Grading the Badgers – Fresno State

Without question, it was a gritty performance by Wisconsin. Seeing its offense struggle and its defense get blasted throughout the first half, the Badgers, despite having players wiped out with flu-like symptoms, show their grit and determination to come from behind and win 34-31 in double overtime. Badger Nation's publisher Benjamin Worgull grades the Badgers position by position.


Although his numbers were more impressive the previous week, redshirt junior Scott Tolzien delivered a better performance, something the Badgers desperately needed.

Tolzien played the entire game and, without question, has quieted anyone who doubts his attributes. After helping UW hold off the Northern Illinois, 28-20, last week, Tolzien, who UW head coach Bret Bielema said was one of the many who were violently ill lasy week, finished 17-for-28 for 225 yards and a touchdown pass to Nick Toon in overtime.

More importantly, Tolzien didn't commit a single turnover. FSU quarterback Ryan Colburn committed three – the ultimate undoing of the Bulldogs.

"What Scotty showed me last week was what we saw during camp," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "He's the kind of guy who wants to take the reigns and run. Because of the unusual work week, Scotty needed a lot of reps and he got them."

More impressive was the fact that Tolzien, who has completed 67 percent of his passes (32 of 48) for 482 yards and two touchdowns this season, stayed in the pocket as long as possible to make the play, resulting in taking some ferocious hits.

"Honestly, we knew we were going to get heated up a little bit, especially after Travis (Frederick) went down with the injury and (we had) a new center," Tolzien said. "Peter (Konz) did a heck of a job, stepping in there and making calls and setting the protection. (Getting hit) is part of being a quarterback and that's part of the job."

Although Tolzien took all the reps over Phillips, who played in two series in the season opener, the junior expects to continue to share time with the redshirt freshman if it helps the team.

"If I am in, it's great, I can hold my rhythm but at the same time if Curt comes in, he adds a new direction to our offense and they have to stop him, too," Tolzien said. "I think it's going to be week to week, but I know Curt is ready and whatever we need to do to win, I am all for."

If Tolzien keeps this up, Wisconsin's best chance to win is with him under center.

Grade: A

Running Backs

Although Wisconsin is winning, it's been the passing game that has grabbed all the headlines for the Badgers. Forgotten in the mix was the supposed powerful one-two punch from sophomore John Clay and junior Zach Brown, who spearheaded a running attack that, through the first seven quarters of the season, had averaged only 223 yards on 63 attempts (3.5 per carry).

Take out the end arounds and quarterback scrambles and the numbers are even lower for the duo … until Clay made Fresno State pay for guessing.

Wisconsin's running game had stalled for 34-plus minutes, registering only 71 yards on 25 carries (2.8 yards per carry), a big reason UW was trailing 21-17 with five minutes, 45 seconds left. After Fresno State failed to capitalize on a 16-play, 71-yard drive, Clay took control on the next play, getting a huge hole from the offensive line and not stopping until he reached the end zone 72 yards later.

"That was a big momentum swing (for the) offense and defense," Clay said. "I was thinking that I can't get tackled. I was on a mission."

Added Bielema: "He had a purpose. Everyone wants to talk about the 245 pound John Clay. That kid can run."

That touchdown was actually set up two quarters earlier when UW wide receiver David Gilreath ran the end around for an eight-yard score. This time, Tolzien faked the handoff, gave the ball to Clay up the middle, where he ran through a huge gab (he admitted it was the best one he's had all season) and went untouched when the linebackers shifted after Gilreath.

Zach Brown scored UW's first touchdown, carrying the ball nine times for 40 yards. Brown continues to take steps towards 100 percent after being plagued with some bumps and bruises.

Grade: B

Wide Receivers

Seven different players caught passes, but none made bigger plays that Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon.

After the crowd booed the play calling in the final minutes of the first half, where the Badgers ran the ball three straight appearing to be satisfied with running out the clock and be down seven going into halftime, the Badgers, with a couple timeouts on the board, ran rolled the dice on a pass play and the gamble paid off. UW lined up with one wide receiver and Tolzien connected with Anderson, as the junior adjusted to the pass and hauled it in for a 44-yard gain down to the 33, a play that set up a 57-yard field goal by Philip Welch as time expired.

"We saw the look we wanted and Isaac made a great play," said Bielema of Anderson, who finished with four catches and a team-high 70 yards.

Toon's day was just as interesting. After catching an 18-yard first-down pass, Toon, another flu victim, dropped a couple of passes and was whistled for a false start. The sophomore battled back, however, finishing with a team-high-tying four catches for 49 yards, including the first touchdown of overtime, where he made a diving snag on third down.

"Nick battled through," Bielema said. "The thing I love about Nick is Nick is a playmaker. He started to show that a couple of games now. He was stronger in the end."

