Pleased with Quarterback Punch

With question marks about Wisconsin's supposed dynamite running game starting to pop up with the conference opener this Saturday, one of the places the Badgers have found answers is at quarterback, a place where Wisconsin had plenty of questions at the start of fall camp. For head coach Bret Bielema, junior Scott Tolzien has been a pleasant surprise.

MADISON - It was only fitting that Bret Bielema fumbled his coffee all over his desk before addressing the media Monday.

After a game with six fumbles, ball security is obviously still on the head coach's mind and how he needs to correct it moving into the conference open this Saturday against Michigan State.

How ironic that arguably the steadiest position on the team is the one that yielded the most question marks entering the season.

Since making his first career start in the season opener, a game in which he set a school record for passing yards in a first-career start, junior quarterback Scott Tolzien ranks second in the Big Ten in both completion percentage (47-of-68, 69.1 percent) and pass efficiency (161.8).

Those are the best numbers for a Badger QB through the first three games of a season since Darrell Bevell completed 70.3 percent of his passes and had a pass efficiency of 170.6 in 1993. Bevell set the season record for completion percentage that season (67.8 percent), a mark Tolzien currently ranks above.

"He has probably done more than I expected, to be quite honest," Bielema said. "Going into fall camp, I had a certain level of interest to see where certain guys responded and he's the one that kept moving forward.

"Through the first two games, he showed me what he could do and to put this third game together, where things aren't necessary good around you, he was just steady. He was solid and a bigger indicator to me … his head is in the right places."

More importantly, Tolzien has taken care of the football in all phases. Despite playing with two new centers, Tolzien has yet to have a quarterback-center exchange issue, hasn't committed on a fumble in the open field or after getting hit and hasn't thrown an interception in the last two games.

"That's the thing I have been really excited about," Bielema said. "He's been exceptional in that regard and that's probably what has set himself a part from all the rest … The big part I like is three wins, zero losses."

Gaining Health, Creating Depth

After the duo got roughly 29 snaps on Saturday, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy appear to be well on their way to being 100 percent. Throw in the fact that freshmen Travis Frederick, Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler have gotten plenty of game experience through the first three weeks, the Badgers find themselves having plenty of depth moving into the second part of the schedule.

"From an offensive line standpoint, we've been getting by on the hair of our chinny-chin-chin," Bielema said. "I get excited from the depth standpoint."

Moffitt and Nagy still haven't gotten through a full week of practice, something Bielema is planning on doing with the duo in the practices leading up to Michigan State. Bielema also noted that the Spartans' defensive line is the best the Badgers will have faced this season, provided the ultimate litmus test to see if Moffitt and Nagy are ready to respond.

Because of that, Bielema plans to rotate those offensive linemen in a system he plans to figure out during the course of Michigan State preparation.

Bielema also announced that Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu will be back in the defensive end rotations and that David Gilbert, who recorded the special team's touchdown against Wofford, has put himself into position to contribute.

"It gives us a rotation we've never had since I've been here as a head coach," Bielema said.

Learning from the Past

Don't try asking Bielema about what occurred last season, but the head coach has admitted on multiple occasions that he, his coaching staff and his players need to learn from last season's shortcomings and learn from it.

That situation is twofold entering the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. A season ago, the Badgers, who won their first three non-conference games, dropped their first four conference games for the first time since 1996.

Despite the Badgers possessing the same record as a season ago, Wisconsin is one of only two BCS teams to be 3-0 overall and not receive a single vote in either college football poll (Indiana being the other), a result of the preconceived notion that this UW team is vastly similar to last year's 7-6 squad.

"Now it's Big Ten play," Bielema said. "Everything gets ratcheted up 10 more levels of intensity with the way we need to practice and prepare … If nobody has seen us place, they are going to base and assume that what they saw last year if what they would see this year. From what I have witnessed, I know that we don't have the same team and it's up to us to prove that on a game-by-game basis."

Wisconsin is also trying to erase the memory of what happened to them in East Lansing last season.

In that game, Wisconsin lead 24-13 with nine minutes, 19 seconds left, but costly penalties, including a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Bielema, and a questionable holding call on John Moffitt that wiped out a 21-yard gain by John Clay, allowed the Spartans to score the final 12 points and steal a victory.

"I think everybody, including the head coach, knows that when you are in a situation where you are up by 11 points in the fourth quarter and you don't get a (win), you need to really look at what you did down the stretch. I know I can easily correct anything that I did from a head coaching standpoint and obviously, the penalty that I received didn't help the situation at all."

"We all can grow from that situation."

Extra Points: Wisconsin and Minnesota will face off at brand-new TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 3, the Big Ten announced Monday. The game will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2 … Offensive team MVP was Lance Kendricks, defensive team MVPs were Culmer St. Jean and Michael Taylor, special teams MVP was Chris Borland, offensive scout team MVP was wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and defensive scout team MVP was defensive lineman Pat Muldoon.

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