Scott Tolzien talked at length about how impressed he was by John Stocco's performance in the 2007 Capital One Bowl. Against Arkansas, Stocco, the game's MVP, didn't play his best but did enough to get the Badgers a needed bowl win. Three bowl games later, Tolzien's performance mirrored just that.
The junior quarterback finished off his solid season with a steady performance, completing 19-of-26 passes for 260 yards and one interceptions, which the result of a battled ball at the line of scrimmage. Tolzien wasn't flashy, he was effective, as 13 of his completions went to his tight ends (hear that Warren Herring, Manasseh Garner and Sherard Cadogan?) and four went on check-down routes to his running backs.
He stood in multiple times until the last instance, delivering a solid pass right before taking a hit. Tolzien's gritty character helped get UW into the winner's circle against Miami.
Grade: A –
Season: There was no question going into camp that Scott Tolzien was the long shot for the starting quarterback job entering the 2009 fall camp. After a 13-game season, there is no reason he shouldn't be under center for another season, none.
Named honorable mention All-Big Ten by coaches, Tolzien exceeded expectations by throwing for 2,705 yards and completing over 60 percent of his passes. He was outstanding on third down, developed strong chemistry with returning pass catchers Lance Kendricks and Nick Toon and set the tone for the season by throwing an 80-yard bomb to Isaac Anderson on the first play from scrimmage.
He carried the offense in the non-conference season when the run game was struggling but took a lot of heat on himself when he threw two pick-sixes against Ohio State and three interceptions in a loss to Iowa. Tolzien responded against Miami and now has a year under his belt leading a talented offense.
The Badgers were almost perfectly balanced on offense, gaining 2,770 yards through the air (209.2 per game) and 2,650 yards on the ground (206.7 per game). UW has averaged at least 200.0 yards passing and rushing for a season just twice in school history (1993 and 2007) and Tolzien finished the year with 211 completions, becoming the first quarterback in Wisconsin history to complete at least 200 passes in a season.
Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips was impressive with his feet but has a long way to go in the passing game. He should be ready to take the reigns his junior season, but redshirt Jon Budmayr will give him a run for his money. Dustin Sherer's touchdown run at Hawaii was one of the plays of the year. For him to stick it out, help guide Tolzien through the rigors of starting and help the position, he was a consummate professional.
Sophomore John Clay was adamant after the game that he would return for his junior season. A welcomed sigh of relief, seeing as Clay was the beast all season long for UW's offense.
Averaging 5.3 yards per carry during the season and having 53 percent (140 runs) go for four or more yards, Clay battled it out against the Hurricanes, especially after he was banged up early in the second half after rushing for 89 yards on 13 carries. He finished with 125 yards on 22 carries, an average of 5.5 per carry, two scores and his 52-yard run in the second quarter was the longest in Champs Sports Bowl history and tied for the fifth-longest run in a bowl game by a Badger running back.
His size and strength simply wore down the Hurricane defense, who had no answer for a running back that they simply couldn't simulate. Clay's two rushing touchdowns equaled what the Hurricanes defense had given up in their last seven games combined, a big reason he was the game's MVP.
When Clay was out, freshman Montee Ball stepped right into the mix, again showing it was a good idea to play him after all. Ball did most of his work in the third quarter and carried the load with Clay out, racking up 61 yards on 15 carries. They rocked them like a Hurricane.
Season:Named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten by media and coaches, Clay entered the bowl game leading the Big Ten and was 14th in the NCAA with 116.3 rushing yards per game and did nothing to disappoint.
The running game wasn't always fluid, especially when the season started with Clay only breaking the 100-yard barrier once (143 yards against Fresno State) and fumbling three times against Wofford. Junior Zach Brown wasn't much better in that stretch, causing his confidence to waver and UW coach Bret Bielema threatening to run ball security drills after the Wofford game.
Clay was near perfect down to stretch, rushing for over 100 yards in eight of UW's final 10 games. He struggled against the two ranked teams on UW's schedule, but made up for it against Miami. His only bugaboo was a late fumble against Northwestern that cost the Badgers a chance to pull one out of the fire.
Ball was the key reserve for the Badgers this season, which says a lot since he didn't get his first collegiate career until the Minnesota game. Ball finished second on the team with 391 running yards and his big frame combined with a punishing style is more bad news for UW opponents in the season to come.
Brown did start five games and finished third on the team with 279 rushing yards. He didn't have a carry in the Champs Sports Bowl, meaning spring camp is an important time for him. Over the final 10 games, Wisconsin running backs averaged 1.8 touchdowns and just under 180 yards per game on the ground to pave the way for the UW offense, something that is going to win you a lot of ball games.
As stated earlier, UW's tight ends are in good hands. Garrett Graham closed out his fine career at UW with six catches for 77 yards, but junior Lance Kendricks stole the show by establishing career highs with seven receptions for 128 yards. Kendricks was solid in the passing and was even better blocking, registering a key block that opened the way for Clay twice.