Garrett Graham (three catches, 49 yards) and David Gilreath (two catches, 33 yards) also helped the wide receivers continue to make strides.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

For the second straight week, depth played a major factor in UW's contest. Although the Badgers added David Gilbert to the mix, as the true freshman played in his first game, the flu played havoc on J.J. Watt all week. After Watt recovered from the flu earlier in the week, he got sick again Saturday morning and could only manage two tackles and a pass breakup.

Enter O'Brien Schofield, the converted linebacker that is quickly becoming one of the best defensive ends in the conference. Schofield recorded a career-high 11 tackles, surpassing his previous career best of seven, tallied a team-high four tackles-for-loss, improving on his previous best of 2.5, and registered a sack, dominating the line of scrimmage for UW.

"For what we went through this week, I think we did a hell of a job," Schofield said. "I feel like we came together more than ever today."

The Badgers did struggle up front against the Bulldogs running game. Ryan Mathews ran for 107 yards, including a long of 55, and Robbie Rouse added 46 yards, including a long of 21.

UW needs to get healthy in a hurry if they expect to make an impact at the line of scrimmage.

Grade C


Wisconsin linebackers turned out a better individual performance this week, especially senior Jae McFadden. Registering 10 tackles (six solo), McFadden made a lot of solid plays, including registering a sack. Culmer St. Jean (five tackles) set up Wisconsin second interception when he deflected a Colburn pass that landed into the hands of Antonio Fenelus (more on him later), Michael Taylor was all over the field, registering six tackles, and Blake Sorensen chipped in with three.

But with Fresno State racking up 468 total yards, some of the blame lies on the linebacker unit, who couldn't generate enough pressure on the blitzes to disrupt the Bulldogs passing attack.

Grade: C


Talk about a ragged group of individuals. Cornerback Aaron Henry got flu symptoms late in the week and was throwing up before the game. He tried to play but didn't last long, leaving after Chastin West using a stutter step against him to be wide open for the opening score.

Niles Brinkley was summoned into duty after struggling all week with flu symptoms and a nagging hamstring injury. Throw in two young secondary members – Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith – into the equation and Colburn turned the backs into his own personal whipping boys throughout the first half.

Smith got beat by Devon Wylie for a 70-yard touchdown and Fenelus guessing wrong on a slant route, leaving Seyi Ajirotutu unguarded for a 15-yard score. Colburn completed 11 of 16 attempts for 172 yards and three scores in the first half and finished with 289 yards and four touchdowns.

Even so, the Badgers had an answer in the second half.

Brinkley ended Fresno State's first possession of the third quarter with an interception and Fenelus ended the Bulldogs' second possession of the third quarter with an interception at the UW 24, a big turning point as it came one play after Ryan Mathews went 55 yards.

"Our guys just continued ... to work," Bielema said. "Those are good wide receivers. Those guys look right, they play right and competed, and I think it was a true testament to what our guys are all about."

Even so, when a team has 468 total yards, goes 11 of 18 third-down chances and converts on all three chances in the red zone, there's work that needs to be done.

Without the play of Maragos (five tackles, overtime interception), this grade would be lower.

Grade: C-

Special Teams

After missing his first three field-goal attempts of the season, Philip Welch crushed his 57-yarder to end the first half and then drilled the winner from 22 yards in the second overtime.

The kick was the second-longest in modern era of the program, behind the 60-yarder John Hall hit in the Metrodome in 1995, and set the record for the longest made kick outdoors. Even after Welch missed a 47-yard try in the second quarter, Bielema never lost faith in his kicker.

"All those (misses) were long enough," Bielema said. "I've seen him stroke it in practice. Philip is like all kickers - he is very confident. Before the game (I asked), 'How long can you kick?'"

Welch calmly responded that he could hit from 60 to 65 yards.

"So I know I've got to subtract 10 at least," Bielema said, joking. "But he is very confident in what he does. He just went out there and stroked it."

Punter Bradley Nortman delivered a beautiful, booming 58-punt that traveled to the Fresno State 7. Unfortunately, Nortman was let down by his poor coverage unit, allowing return man Devon Wylie to scamper 34 yards out of harm's way.

His coverage did bail him out, as Nortman's perfect pooch punt that was downed on one bounce at the FSU one-yard line by Chris Borland. Nortman finished with a 47.5-yard average on six punts, two of which landed inside the 20.

David Gilreath had kickoff returns of 35 and 38 yards and showed toughness. The kickoff coverage, however, still needs to improve, as Fresno's A.J. Jefferson return four kickoffs for 112 yards with a long of 34. Even more frustrating was when Kevin Claxton was whistled for blocking in the back on a punt return that went into the end zone, forcing UW to start on the eight-yard line instead of the 20.

Grade: B-

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