The two biggest roadblocks on the Wisconsin Badgers’ schedule heading into this season were going to be, without question, the Ohio State and Iowa games. The consecutive tests loomed large after the results of that two-game stretch in 2009.
Now, after the dust has settled, the Badgers can reflect on two monumental victories with pride and satisfaction. A definite reason for their success in the two contests was the play of senior quarterback Scott Tolzien.
Just one season ago, the story was completely different when the Badgers suffered two crippling defeats in consecutive weeks at the hands of the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes.
In the two losses – the first a 31-13 defeat in Columbus and the second a 20-10 disappointment against the Hawkeyes at Camp Randall – Tolzien went a combined 42-70 for 393 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions.
“As a competitor, you’re frustrated by having performances like that, but it’s just motivation to get better in the offseason and throughout camp, and in the season, you want to maximize each opportunity you get,” Tolzien said.
But in 2010 against those teams, he completed 33 of 42 attempts for 357 yards with one touchdown and only two interceptions.
“It’s important that you have a short memory as a quarterback,” Tolzien said. “It’s really how you respond that makes a difference.”
Despite the stark contrast in statistics against the two opponents over the past two seasons, there is no magic formula for success that Tolzien followed – the Badgers have just produced higher-quality games.
In the Ohio State game last season, Tolzien threw two passes that were intercepted and returned for touchdowns. In the 2009 Iowa game, one of his three interceptions led directly to a touchdown for the Hawkeyes in a game Iowa won by merely 10 points.
“The big thing for me, individually, is you see what a big difference turning the ball over makes,” Tolzien said. “You see how that kills the momentum and really puts you in a hole.”
Beyond that, Tolzien simply attributed this season’s success against the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes to better team performance.
Another key factor is the difference in quality of protection Tolzien received over the two seasons. Against Ohio State and Iowa last season, he was sacked a combined 10 times. This year, he was sacked just once total in the two games.
“I would have to say protection,” senior left guard John Moffitt offered in explanation for Tolzien’s improved play. “On top of that, Scott’s a good quarterback. He knows what he’s doing out there and makes the right decisions and executes the right way.”
All other considerations aside, the value of experience and maturation can’t be understated.
“He’s a year older,” offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. “He’s just a different quarterback. He continues to improve and when he has opportunities he makes the most of them. Scott’s tremendous at continuing to learn the game. It’s not just those losses that help him; it’s everything that he experiences, from practice to games.”
A final factor that impacted Tolzien’s performance was the play of the Badgers’ receivers. Senior receiver Isaac Anderson noted that the receivers exhibited less chemistry last season in the two games compared to this season.
“Last year in the Ohio State game, we weren’t on the same page as far as running our routes,” Anderson said. “That wasn’t Scott’s fault…as receivers, we have to be there for him; when he’s putting trust in us and throwing the ball out there, we’ve got to make plays.”
According to Tolzien, it wasn’t just his performance that helped to make this year’s games against the Big Ten’s top teams Badger wins.
“I think we flat-out executed better,” Tolzien said. “I think a little bit of that is experience. But I think it’s just playing better on Saturday.”