Graham had a key fumble that went into the end zone and was recovered by Miami for a touchback. UW quickly got the ball back, but couldn't find the end zone, something that could have cost them the game. Graham came back strong on the next drive, catching a pass in the middle of the field and wrapping both arms tightly around the ball.
Sophomore Nick Toon was quiet most of the evening (2 catches, 26 yards) but was constantly shadowed by top cornerback Brendon Harris. ESPN said before the game that freshman Kraig Appleton was going to be an impact player. He was, but for the wrong reasons, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after retaliating against a Miami player after the play was dead, turning a third-and-1 to third-and-16. He was also whistled for illegal block in the back later in the game, but he'll get better with time.
Season: A group with only senior (Graham) getting playing time, the receivers were a solid compliment to the run game. Nick Toon emerged as the unquestioned number one pass catcher among the wide receivers, leading the team with 54 receptions for 805 yards and four touchdowns. Doing most of his work over the middle and along the sidelines on third down, Toon could be counted on for a tough catch in traffic, which makes fans ecstatic that he has two more years left.
The running joke this season was the only person that could stop junior Isaac Anderson was Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst. Anderson got the season started with a bang — hauling in an 80-yard touchdown on the first offensive play from scrimmage — and finished with decent numbers (30 catches for 480 yards, the team's highest yards-per-catch average). There were periods where he was rarely used, which should change in the future based on his solid season.
A couple of top catchers last season, juniors David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson have been relegated to the bench, where they will likely stay with the emergence of Toon, Anderson and Appleton, whose natural talent is too much to keep on the bench.
Earning All-Big Ten honors from the media, senior Garrett Graham had several games where he played a major role in the passing game (51 grabs for 624 yards), and others where he was solid as a run blocker, one of the major areas where he grew as a player. Kendricks' performance in the bowl game, along with his four carries for 91 yards against Purdue, shows UW fans that the tight end position won't falter.
An incredible job against a lauded Miami front seven. The Badgers only gave up one sack, freshman guard Travis Frederick was solid on run plays when he had to pull to his left, helping Montee Ball spring one run for 24 yards. Left tackle Gabe Carimi battled through another injury, missing only a couple plays after suffering a right knee injury, to play a solid game and shut down defensive end Allen Bailey. Josh Oglesby returned and played admirably, but still showed a little rust. UW's offensive line loses no players, a welcomed sign for a group that had to go through many alterations this season.
Season: Carimi was selected to First-Team All-Big Ten by the media and left guard/center John Moffitt received the same honor from the coaches, but the award should go to Offensive Line coach Bob Bostad, who had to deal with injuries to Carimi, Moffitt, Frederick, Oglesby, Bill Nagy and Peter Konz, forcing him to constantly reshape the line.
Pass protection was good throughout the season, allowing 23 sacks, but has to get better against the Ohio States of the world, who pressured Tolzien all game long. The run game is UW's bread and butter and the offensive line really came through in establishing the run game in 11 of UW's 13 games.
Our reporter said it best, so I will just repeat it: "The Badgers held Miami's offense, which entered the game ranked 36th nationally in total offense (412.5 yards per game) to 249 total yards, 76 of which came in the final four minutes. As the theme had been all season, most of the yards came through the air, as UW held its 10th straight opponent to less than 100 yards rushing.
"The Hurricanes, averaging 144.4 yards per game, only managed 61 rushing yards, averaging 2.7 yards per carry. Another constant was senior O'Brien Schofield, who ended his career like he began the season: in the opponent's backfield.
"Schofield recorded two more sacks to give him 12 for the season, tying him for third place on UW's single-season list, and 24.5 tackles for loss, good for second on UW's single-season list and finishing his career with 126 TFLs, second-most in school history. His replacement next year, sophomore J.J. Watt, finishes his season with 14.5 TFLs."
Re-establish Wisconsin football? You betcha!
Season: The Badgers ranked in the top 20 in the country in total defense, allowing just 310.4 yards per game, and limited eight opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense this season, the most since holding nine opponents under 300 yards in 2006. Wisconsin also allowed less than 22 points per game.
Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge got his dream of having a successful eight-man rotation that enabled him to rotate healthy, fresh bodies on to the field and pressure opposing quarterbacks. The prime example of that was at Hawaii, where the Badgers' constant pressure and season-high six sacks kept the Warriors out of a rhythm.
UW will have a lot of work to do to get back to that eight-man front next season, as the Badgers lose Schofield, senior defensive tackles Jeff Stehle and Dan Moore (both of whom had their best seasons of their career) and backup tackles Dan Cascone and Jordan Hein. Sophomore Patrick Butrym — along with backup defensive ends Louis Nzegwu, Brendan Kelly and David Gilbert — will need to move from a backup role into the forefront to keep that success moving forward.
