When quarterback Scott Tolzien led the Wisconsin offense onto the field for the first time Saturday evening against Northern Illinois, no one really knew what to expect.
After his first snap, however, everyone knew one thing: Tolzien and the Badgers have the ability to stretch the field offensively and they are not afraid to do so. Even on the first play from scrimmage.
The junior signal caller hit Isaac Anderson streaking down the right side for an 80-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with just 3:30 elapsed off the clock.
“It was exciting, a good way to start the game,” Tolzien said. “[I was] real excited just knowing that coach [Paul] Chryst (offensive coordinator) had the confidence in us just to go out and make a big play.”
“We were talking about it in practice like we should just strike up the band after that play,” Anderson added. “We kind of knew what we were going to get. It was definitely just great preparation by the coaching staff and by our team also. It was a great opportunity to take advantage of.”
Tolzien’s first pass went a long way toward making his case that he belongs as the starter for the Badgers. The UW starter was consistent throughout, completing 15-of-20 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown.
The only blemish on his record was a pair of interceptions, one in the second quarter that resulted in a punt for NIU and one in the fourth quarter that allowed the Huskies to get within eight points at 28-20 with 2:47 remaining.
“He kind of was today what he’s been through camp, just real steady, handles the situation,” head coach Bret Bielema said of Tolzien. “The one interception was brought by a protection issue when he went to release the football. Then the one at the end of the game, I’m sure he wants to take back, but Scotty’s a young quarterback; he just made his first collegiate start.”
With Tolzien’s success against Northern Illinois Saturday came a delay in the first appearance of redshirt freshman Curt Phillips.
Though Bielema and Chryst had hoped to enter Phillips in the game at some point in the first quarter, he did not take his first snap until near the nine-minute mark in the second quarter. Phillips first four plays were handoffs to running back Zach Brown and his first pass attempt fell incomplete, but he seemed to settle in after.
After Phillips missed an open Nick Toon on first down from the Badgers’ 40-yard line, he ran for seven yards on second down and found tight end Garrett Graham over the middle for another 11 yards.
“Obviously, it’s a lot of fun to get out there for the first time,” Phillips said. “I was really looking forward to it, and I wasn’t nervous like I thought I was going to be.”
Phillips finished the game with a modest line, just 3-of-5 passing for 24 yards, but he impressed with his feet, picking up 34 yards on the ground on four attempts.
And though his week one numbers are not going to wow anyone, Bielema believes the Kingsport, Tenn., native played well considering it was his first collegiate action.
“I think those first couple snaps he was kind of looking around, but Curt’s been through a lot in the last week,” Bielema said. “He’s a redshirt freshman coming in here (and) he had his whole family coming in here. … So I thought that he handled the situation, handled playing in front of 80,000 people and against a good defense that was doing some good things.”
Going forward, it looks as though Bielema and the Badgers will continue to operate under a similar system to the one they used Saturday. Both Tolzien and Phillips appear comfortable with the current system and the offense worked well under the two, as they combined to complete 18-of-30 (60 percent) passes for 281 yards. Though, the playing time of both players will likely continue to be dictated based on the success of the team early in games.
According to Toon, a sophomore receiver, the two-quarterback system has little effect on his play, since it’s something they’ve grown accustomed to at this point.
“That’s how we practice,” Toon said. “The saying is, ‘practice how you play.’ That’s what we do in practice, and we’re used to it.”