Coaches stay with QB Tolzien: Junior provides tonic for flu-stricken team

MADISON -- Experimentation, apparently, has its place. If there was one thing that could be gleaned from Bret Bielema's news conference Saturday afternoon, it was that the University of Wisconsin may play two quarterbacks, but there is significan...

MADISON -- Experimentation, apparently, has its place.

If there was one thing that could be gleaned from Bret Bielema's news conference Saturday afternoon, it was that the University of Wisconsin may play two quarterbacks, but there is significant distance between Nos. 1 and 2.

With practice shortened last week as a flu bug spread throughout the team, the coaching staff decided to put all its eggs in one basket and handed it to junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, who took almost all the snaps in practice.

There would be no quarterback rotation against Fresno State.

"We did feel that if we weren't moving the ball, Curt (Phillips) would be a nice change-up for us, kind of a guy you could bring in and do some things," Bielema said. "By no means did we say this game that the third series we're going to put you in or put you in the first quarter."


Tolzien took all the snaps in UW's 34-31 double-overtime victory, completing 17 of 28 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception, though he made a critical mistake in the fourth quarter when he ran to the wrong side of the formation on a bootleg play and was dropped for a 3-yard loss on second down at the UW 5 with about 2 minutes left.

That play led to a UW punt, which gave Fresno State the chance it needed to force overtime.

"At a critical time like that, that's huge," Tolzien said. "But I've got to learn from that."

Tolzien also admitted he needs to work on some of his reads, but, in general, for the second straight week he displayed the toughness to stare down a heavy pass rush and the poise to deliver the ball on the mark under pressure.

In Bielema's estimation, Tolzien also showed an element of grit in how he fought through a high fever and body aches during the week to prepare for the game.

It's hard to argue with the results so far. In two games, he has completed 32 of 48 passes (66.7%) for 482 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His pass efficiency rating is a more-than-solid 156.43.

"I just like the composure he has, and the great thing is that it's early in the year and we'll see where it goes," Bielema said.

The coach then went on to mention Phillips' ability to make plays and gave former starter Dustin Sherer, who is now No. 3 on the depth chart, kudos for his work with the team's other signal callers.


As the weeks pass, however, it is becoming clear that Tolzien is more than a stopgap measure until Phillips, a redshirt freshman, is ready.

The scenario was unthinkable to some, including junior receiver Isaac Anderson. He thought Sherer would start, then began watching Tolzien make play after play.

"During scrimmages, Scott definitely proved he could make the plays downfield and throw the ball on time," Anderson said.

Injury report

Three Badgers were hurt Saturday, though none seriously.

Freshman center Travis Frederick sprained his right ankle, but Bielema said X-rays showed no serious damage. The coach also was optimistic about sophomore running back Bradie Ewing, who suffered a concussion. Anderson was bothered by cramps.


Fans voiced their displeasure toward the end of the first half when it appeared the Badgers were going to settle for a 21-14 deficit after getting the ball on their own 8 yard line with 1 minute, 37 seconds left.


The Badgers ran on three straight plays, sending only one player wide. It was all a set up, something UW planned to try before Fresno State aided the Badgers' cause with a timeout with 59 seconds left.

Tolzien went over the top for Anderson, who almost ripped away from the tackle before getting dropped after a 44-yard gain against single coverage.

That play led to a 57-yard field goal by Philip Welch.

Sloppy play

Though happy to get the victory, Bielema wasn't fooling himself. The Badgers committed seven penalties for 66 yards. Too many of them were mental errors, such as the two delay-of-game calls they received on the first play of a possession.

"We weren't clean," he said. "There are enough things out there that we've got to get corrected and I don't want to see repeated mistakes."

Extra points

-- Three freshmen made their Badgers debuts: center Peter Konz came in after Frederick was injured; Kraig Appleton entered the game in the second quarter as a receiver; and David Gilbert got his first snap at defensive end in the first quarter.


-- Running back John Clay (143 yards in 21 carries) posted his fourth 100-yard game at UW.

-- The Badgers didn't have a turnover, the first time that happened since their victory at Fresno State on Sept. 13, 2008.

-- Copyright (c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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