Any questions about the contributions of the linebackers in Tuesday's game can be deducted on the U's first series of the second half. Junior Culmer St. Jean blitzed on first down and drilled QB Jacory Harris, forcing him to misfire. Two plays later, freshman phenom Chris Borland laid another hit on Harris, causing the sophomore to limp off the field. He wasn't the same after when he saw pressure coming at him.
Harris had his chances, especially when he had tailback Javarris James wide open after he beat senior Jae McFadden in the second quarter. A completion would have tied the game at 14, but the incompletion forced the Hurricanes the punt and Miami never came close to tying the game again.
Season: With a group of talented players, true freshman Chris Borland stood out among the rest, earning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors after he stepped in for starting redshirt freshman Mike Taylor.
Taylor was putting together a solid season with 46 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss and will be ready for next season. Borland, who was the king of special teams' plays and in UW's third down package, was moved into the pass rushing role and forced five fumbles, recovered three, picked up four sacks with 8.5 tackles for a loss, picked off one pass and blocked a punt. Simply put, he was a playmaker.
McFadden led the team in tackles with 74 and is taking his electric personality with him. St. Jean was important in the run game and junior Blake Sorensen was a jack of all trades. UW quite possibly could have the best linebacker unit in the conference next season.
Niles Brinkley led UW with six tackles, but was bailed out of the fire after potentially allowing a game-changing play. The U was pinned on the 1 and a run by Damien Berry was stuffed on the right side. He cut back to the left after Brinkley was sucked into the middle, neglecting backside contain and allowing Berry to break free for 27 yards. To compound the problem, he tackled Berry a good foot out of bounds for another 15 yards. Luckily, Schofield forced a fumble soon thereafter and bailed out Brinkley.
Senior Chris Maragos wasn't going to let a slight twisted ankle keep him out of his last game. He returned on the final series and his good defense helped UW escape with a win.
Harris only had 57 first-half passing yards on five completions but had 79 yards passing on U's second-to-last possession when it seemed UW's was in a prevent defense. As we all know, a prevent defense prevents nothing.
Season: The second biggest weakness on the team at times this season, UW was either on or it wasn't. The Badgers had great shut-down performances against Purdue and Hawaii or leaked like sieves against Fresno State, Indiana and Northwestern. The Badgers' cornerbacks, while young, need to play better and more consistent next season.
Maragos and junior Jay Valai were outstanding all season and Valai will need to the leader next season in the secondary with Maragos moving on. Maragos led the team with four interceptions and came up with countless big plays - breaking up a pass to seal a victory over Northern Illinois and registered an overtime interception against Fresno State.
Brinkley and sophomore Devin Smith became the Badgers top two corners, but the duo still have room to grow and improve. Aaron Henry struggled in his return after missing last season because of ACL surgery and was eventually moved to special teams because of his struggles covering receivers. Henry was moved to safety later in the season because of depth. UW needs him, along with Antonio Fenelus (who took a step back this season), to get back on track in 2010.
It wouldn't be a Badgers football game without poor special teams play. Miami's Graig Cooper took the opening kickoff at the three, headed up the field and got to the 10 before he handed off to cornerback Sam Shields on a reverse.
Shields took advantage of UW players outside its lanes and scored an easy touchdown, except it was wiped out because an unnecessary block in the back. The Hurricanes still got the ball on the 16 and scored on a run by Cooper on the first play. Miami didn't score another offensive touchdown for 52 plays.
UW also nearly blew the game when its hands team dropped the ball on an onside kick with just over a minute to go, nearly allowing the Hurricanes to escape a poorly-played game with a win. If that would have happened, UW football and the message boards would have been in meltdown mode.
Welch had a great bounce back game, splitting field goals of 27 and 39 yards right down the middle, giving him some momentum heading into next season. Brad Nortman had his best game of his young career. He hit a 57-yard punt that came to rest at the Miami 8 in the opening quarter and pinned the Hurricanes at their 1 with a 34-yard punt with 8:20 left in the game and UW leading, 17-7.
With 40 kickoff return yards, David Gilreath became UW's all-time leader in career kickoff return yards with 2,366, passing Brandon Williams (2,349 yards).
Season: When you're benched for a linebacker because you can't make an extra point, the season is not going well. Sophomore kicker Philip Welch worked hard to improve his kickoff distance, but he suffered on his field goals, finishing the year 17-of-24 with five misses coming under 50 yards. Welch needs to get it together and become a balanced kicker next season, especially with Menomonee Falls freshman Kyle French eyeing his starting job.
Punter Brad Nortman was much improved from his first season, even earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors, after finishing the regular season with a 42.3-yard gross average. Nortman showed some solid touch this season at times, especially in the bowl game, and is continuing to get better. The Badgers had three players block kicks - Watt, David Gilbert and Borland – and turned two of those into touchdowns.
Gilreath finally managed to return a punt for a touchdown against Northwestern, but the junior bad judgments in the punt game usually resulted in UW giving away field position or taking unnecessary risks. The kickoff return game was average and sometimes laughable, which needs to change immediately or UW is going to regret it.