Curt Phillips may be pulling ahead in Badgers QB race

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips is no stranger to success in the two-minute drill, and that experience appears to be serving him well as he tries to win the Badgers’ starting job in fall camp.

During Saturday’s practice, the 15th of 28 this fall, Phillips demonstrated his poise in such a situation, perhaps pushing ahead again in a back-and-forth battle with Joel Stave for the top signal-caller spot. Phillips led a 14-play, 70-yard drive for a touchdown in impressive fashion with the first-team offense against the No. 1 defense. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 69 yards, and two of his incompletions were spikes to stop the clock.

Stave, meanwhile, closed practice with the second-team offense in the two-minute drill. He completed 1 of 4 passes for eight yards. His fourth-and-two slant pass to receiver Jeff Duckworth was dropped to end practice.

Andersen said command of the team and chemistry for the offense to play in unison were vital components he was expecting from his quarterback. He noted both Phillips and Stave had performed well in two-minute situations during practice.

“Curt’s had some experience doing that, which is great,” Andersen said. “I think Stave’s moving in the right direction. The whole chemistry of the offense seemed cleaner the last two-minute periods. We’ll basically do that every other day throughout the rest of camp.”

Phillips’ touchdown drive was an important step for both him and the entire offense, which struggled against the defense during practices earlier in the week. The two-minute drill actually gave Phillips just 90 seconds to work with. The scenario had the offense trailing by six points at its own 30-yard line with one timeout remaining.

Phillips completed a series of short passes, beginning with one to receiver Kenzel Doe for six yards. He hit running back James White for five yards, Doe for four yards and receiver Jordan Fredrick for seven yards.

Then, Phillips connected on back-to-back first-down throws — a 16-yarder to tight end Brock DeCicco, in which DeCicco hurdled a defender, and a 13-yarder to receiver Jared Abbrederis. Phillips’ last completion was an 18-yarder to Fredrick down the 1-yard-line.

Andersen used the offense’s lone timeout with three seconds remaining to set up for the final play of the drive. Freshman running back Corey Clement punched the ball in around the left side to cap the 14-play drive.

“It’s an opportunity for him to show what he can do,” Andersen said of Clement. “That was a nice run he made down there today. He is a big back. He’s had pretty good ball security as we’ve gone through camp. He’s really fumbled one time. That was a good strip and everything else. But it doesn’t matter, it was still a fumble. He’s one of the possibilities down there in the red zone.”

Phillips has been in important late-game situations already as a Wisconsin quarterback, forcing overtime in two consecutive weeks last season.

He led Wisconsin back to tie its game against Ohio State and send it to overtime on Nov. 17 at Camp Randall Stadium. Phillips took over at Ohio State’s 41-yard-line with 1:33 remaining. After being sacked for an 11-yard loss on the first play, he rallied to complete three straight passes for 32 yards. He capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Pedersen with eight seconds remaining. Ohio State went on to win the game 21-14 in overtime.

One week later against Penn State, Phillips brought Wisconsin back and forced another overtime. In that game, Wisconsin began its drive at its own 34-yard-line with 3:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. Phillips completed 6 of 7 passes for 54 yards, capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Duckworth.

Wisconsin has its second and final open scrimmage of fall camp on Monday, and it should go a long way toward determining the Badgers’ starting quarterback for the Aug. 31 season opener against UMass. The more poise Phillips shows under pressure, the more likely he could be named the starter, although Andersen isn’t tipping his hand just yet.

“We may get in position to name a starting quarterback in our minds,” Andersen said. “The first day it’ll be made public is when he jogs out here against UMass. Anybody that sits down and watches practice, you guys are smart guys and gals. You understand where it’s going and the direction that it is.

“I think right now it’s still wide open. We’ll definitely close it on a lot of different positions on Monday after that scrimmage because it needs to. We’ll start game preparation for a couple of our upcoming opponents early next week.”

French improving: Kicker Kyle French bounced back well Saturday after missing a 38-yard field goal attempt during Thursday’s practice. He made 3 of 4 tries from 33, 47 and 37 yards and missed his final attempt wide left from 49 yards. He also made the extra point after the offense tied the score with its touchdown in the two-minute drive scenario.

“I thought the last two days (were) good,” Andersen said. “Before that, we were a little bit more inconsistent than you would like. But improved. He was 3 for 4 today with a little bit of a crosswind. That was good to see in competitive situations in the scrimmage. We haven’t arrived there, but we’re making progress I believe.”

Backup Jack Russell made 1 of 2 attempts, missing his first try wide right from 44 yards and drilling a low liner through the uprights from 49 yards out.

No Logan trip: Andersen was asked if he would ever consider playing against his former school, Utah State, in the Aggies’ home of Logan, Utah.

“No,” he said. “(At) Wisconsin, I don’t think that’s going to fly. It would be a very competitive game and I don’t mean that in any way, shape or form disrespectful. It would be a very competitive game. We would be — and trust me Utah State would be — a lot more interested in coming and getting a big payday than us going to Logan.”

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