The Badgers, ranked in the top 10, dominated the first 30 minutes by pummeling Michigan with 379 total yards, kept the Wolverines off the scoreboard and sent the home team scurrying off the field to a chorus of boos.
"Right off the bat, I definitely thought about it," said senior John Moffitt.
And just like two years ago when the Badgers blew a 19-0 lead and lost a 27-25 meltdown, No.6 Wisconsin saw the Wolverines score 14 points in the first six minutes of the second half, turning a 24-0 rout into a 24-14 nail biter. So what was the difference this time that allowed to be one game away from its first Big Ten title since 1999?
Two words: Scott Tolzien.
Wisconsin set the tone early in its 48-28 victory over Michigan Saturday and it was credit to the Badgers' veteran signal caller. Tolzien completed his first 13 passes, threw for 196 yards, had four completions over 20 yards and helped the offense methodically control 20 minutes, 53 seconds of game clock.
As a result, Wisconsin outgained Michigan 379-124 and completed 16 first downs to Michigan's 6, keeping the nation's fifth-ranked total offense (521.8) off the field.
"We've had two great weeks of practice, so I would like to say that's the formula," said Tolzien, who completed 21 straight passes over two games. "We've got a lot of great players and the coaches have put together a good scheme for us to execute. I just got into a good rhythm."
In Wisconsin's first 10 games, the Badgers have scored the first time they touched the ball seven times, outscoring their opponents 79-37 in the first 15 minutes. So when a blindside sack forced UW to punt on its first possession, the senior never wavered, leading the Badgers' offense on four scoring drives to finish the half, going 75, 72, 75 and 84 yards.
"If there is anybody playing better at that position, I would like to see who it is," UW Coach Bret Bielema, as his program won in the state of Michigan for the first time since 2002. "(Scott has) unbelievable composure (and) ability to manage in the fourth quarter to milk the clock down to the final seconds. (He's) one of those little pieces of the puzzle that makes him very special."
After being openly criticized by the national media for ‘running up the score' in a 83-20 victory over Indiana last week, the Badgers (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) weren't going to take no chances in a stadium it hadn't won in since 1994, a span of five games.
The Wolverines' second-half turnaround to extend the streak to six games was fast and furious. Michigan (7-4, 3-4) took the second half kickoff 71 yards in 10 plays to put its first touchdown on the board and turned an Isaac Anderson fumble into seven more points. In a span of 5 minutes, 37 seconds, Wisconsin's lead went from 24 to 10, drawing flashbacks to '08.
So when the Badgers were threatened, Tolzien and Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst turned to the methodical run game, running the ball 30 straight times in their final five drives after the Anderson fumble.
"We were setting them up for play action," Bielema said coyly.
Wisconsin never needed the trickery. Combined with the efforts of Montee Ball (29 carries, 173 yards, 4 TDS) and James White (23, 181, 2), Wisconsin got 171 of its 357 rushing yards after Michigan cut the lead to 10, rushing for three touchdowns and converting a field goal. The only drive didn't score on was the last one, when Tolzien took two kneel downs in the victory formation.
"We came into the locker room, he was talking to us and we're all looking at him," Ball said of Tolzien. "He's our leader and he did a great job keeping us all focused."
Tolzien also set the example for toughness, whether it was smart or not. Tolzien took off scrambling four times, gaining six yards, but never slid or ran out of bounds. Instead, Tolzien turned into John Clay, lowering his shoulder and fighting for every extra yard.
"We're going to work on the quarterback slide technique," said Bielema. "Scotty will do anything to win."
"That's what we love about Scotty," junior defensive end J.J. Watt added. "He's a tough-nosed kid. He's not going to run out of bounds and he's not going to slide. That's what you want out of a quarterback."
With both Michigan State and Ohio State coming from behind to win Saturday, Wisconsin, baring a loss to Northwestern or a shakeup in the BCS, would clinch a spot in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1999. No matter what happens next Saturday, Wisconsin would finally regain the top stop with a share of the conference title.
"As long as we use that as advantage in our preparation and make our preparation that much better," Tolzien said, "it's a good thing."