October 13, 2010

Minimizing mistakes key for QB

MADISON -- One year ago, Scott Tolzien learned just how tough it was to be a quarterback in the Big Ten Conference.

With four minutes to go in the first quarter of his third conference game as a starter, Tolzien dropped back to pass as his team looked to strike first against No. 9 Ohio State.

Suddenly, the pocket collapsed around the him. With three Buckeye defenders surrounding him, Tolzien fired a pass over the middle, hoping to avoid the first-down sack. Due to the pressure, his pass sailed well over the head of receiver Nick Toon, and into the arms of Kirk Coleman.

Instead of putting points on the board first at Ohio Stadium, UW quickly found itself trailing 7-0 after Coleman took Tolzien's pass 89 yards the other way for the score.

"I just threw it late across the middle and threw it high," Tolzien told reporters afterward.

That interception was just the beginning of what turned into a long day for Tolzien. Down 14-10 early in the second half, Tolzien found himself under pressure again, this time on second-and-17.

As Tolzien tried to find Isaac Anderson near the right sideline, Jermale Hines undercut the pass, tipping it to himself before finding the end zone and pushing the Buckeyes' lead into double digits.

"I thought I could get it over the top of him, and it was too close to call," Tolzien said. "At that point you shouldn't throw it."

In those two games, Tolzien's pass efficiency ratings were 97.78 and 84.05, respectively. Since then, he's averaged a 160.22 rating.

Just twice since that two-game stretch has Tolzien's rating been less than 140: against Purdue on Halloween last season, and two weeks ago at Michigan State.

A little more than a year after the loss in Columbus, Tolzien sees his struggles at Ohio State in a positive light.

"It's a part of my history and something that I've learned from," Tolzien said. "You've got to be smart with the football. Looking back on it, I can almost view it as a blessing now just to have gone through that. You just see the way that affects the swing of the game."

Based on his numbers, the biggest thing Tolzien would appear to have learned over the past 12 months is how to limit those kind of mistakes.

Following that two-interception performance, Tolzien added three more a week later in the Badgers' loss at home to Iowa, giving him five in Wisconsin's back-to-back losses. In 12 games since, the Badgers signal caller has thrown the ball away just five times, and never more than once in a game.

"Scott's a great player," Toon said. "He doesn't make very many mistakes, but everybody makes mistakes. Nobody's perfect.

"Obviously those were two plays we all wish we could have gotten back, but you've just got to move forward and clean it up for the next time."

With the top-ranked Buckeyes boasting the Big Ten's best pass defense while allowing the second-fewest points per game in the conference, Tolzien will face one of the toughest challenges of his career.

If he once again finds himself in the unenviable situation of having thrown an interception returned for a touchdown, it's a pretty safe bet it won't happen twice this time.

"It's one thing if the first one happened, but don't let it affect you in a way where you got to learn to make sure the second one doesn't happen, and vice versa," said Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema. "During the course of the game, it's not what happens, it's how you react to what happens. And he learned himself how to kind of turn those situations from negatives to positives."

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