Burying the Ghosts

Even with an 18-point lead, Wisconsin wasn't content to take the foot off the accelerator against the Michigan Wolverines. The Badgers got five touchdowns from Scott Tolzien and a defense that limited the Wolverines to only three second-half points, helping Wisconsin crush Michigan, 45-24.

MADISON - It had an eerie sense of déjà vu and, ‘here we go again.'

A superior Wisconsin team making mistakes against a lesser Michigan team must have caused many of the 80,540 fans at Camp Randall to have horrific flashbacks to last season's meltdown in Ann Arbor.

The Badger Nation fans weren't alone.

"You put last year behind you, but you can't say that you don't think about it," junior guard John Moffitt said. "They showed a clip from last year and I forget we were number nine (ranked in the country) last year when we lost to them, and that was like a new thing. It definitely stings and its a bad taste in your mouth."

Poor quarterbacking play was the main culprit against Michigan last season, as the Wolverines returned an interception for a touchdown and recovered an Allan Evridge fumble inside its own 5, all contributing to UW's 27-25 downfall. Scott Tolzien was there on the sidelines, and despite similar mistakes, wasn't going to let his senior teammates feel that same anguish.

Facing two early deficits indirectly caused by his mistakes, Tolzien shrugged off an early interception and a fumble returned for a touchdown to tie a career-high with four touchdown passes, helping UW exercise some Michigan demons with a 45-24 victory on Senior Day.

"Anytime you can beat Michigan, it feels good," senior O'Brien Schofield said with a smile, "especially after what happened last year."

Tolzien tied a school record for touchdowns responsible for with five (four passing, one rushing), becoming the 11th player to be responsible for five touchdowns in a game, and the first since Brian Calhoun ran for five against Illinois in 2005. One never would have guessed it with his start.

He was picked off after trying to force a pass to receiver Nick Toon in coverage, resulting in an interception and a Michigan field goal, and was smacked from behind by Brandon Graham, second in the conference in tackles for loss, resulting in a 14-yard scoop-and-score from Ryan Van Bergen and a 17-14 Michigan lead.

Even with a tweaked knee, forcing him to strap on a knee brace, Tolzien managed the offense and quarterbacked just the sixth team to throw four touchdown passes in a game against Michigan.

"He's the heart of our team," Schofield said. "When he's rolling, we're all rolling. If nothing phases him, nothing is going to phase us. He's just one of those guys that no matter what it is, he's going to go out there and keep going."

"A lot of those were pretty easy throws," Tolzien said. "It's fun to be able to throw it, too."

As special as it was for the Badgers' 18 seniors, who finish their UW career with a 25-3 home record, it was a banner day for the underclassmen. In addition to Tolzien, running back John Clay surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career and wide receiver Nick Toon caught two touchdown passes for the first time in his young career.

"The great thing is that they are all coming back," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "We lost a lot of great seniors today, but there are a lot of good ones coming back."

It was also an important day for the UW defense, who limited Michigan to only 106 second-half yards. The Wolverines (5-6, 1-6 Big Ten) brought in the conference's top scoring offense (32 ppg) and the top rushing attack (208.3 ypg), only to be held to seven second-half points and 71 net rushing yards, a direct result of steady pressure by the Wisconsin defensive line.

The same Badger defense that watched freshman quarterback Tate Forcier throw for 139 yards and a touchdown in the first half, limited him to only 49 passing yards and an interception after halftime.

"Whenever you can put pressure on the quarterback like that, you can force some bad throws and have him move around a little bit and give some guys some opportunities to make a sack," Schofield said. "That's really big (to hold them to three points), because they were rolling, too."

UW didn't waste anytime rolling on its first drive. On a play-action pass, Tolzien hit a wide-open Isaac Anderson in the middle of the field for a 27-yard gain. Coupled with a roughing the passer penalty, the Badgers had a first down on the Michigan 38, and converted four plays later when Garrett Graham muscled into the end zone from 22-yards out.

But the Badgers couldn't handle prosperity, allowing the Wolverines to slither out of precarious situations. After senior Jeff Stehle recorded back-to-back TFLs, setting up a 3rd-and-24, UW's pass defense allowed Forcier to connect with Roy Roundtree for a 26-yard gain and Vincent Smith for a 21-yard tying touchdown.

Even a momentum boost couldn't translate into success at the time for Wisconsin. After the Badgers goal line stand, stopping Michigan on three plays from inside the 3 and having J.J. Watt block the field goal attempt, Tolzien was intercepted by Jordan Kovacs at the UW 25, eventually setting up a field goal and a 10-7 lead for the visitors.

But like the Badgers did so many times last week in their three-point win at Indiana, and what they weren't able to do last season against Michigan, Wisconsin's offense had an answer.

Benefiting from a roughing the kicker penalty that wiped out a fourth-and-20, Tolzien connected with Toon for an eight-yard score, capping a 14-play, 75-yard scoring march to retake the lead, 17-14, midway though the second quarter.

"You get a little momentum going and certainly it bodes well for you if you can keep it, especially on the road," Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We let their crowd back into the game. Momentum shifting is something we've struggled with all year."

That confidence didn't waver, even after the fumble that was returned for a touchdown, as UW's next drive saw Tolzien complete a 35-yard gain to a streaking Toon down the UW sideline and then hit Graham for a 23-yard strike, getting UW set on Michigan's 2. Clay cashed in from one-yard out two plays later, as UW stole the momentum, and the four-point lead, back before halftime.

"The whole key is to not put that in the back of your mind," Tolzien said. "You've just got to focus downfield and trust your teammates."

The momentum parlayed into the second half, as UW took the kickoff 80 yards in 10 plays, finishing the drive with Toon's second touchdown catch. The score gave UW a 28-17 lead and ate up four minutes, 57 seconds of clock.

"That was huge," Toon said. "Anytime you can score, it kind of crushes the other team's emotions. The game was close, so you've got to put points on the board."

Even when Michigan try to threaten, cutting the lead to 28-24 after a 10-yard touchdown catch by Ray Roundtree, Tolzien answered with a touchdown pass to Lance Kendricks and a one-yard quarterback sneak on the next drive to give UW a 18-point lead.

But after blowing a 19-point lead last year, Wisconsin, this time, made sure Michigan was dead, going on a 15-play drive that resulting in a field goal and chewed up 8:01 in the fourth quarter, igniting the victory celebration with only 103 seconds left.

"I really don't think we relaxed at all," senior Mickey Turner said. "That was one thing I was telling everybody on the sideline. This year, we were going to finish, and that's the main thing."

Because of it, the Badgers can finally put the Michigan ghosts behind them and focus on a chance to win a share of the Big Ten conference title next weekend at Northwestern.

"That," Tolzien said, "is pretty cool."


Badger Nation Top Stories