Buying into Ball Security

A quarterback throughout his football life, Scott Tolzien doesn't need to be reminded how important ball security and limiting turnovers are. After the reminder Ohio State gave him last season, the senior quarterback and Wisconsin's offense has been buying into that concept more than ever.

MADISON - As Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman raced past Scott Tolzien down the sideline for an 89-yard touchdown, Wisconsin's senior quarterback knew he couldn't make that kind of mistake if the Badgers wanted to win that day in Columbus.

When linebacker Jermale Hines intercepted him for a 32-yard score two quarters later, Tolzien knew he couldn't make that mistake again … ever … if UW wanted to beat the best.

Wisconsin outgained Ohio State by nearly 200 yards, and had 22 first downs to the Buckeyes' eight, but none of it mattered in the end because of Tolzien's two ill-advised throws led Ohio State to a 31-13 victory last season.

"If you give them (OSU) an inch, they'll take a yard," Tolzien said. "It's got to be a point of emphasis every week but the bigger the game is and the better the opponent is, there's a premium on ball security."

The two interceptions were different, but resulted in equal punches to the gut in Tolzien's first start against a ranked opponent.

With the Badgers driving in a scoreless game, Tolzien rushed a throw to avoid a collapsing pocket, resulting in a high, late pass down the middle that looked like it has been intended for Coleman. The second pass showed how forcing a play against the Buckeyes usually results in a costly mistake.

Trailing 14-10 in the third quarter, Tolzien tried to loft the pass over Hines, but Hines tipped the ball with his right hand and gathered the ball before streaking to the end zone.

"It's one thing if the first one happened, but don't let it affect you in a way where (it happens again)," UW Coach Bret Bielema said. "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."

The learning process started almost immediately and continued a week later, when Tolzien threw a career-high three interceptions in a 10-point loss to Iowa. In the final six games of ‘09, Tolzien attempted 129 passes, throwing seven touchdowns to only three interceptions.

"Both Ohio State and Iowa are top tier in the Big Ten and you have to learn to be that much better," Tolzien said. "It's a blanket statement, but you have to play with rhythm, trust and great timing, because the windows are smaller and those teams make those in-game adjustments."

Tolzien took his lessons to heart. He has thrown only two interceptions in 132 attempts this season and none since the second game. As a result, the offense has gone four straight games without a turnover, the first time it has done that in one season since 1988.

Still, Tolzien acknowledges that he and the offense has to be smart and focused for all 60 minutes. When he has wavered this season, Tolzien has made a mistake, like throwing an interception that was run back 19 yards for a touchdown by UNLV cornerback Will Chandler in the season-opening quarter.

"It just reinforces the power of execution from an offensive perspective," Tolzien said. "When we've executed our stuff, it's been a pretty smooth thing. There have been times this year when we've gotten out of rhythm, don't get first downs or turn the ball over. That completely shoots the momentum."

Execution has been a plus for Wisconsin since its 4-for-7 red-zone performance against San Jose State in week 2. Throw out UW's two kneel downs to end two games, Wisconsin has scored a touchdown on 20 consecutive trips to the red zone.

Against Ohio State last season, the Badgers went 0 of 3 inside the 20, including two missed field goals.

"When we get that momentum going and cash in the red zone, it's huge to get that momentum going and it's huge for our defense, as well," Tolzien said. "We have been on both ends of it. I can think of early in the year when he turned the ball over against UNLV and we struggled on third downs against Michigan State. To have a chance at this thing, we've got to be on the good side."

Being the competitor he is, Tolzien is anxious for another crack at the speed, athleticism and discipline Ohio State's defense presents. Of course, he has been anxious all season to drive home the point that Wisconsin's offense is as talented as any offense in the country if they prepare the right way.

"Not many people get that opportunity to play number one, but you have to approach every week like you are playing the top team. If you are doing it the right way, there shouldn't be too much change in your preparation if you want to ultimately play the best."


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