September 11, 2010

Tolzien struggles throughout sloppy win

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the Badgers through two games is the fact that they have yet to play their best football.

Between injuries, turnovers and missed opportunities, the Wisconsin football team has looked like anything but the 11th best team in the nation. At no position is this clearer than at quarterback, where senior Scott Tolzien has yet to deliver a complete performance.

As Wisconsin hosted San Jose State for Saturday's home opener, Tolzien turned the ball over just once on an interception, but added three crucial fumbles that stalled three drives.

"We've just got to get better," Tolzien said. "That's an obvious statement, but we're not there yet and I've got to be accountable for myself, first and foremost."

As for the fumbles?

"That's on me," he said. "I've got to make sure it doesn't happen. Plain and simple."

Tolzien's ball security issues began in the second quarter when he coughed up the football on the first play of the Badgers' second drive following a six-yard sack. After that drive ended in a three-and-out, Tolzien had trouble hanging onto the ball again during the next drive.

Sitting on fourth-and-one at the San Jose State four-yard line, the Badgers opted to go for it. Following an exchange issue with the center, Tolzien was tackled for no gain, and Wisconsin turned the ball over on downs.

"Scotty was putting it on himself," head coach Bret Bielema said. "As you guys know, he'll beat himself up over it. It's just something that we have to clean up."

Following a fumble-free drive to end the first half that culminated in a field goal, the Badgers' first drive of the second half was much like the one that ended on the four-yard line. Fortunately for Tolzien and Wisconsin, this time they had an extra down.

After another exchange issue, this time involving fullback Ryan Groy, the Badgers went from 3rd-and-2 on the 15-yard line to 4th-and-7 on the 20. Philip Welch delivered his second field goal of the game as the Badgers missed out on yet another touchdown opportunity in the red zone.

The worst was yet to come, however, for Tolzien.

Two drives later, Tolzien followed up first-down passes of 14 and 21 yards with an interception, which led to a two-play touchdown drive for San Jose State. On a deep pass intended for receiver Isaac Anderson, corner back Payton Thompson picked it off at his own 15-yard line.

"I know Scotty didn't like the fact that he threw that ball," Bielema said.

"Missed read, missed throw, bad play," Tolzien added. "I've got to be smarter than that. I've got to play better, period."

While Tolzien struggled passing and holding onto the ball Saturday, he persevered. According to his head coach, his best play was his last.

On 3rd-and-4, following a San Jose State timeout with 1:27 remaining in the game, Tolzien read the defense at the line of scrimmage and acted accordingly, leading to a big gain by running back John Clay that allowed UW to run out the clock following a kneel down.

"The best play of the day came on that last drive," Bielema said. "We had a play that was going to get nulled and then the check was wrong. He totally changed the play at the line of scrimmage, and I believe it was an eight-yard first down."

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