September 7, 2009

Tolzien excels in first collegiate start

MADISON, Wis. - Even if Scott Tolzien was directing his own Hollywood feature film, it would be difficult for him to script a better beginning to his football career at Wisconsin.

Over the 10 days of film preparation leading into Saturday's season opening win over Northern Illinois, both Paul Chryst and Bret Bielema noticed a weakness and a propensity for NIU to think run on the first play.

So naturally, with a new quarterback under center making his first collegiate start, the fact of the matter is that he is already on center stage, being watched with a sharp eye from each of the 80,000-plus in attendance.

Might as well open it up and see what he can do.

"Bottom line, you want to call something that you feel is going to have success," UW head coach Bret Bielema said following his teams 28-20 season opening win. "I always remember when I was a defensive coordinator I would always tell our guys, 'If the first play came at you, then they believe there's a weakness there.'

"On the flip side of it, from an offensive standpoint, you go where you think you're going to have success. Paul talked about that play even earlier today (Saturday), the opportunity came and Scott threw it, we got protection and Isaac Anderson ran it."

It was simply an astonishing feat for the first play of a collegiate career. Immediately, the play entered Tolzien in the UW record books as the 80-yard pass and catch is the fifth longest play in school history.

For a quarterback not many knew about a month ago, it is remarkable how fast a 15-for-20, 257 yard passing performance can change things.

"It was exciting out there," Tolzien said. "It's still early. You don't want to make too much of one game. There's a lot of ball left to play and it's just a start. A good start, but a lot more things to improve on and get better at as the weeks move on."

That sounds like the mindset Tolzien has taken throughout camp. He was thought to be the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp behind Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips, but steady play and consistent reads and throws moved him up throughout August.

Though some fans may have been surprised to see what Tolzien accomplished during his first career start, people who have seen him play on a regular basis certainly were not.

"I thought he (Tolzien) kind of was today was he's been through camp," Bielema said. "Just real steady and handles the situation. The one interception was brought by a protection issue when he went to release the football and then the one at the end of the game, I'm sure he wants to take back.

"Scott is a young quarterback, he just made his first career start. Everything he showed me shows that he's deserving of the second one coming this week."

Through the first quarter, Tolzien did not throw an incompletion. Even when he was replaced with Phillips in the second quarter, he returned to the game in a mode where he was set on playing smart and not forcing things.

Though that first interception came following a series he was out of the game, he still looked confident and didn't feel he lost the rhythm he had going for him.

"It didn't affect me at all," Tolzien said. "I just keep my arm lose. You see how it puts the defense on their heels. It's great. I thought it was awesome for our offense. It just makes it more dynamic."

They say the biggest gains come from week one to week two of any football season. The rustiness is cleaned up and crisper play ensues. Considering how Tolzien handled his first start, he, as well as the rest of the Badger followers out there, should be ecstatic about his next one.

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