just isn't going right with O'Brien on the field.

He is 52 of 87 (60.5% comp.) for 528 yards passing on the season. O'Brien has thrown 3 touchdowns to 1 interception as well and has seen action in 6 of 7 games this season.

O'Brien has started 2 complete games as well as the 1st half against Utah State and completed the 2nd half yesterday minus one play from scrimmage. So he's played really a total of 3 complete football games as "the quaterback" plus a little extra this season. 

His numbers may not look that bad on paper, but the problem is with him under center as "the guy" the Badgers have averaged just 14 points per game, well below their seaon average of 25.9 points a game.

The Badgers scored 26 points versus Northern Iowa, but it was all down hill for O'Brien and the Badger offense after that. They scored just 7 points versus Oregon State, managed just 3 points in his half against Utah State and 6 points against Michigan State in the 2nd half and overtime combined.

So, clearly something isn't right when he's behind center leading this team. Now, to be fair two of those games were behind an offensive line coached by Mike Markuson, but when O'Brien has played under the Bart Miller coached offensive lines his numbers aren't any better. In fact, he hasn't scored a touchdown in a full game plus of action with that offensive line in front of him.

O'Brien's problem getting rid of the football as well as turning it over when being hit are well documented as well, but despite all of that he may end up being the better option with more practice reps leading up to the Indiana game.

"Danny transferred in with the dream of being a two-year starting quarterback at Wisconsin," said Bielema. "It started that way and got side railed. Now I know Matt felt very, very confident that he was the guy to go to if there was a sudden change within say series or something like that."

Now, it's clearly never a good sign when your head coach is publicly declaring that you'll be competing for a job that you did the entire 2nd half just two days ealier. 

Some may wonder if this is just a way to motivate O'Brien. Well, the way Bielema talked about this situation it's clear this is about as real a competition as you can get.

According to coach Bielema his offensive coordinator has been interested in the skill set that Curt Phillips presents from nearly the day he was hired.

"Matt has been intrigued with Curt ever since day one," said Bielema. "He's got that it factor that quarterbacks need to have. It will be fun to see him really compete this week. When he gets his opportunity, I expect him to have a little bit of success."

Finally Bielema talked about the unique nature of what Phillips can bring to this team. It's something we saw in limited time earlier this season when they tried a few rushing packages for Phillips and it's something that could give the Badgers an added demension to the game against Indiana.

"It will be interesting this week because Curt obviously has some unique skill sets that are going to be very unique to him, and we'll kind of see which direction we go," Bielema said on Monday.

Sometimes trying to read into the tea leaves of what coaches are telling you can be a difficult thing, but the play of the offense under the leadership of O'Brien and the praise that Bielema had for Phillips it could just be a matter of Phillips showing he can be consistent this week in more practice time for him to earn the starting job.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college football for nearly half a decade. He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadgers.com and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com

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