Knowledge is Power

In a highly competitive quarterback battle, junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, once considered the dark horse of the race, uses his intellect and solid knowledge of the offense to have his best camp of his career, a camp that earned him the right to start the season opener against Northern Illinois.

MADISON -Letting the thought sink in Tuesday if he were named the starting quarterback for Wisconsin's home opener, junior quarterback Scott Tolzien had to ponder for a minute on who his first call would be to.

"I haven't talked to them (the family) in like a week," Tolzien said. "Probably wouldn't be a bad time to call home."

Odds are that the phone at the Tolzien's home in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, is ringing off the hook.

In a highly competitive quarterback battle between senior Dustin Sherer, freshman Curt Phillips and Tolzien, a strong performance by the junior down the stretch run of camp pushed Tolzien to the top of the depth chart, which was announced Thursday by the Wisconsin coaching staff.

Actually, the coaching staff announced that Tolzien or Phillips would be the starting quarterback, indicating that both players will be heavily involved in the offense during the 2009 season.

"As a kid growing up, I was a big time football fan," Tolzien said. "To have that happen (be named the starter) would be a dream come true. I am more mature now, so I won't be jumping for joy or calling everyone from back home … but it would be special."

Considered the long shot to win the job when camp started behind Sherer's experience and Phillips' hype, Tolzien never experience the highs and lows his fellow competitors did. Lauded by his teammates for his ability to diagram every play in the playbook, Tolzien played his game throughout the camp, being smart with his reads and even smarter with his throws.

"Based on my physical tools, that's got to be my number one strength," Tolzien said of his knowledge. "I am not going to run for 60 yards like Curt (Phillips) is going to do, making 10 guys miss, nor am I going to throw a Tyler Donovan 50-yard strike on a line."

Added Tolzien: "I definitely came with the goal of being the starting quarterback, and the approach was really nothing too much different than in the past. I knew that I had to play better football, and that was me getting back to gripping it, ripping it and making sound decisions. I just have to play within myself and move the chains."

More confident and assertive than in previous camps, Tolzien has delivered the ball on target and with confidence, a trait that could be accurately seen with some of his laser throws to Nick Toon that split the defense, a throw Tolzien admitted he probably wouldn't have thrown in the pass.

"I am more comfortable in the system," Tolzien said. "I got over a hump somewhere along the way. I trust in myself and I trust in my teammates more. I have done a lot of film study, just reading and knowing defenses and coverages and it's paid off so far."

One of the main boosts for his improved play could be credited to his finally getting on the field last season. Although participating in three blowouts last season, Tolzien combined to complete 5 of 8 passes for 107 yards, with one interception, and admitting to having benefited from the experience.

"Live action has been awesome, for anyone," Tolzien said. "You make a mistake on gameday Saturday and those will stick with you. Just seeing a different defense out there and having people be able to hit you is a different feeling. The scores weren't close, but it was invaluable for me."

If Tolzien wasn't as patient as he was during the recruiting process, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound gunslinger might be starting for the opposition instead.

Getting scholarship offers from multiple MAC schools, including Northern Illinois, a couple Ivy League schools and from Kentucky, Tolzien waited patiently while offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and incoming head coach Bret Bielema discussed who to offer the scholarship to. When the Badgers decided to extend it to Tolzien in late January 2006, he wasted little time in committing.

"I couldn't ask for anything better than this," Tolzien said of picking Wisconsin.

Now he has a chance to beat one of his favorite schools growing up in his first game as a starter, with all four of his fellow teammates backing him up.

"We've always been able to back each other as a group, going back to when John Stocco was here," Tolzien said. "Everyone comes here with the goal of being the starting quarterback and we are all competitors. Still, it's not going to make us a better team if we all have a grudge against each other. We get along great with everyone. We're going to go out, get some wins."

And what does he predict that call from home will yield?

"Get a care package," Tolzien laughed, "with a bunch of food I probably won't eat."


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