Badger Rewind: Unlikely cast helped Badgers persevere

<b>Montee Ball's game-winning touchdown was one of several big plays in a special win over Iowa.</b>

Montee Ball's game-winning touchdown was one of several big plays in a special win over Iowa.

Oct. 24, 2010

MADISON, Wis. -- UW quarterback Scott Tolzien fielded a number of congratulatory phone calls from family members following Saturday’s dramatic 31-30 victory at Iowa. But after the team’s four-bus caravan arrived back in Madison, he was less inclined to talk about himself than others.

“My brother got his first college experience today,’’ said Tolzien, beaming.

Sure enough, Mark Tolzien, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior, threw for a touchdown on his first collegiate pass attempt for the Holy Cross football team. Tolzien, who alternated with senior Ryan Taggart, had another scoring throw late in the second quarter for the Crusaders.

All in all, the Brothers Tolzien had plenty to talk about. Taggart rallied Holy Cross to a 31-24 win at Colgate by connecting on a 14-yard TD toss with 5.2 seconds left in Hamilton, N.Y. Meanwhile, Scott Tolzien had his shining moments in Iowa City. Not that he was about to dwell on them.

“Turned out well for Mark,’’ he said.

Turned out well for Scott, too.

“Can’t say enough good things about him,’’ UW coach Bret Bielema said. “I just admire the way he prepares, the way he executes. What you see from Scott on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is what you see on Saturdays because he carries it into the game.’’

And what a game it was for the M*A*S*H-unit Badgers.

“At halftime, I always go into the training room to see where we’re at,’’ said Bielema, who was expecting the worst. “I knew there were some guys dinged up.’’

Mike Lucas
MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Insider
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In addition to playing without injured wide receiver Nick Toon, the Badgers lost tight end Lance Kendricks and tailback James White to injuries in the first half. And, then, there was center Peter Konz, who was nursing a foot injury coming into the game and didn’t practice until Thursday last week.

“You could just see it in Pete’s face that he wasn’t real confident to go back out there,’’ Bielema said. “He had given us everything he could in the first half. And I just felt it was better to go with Billy.’’

Billy is Bill Nagy, the versatile senior offensive lineman, who has been serving as a second tight end in the UW’s jumbo formation. Nagy took all the snaps at center Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Pete was cleared to practice Wednesday, but I thought he was regressing a little and we decided to sit him out,’’ Bielema said. “That gave Billy all those extra reps which may have been one of the reasons why he had success (Saturday). It ended up being a good move.’’

There was no shortage of inspirational storylines and Montee Ball might be at the top of list only because he stayed ready despite falling to No. 3 in the tailback rotation behind John Clay and White.

“The last couple of weeks, Montee has come up to my office and asked to be put on special teams because he wanted to do anything he could to help out,’’ Bielema said. “His mom and dad and little sisters were here today (in Iowa City) and just to see the grin on his face was special.’’

Maybe nobody was wearing a bigger grin than punter-slash-running back Brad Nortman, whose 17-yard gain on a fake punt kept a series alive and led to Ball’s game-winning touchdown run. “I was excited, I was nervous, I was all of the above,’’ Nortman said.

Earlier this season, Eastern Illinois executed a fake punt for 36 yards against Iowa. Did Kirk Ferentz see it coming from the Badgers? “Not from them in that situation,’’ said the Hawks coach.

It was fourth-and-4 from the UW 26.

“It was a great call on their part,’’ Ferentz added.

Bielema kidded that Nortman could have tacked on an additional five yards if he would have kept running instead of sliding to the turf (even though that’s what Bielema had ordered him to do).

“I feel like ball security isn’t my biggest strength,’’ Nortman conceded. “Coach even said, ‘If you get into the open field, slide.’ I said, ‘No, coach, I’m going to score.’’’

The Badgers gave up a late score to the Hawkeyes at the end of the first half which had the potential to be one of the significant turning points in the game because Iowa had the ball to start the third quarter. Credit, though, UW linebacker Kevin Claxton with helping reverse that momentum.

On third-and-3, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi completed a pass in the flat to his fullback Brett Morse who was stoned by Claxton. Morse lunged the ball forward past the first-down marker but a booth replay confirmed that he had been stopped at the 29 and the Hawks were forced to punt.

Tolzien completed six-of-six passes on the subsequent possession, driving the Badgers 80 yards on 12 plays, culminating with Bielema’s gutsy decision to put the ball in John Clay’s hands on a fourth-and-goal from the Iowa 2. Clay carried linebacker Lance Tillison into the end zone.

“He won the one-on-one battle,’’ Tillison said.

Clay picked up one yard on third down which influenced Bielema’s decision. “I didn’t hesitate one bit after we had something positive on that previous run,’’ he said. “I also had an inkling that we’d be alright with John running behind John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi.’’

What if …

What if the Badgers didn’t receive a special knee brace for linebacker Mike Taylor in time for Taylor to contribute to Saturday’s victory? “Over-nighted the brace,’’ Bielema said. “Got here Friday morning. I think it made him feel really good. I doubt if he’d be able to do what he did today without it.’’

Taylor, who was playing with a strained knee ligament, alternated with Claxton (who took one snap at defensive tackle in the final series because the Badgers were running out of healthy bodies). And it was Taylor who made the final tackle on Iowa’s Adam Robinson clinching the win.

What was Tolzien thinking as that sequence was unfolding?

“Honestly, I’ve learned over the years that you just have to believe in the guys on the field,’’ Tolzien said. “You put in so much work during the off-season and you have to trust in that work. So it would be foolish to doubt the situation or doubt the guys out there,’’

Through three quarters, Tolzien completed 17 of 20 passes, which included one drop, and one throw-away because the defense had blanketed a screen. In other words, Tolzien misfired just once on his first 20 throws while completing passes to 10 different receivers. His 21st throw was intercepted.

“For the second week in a row, he had one bad play,’’ said Bielema, referencing a pick that Tolzien threw against Ohio State. “But his response has been unbelievable.’’

That could be said about everyone on his football team.

In fact, Tolzien was saying as much about Montee Ball.

“He was just awesome,’’ he said. “You just really respect the way he has approached the whole season. The reps aren’t what they were last year for him, but he’s continued to be a selfless individual, a team-first guy. I think he always believed his opportunity was going to come. And he was going to make sure that he maximized that opportunity, and that’s what he did here Saturday. It was pretty cool.’’

Did last week’s victory over then-No. 1 Ohio State have a carry-over value?

“You get that sense of confidence knowing that you’ve done it,’’ Tolzien said. “You’ve been through those earlier trials and you’ve withstood them.  I know winning on the road in a tough environment is fun when you’re leaving the campus and everyone has their head down.’’

How did Bielema spent his time on the bus ride home? “I had a number of text messages and voice mails and things to respond to,’’ he said. “We had a college football game on the screens, Alabama and Tennessee, and I watched some of that. The satellite was popping in and out on the bus. There was a brief recap of our game at halftime, and I know all the kids were hooting and hollering.’’

When he got back to Camp Randall Stadium, he taped his TV show. He was asked afterward what was the one thing that kept popping back into his mind when he reflected on the game?

“Our perseverance,’’ he said.

Anything else?

“Our continued faith.’’

As Bielema was leaving his office, a manager placed the Heartland Trophy on his desk. “We need to build a trophy case,’’ said Bielema, knowing it was going to be in his possession for awhile.

 

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