A year ago, it would have been considered a compliment to compare Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien to the University of Florida’s signal caller. In 2010, that comparison evokes more fumbles than touchdown runs.
Although Tolzien didn’t quite match UF’s John Brantley’s butterfingered performance from week one, UW’s fifth-year senior fumbled three times against San Jose State. The Badgers recovered all three of Tolzien’s fumbles, but they proved to be drive-killers. Especially damaging was the second-quarter miscue at the SJSU 4-yard line, where the Badgers turned the ball over on downs.
“That’s on me, I’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Tolzien said.
UW lost two turnovers on the day, the first coming on the Badgers’ second drive. Freshman running back James White tried to stretch the ball into the end zone and lost a fumble out the back, resulting in a touchback.
“I got so excited, and then all the excitement went away that fast,” White said. “You take the slow walk to the sideline because you know you did wrong. But I’ll get it corrected by next week.”
Although UW went into the locker room at halftime up 17-0, the score likely could have been 31-0 had the offense not turned the ball over in the red zone twice. It was a stark contrast to the unit that led the Big Ten in red zone scoring percentage last season.
“We feel that when we get in the red zone, we can’t be stopped,” running back John Clay said. “The only person that was killing [us] was ourselves.”
Tolzien’s one interception of the game came on a deep pass down the middle to Isaac Anderson. The ball was overthrown and Anderson fell, leaving him unable to contest SJSU cornerback Peyton Thompson, who picked the ball and returned it 33 yards.
The issues with ball security come on the heels of a game against UNLV where UW’s two turnovers turned into Rebel touchdowns.
The turnovers weren’t the only similarity to last week. In both games, Wisconsin looked unstoppable in its first drive, only to see the success much harder to come by in subsequent drives. The Badgers went 77 yards in their first scoring drive, which was capped with a short touchdown run by Clay. White’s fumble ended the next drive and the third drive was a three-and-out. According to senior captain John Moffitt, there was a distinct difference between UW’s first drives as compared to the rest.
“You know, we finished that drive,” he said. “We kept the critical errors low, the missed assignments low.”
While the Badgers were able to survive their sometimes sloppy performance on offense against two teams that went a combined 7-17 in 2009, they may be hard pressed to do the same once Big Ten play starts.
A year ago, freshman receiver Jared Abbrederis was running the scout team offense in preparation for Wofford’s wingbone offense. Against the Spartans Saturday, the redshirt freshman was the Badgers’ leading pass catcher, hauling in a team-high five catches.
With No. 1 receiver Nick Toon out with a foot injury, Abbrederis was called on to fill a bigger role in just his second career game. Running plays with the No. 1 offense wasn’t anything new for the freshman, though.
“During practice, the coaches put us in those positions, just in case something happens,” Abbrederis said. “I was really excited when I got the opportunity to get out there; last week I got some playing time, but today, when [David] Gilreath went down, I really had to step up.”
The Wautoma native responded in a big way, with three of his five catches going for first downs. Abbrederis also was used as a decoy in some fake end-arounds.
“Anybody that was in fall camp, they saw a guy that can make plays,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “I thought he did a really nice job securing some catches today.”
The scariest moment of the game came in the third quarter, when UW return man David Gilreath took a blow to the head while returning a punt. Gilreath elected not to call for a fair catch, then took a low hit before absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit from SJSU’s Dominique Hunsucker and getting knocked out cold.
There was an almost 12-minute delay as the UW staff and his mother came out to check on the senior, who was eventually loaded onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. White and Abbrederis took over kickoff and punt return duties afterward.
Bielema said after the game that tests on Gilreath came back negative, though he sustained a concussion. Although it was difficult to see due to the crowd surrounding him, Gilreath came to and was able to move after being unconscious for about a minute. He was discharged the same afternoon.