If this season has been one of change for the University of Wisconsin football team, the trend will only continue as coaches decide who to move forward with at quarterback.
Head coach Bret Bielema confirmed earlier reports that UW (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) starting quarterback Joel Stave suffered a season-ending broken collarbone Saturday, but said it will not require surgery after the redshirt freshman met with team doctors Monday morning.
“He injured his left clavicle … [doctors will] X-ray it every week, but it’s probably an eight-week recovery, which takes him out of the regular season,” Bielema said. “There’s an outside chance of obviously something for postseason, but that would be right on the edge of it. And everything, if it goes to plan, should be 100 percent ready to go for spring ball.”
Danny O’Brien took over for Stave in the second half against Michigan State Saturday, but Bielema said the coaching staff will evaluate the best option to start at the position over the next two weeks. The UW head coach also said Curt Phillips will be in the mix to earn the starting nod against Indiana.
“We’ll take this bye week right here and pretty much give Danny and Curt equal reps and see where we’re at going into Sunday,” Bielema said. “We may not make a public announcement, but for sure we’ll let our players know who’s going to start the game.”
Bielema complemented Phillips’ resiliency and leadership, especially his drive to continue playing after rehabbing three separate anterior cruciate ligament tears.
“I know this, there’s probably not a kid that’s invested more time to get on the field than Curt Phillips on our football team,” Bielema said. “Our kids like him; I think our coaches like him. Matt Canada has been intrigued with Curt ever since day one. He’s got that ‘it’ factor that quarterbacks need to have.”
Coming out of high school, Phillips was rated as the seventh best dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com. Despite Phillips’ surgeries, Bielema stressed that coming into fall camp he was relatively healthy.
“He really looked strong in fall camp,” Bielema said. “That was the first extensive [experience] he’s had action wise in a year and a half. I would think he’s actually gotten better with a limited amount of practice time.”
Phillips saw his first action of the season against Illinois, and his only run came on a loss of two yards. He did complete an 8-yard pass to James White, but it was wiped away by a penalty.
The fifth-year senior offers the most mobility at quarterback, as the coaches tried to use him as a change of pace player against the Fighting Illini, his first appearance in a Badger uniform since 2009.
“It will be interesting this week because Curt obviously has some unique skill sets,” Bielema said.
O’Brien completed 5-of-11 passes against Michigan State for 44 yards and no touchdowns. When asked about O’Brien’s preparedness, the head coach said the former Maryland transfer was ready and hinted at the fact that Canada, the offensive coordinator and play-caller, has more confidence in O’Brien.
“Danny transferred in with the dream of being a two-year starting quarterback at Wisconsin,” he said. “It started that way and got side railed. Now I know Matt Canada felt very, very confident that he was the guy to go to if there was a sudden change within a series or something like that, the last two weeks.”
Regardless of the serious questions at quarterback, Bielema remained optimistic about the Badgers’ outlook for the remainder of the season. However, he resolutely admitted this season has been different than any other of his seven-year tenure.
“It’s my life as a head football coach,” Bielema said. “You take these experiences, and it defines who you are. It helps you in the future. You’ll be able to have these reference points.”
Through nine regular season games, Wisconsin faces a November slate against two of the top teams in the Leaders Division in Ohio State and Penn State, as well as an important game against a much-improved Indiana team following the Badgers’ bye week.
He noted Wisconsin has been in similarly difficult situations each of the past two seasons at this point, yet reached the Rose Bowl both times.
“We’ve never been the team that everybody was counting to win a championship the last two years,” Bielema said. “But at the end, we were. And it’s because we handle everything on a week-to-week approach. This thing is no different. We’ve got everything in front of us.”
Since Bielema took over, the Badgers have a record of 18-3 in November. Over that span, they have averaged 39.8 points per game while allowing 21.6 points.