Throwing an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, Tolzien completed his first six passes and never looked too rattled in the Badgers' 28-20 victory over Northern Illinois, a calming sight considering Wisconsin's quarterback play a season ago.
A position where most of Badger Nation simply wanted a ‘game-manager' instead of a ‘game-changer,' Tolzien did a touch of everything for Wisconsin's offense Saturday night.
He was content with milking the clock and leading the Badgers on lengthy drives, he was patient with his reads when UW's offensive line created a solid pocket around him and wasn't afraid to throw the deep ball, evident by his 80-yard strike to Isaac Anderson on UW's first play from scrimmage.
"I was real excited just knowing Coach Chryst has the confidence in us to go out and make a big play, make a statement," Tolzien said. "(That's) a good way to start the game. That definitely relaxes us, gets the crowd into it and gets the jitters out."
After Wisconsin's defense forced the Huskies (0-1) to punt on their opening possession, Tolzien didn't waste anytime picking on a defense that lost its top three cornerbacks from last season. With his patchwork offensive line creating a seal around him, Tolzien spotted Anderson sneak behind the single coverage, delivering the perfect pass and watched him do the rest.
"That definitely set the tone for us," Anderson said. "That put the receivers on the map, showed our speed and gave other teams something to watch for, game plan for."
The sudden strike was a vast change from past offensive play calling by the Badgers. In 13 games last season, UW passed the ball on their first offensive snap only once. Even more striking was that in eight of those games, the Badgers handed off for the first three plays.
"Bottom line, you want to call something that you feel is going to have success," UW Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "From an offense standpoint, you go where you think you're going to have success. The opportunity came and we capitalize."
Although that was Tolzien's only score, he was the mastermind behind two third-quarter drives that proved to be the difference in the contest.
After leading UW on an 11-play, 92-yard scoring drive that chewed up five minutes, 37 seconds of game clock, Tolzien one-upped himself on the next possession, leading the Badgers on a 12-play, 67-yard drive that took five minutes, 58 seconds away from NIU.
Both drives ended when John Clay scored a one-yard touchdown and both drives saw Tolzien go a combined 6-for-9 for 115 yards, including four passes that went for 15-yards or more.
"It was real good to establish the running game, once again, and pound the ball," Clay said. "They couldn't stop the running game."
Added Tolzien: "That's what we need to do in that situation. You don't have to have big plays. You just to need to make it count (and) chip away. (That's) our brand of football; moving the chains, playing steady ball and capitalizing."
While Tolzien's play calmed concerns for one night, the Badgers new-look defense was another group that made another statement.
The Badgers limited Northern Illinois to 151 yards in three quarters, kept the Huskies offense out of the end zone until there was only eight minutes, 29 seconds left in the game and limited their offense to 3-for-12 on third downs.
"I thought we played well minus the forth quarter," sophomore lineman J.J. Watt said. "We are all working real hard and to walk away with the ‘W,' we're happy with that."
Even when Northern Illinois scored 14 points in a six minute span in the fourth quarter, and grabbing the ensuing onside kick to boot, the Badger defense came up big, as senior captain Chris Maragos (team-high seven tackles) deflected a pass on fourth-and-3 from UW's 36-yard line to secure the win.
"From last January to where we are now, the two points of emphasis on defense was finishing and competing for four quarters," Bielema said. "You can't simulate what just happened to our guys. To be in that situation and move forward, we've had situations happen in the past where we didn't move forward and the results were negative the next game."
Added Bielema: "We need guys to preserve and battle through it and they did that for the most part. There were enough things that happened out there to give us a win. Bottom line, we need to improve in a lot of areas and we will to get ready for Fresno State."