October 3, 2009

Tolzien shrugs off adversity, leads team to win

MINNEAPOLIS - The entire deck was stacked against Scott Tolzien after he threw an ugly interception during the second quarter of Wisconsin 31-28 win over Minnesota.

After that play, one where Minnesota linebacker Nate Triplett jumped the route and returned the ball inside UW's 15 yard line, Tolzien could have folded. He could have lost confidence in himself and seen the game spiral out of control.

But he didn't.

Facing adversity for the first time on the road as a starting quarterback, Tolzien picked himself up and figured out a way to get the offense back on track.

"You're not going to play perfect ball all the time and I realize that that was a bad decision on my part," Tolzien, who finished 16-of-26 for 159 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception, said after the game. "At the same time, once that happens, it's behind you.

"You've got to put it aside and just play the next play."

By the end of the first half, Tolzien had regained his composure well enough to lead a drive that ended in a Philip Welch field goal that tied the game at the time.

But in the second half, adversity struck yet again.

This time, Tolzien was trying to make something happen on second and long and eventually fumbled the football. Unfortunately for him, the ball rolled directly toward Triplett who recovered the fumble.

Much like the first time though, Tolzien bounced back quickly and helped steer an offense to 21 second half points as the half and game eventually concluded.

"That guy did get a hand on it," UW head coach Bret Bielema said following the win. "He (Tolzien) kind of bobbles it. He could have secured that thing back up. I just grabbed my arm and put my hand around his neck and said, 'Hey, Scotty, you're going to respond in the right situation here.

"Ball security is priority number one. You've done this before as far as making first downs and moving forward, and he responded pretty well after that."

As a matter of fact, from that point on Tolzien finished 5-for-10 passing for 65 yards and a touchdown. He also added a clutch 47-yard run that set up UW's final touchdown of the day.

He picked up third downs and kept drives going. He wasn't afraid to make a mistake and played loose, even when the game got tight.

At one point, facing third and one, the coaching staff even had enough confidence in Tolzien to let him try to make a play through the air, even though John Clay was having his way with the Gopher defense.

"Paul Chryst wanted to throw it," Bielema said. "I, at first, hesitated. But then I said, you know what, let's go with it. I clicked over to the defense and said hey, I'm going to let him throw it here. The first thing Dave Doeren said was, 'Why?'

"We felt good about the play and they defended it. I think they kind of caught on that we might be doing it as well."

Many questions entering UW's first road game revolved around how Tolzien would handle the pressure. All he did was answer it by making the plays necessary when needed and kept the offense balanced and operating.

Through five games, it seems the Badgers have a quarterback that is also capable of leading them to success no matter the venue. And he proved that on Saturday.

It wasn't always pretty, but when locked in a staring match with adversity, Tolzien did not blink.

"Even if we're playing at Camp Randall, every game is not going to be perfect the way you want it," Tolzien said. "The good teams are going to want to fight back from that adversity. Today, I think we did a pretty good job of that."

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