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Badger Bits: Michigan

ON WISCONSIN <b>Scott Tolzien completed 14-of-15 passes for 201 yards in Saturday's win at Michigan.</b>
Scott Tolzien completed 14-of-15 passes for 201 yards in Saturday's win at Michigan.

Nov. 20, 2010

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – En route to its 48-28 victory over Michigan, the No. 5 Wisconsin football team used a strong first half, a key interception from J.J.  Watt and a near-perfect day from Scott Tolzien to put itself in prime position in the Big Ten race.

Strong first half leads way to victory

Michigan’s strength in the 2010 season has been its offense. On Saturday however, Wisconsin pitched a 24-0 shutout at halftime to give the team a cushion it would need in the second half.

“We came out in the first half and executed the plan really well,” Niles Brinkley said. “They’re a really good team; we held them to minimal yards. The first half went really well.”

After forcing the Badgers to punt on the opening drive, Michigan took over at its one-yard line but was able to only get out to the 35 before having to punt. J.J. Watt had a pair of tackles and a pass breakup on the seven-play drive, while fellow defensive end Louis Nzegwu added a pair of stops of his own.

The Badgers took possession and went 75 yards over 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead thanks to a one-yard touchdown run by Montee Ball. With 54 yards coming on the ground, Scott Tolzien needed to throw just one pass to David Gilreath for 21 yards to keep the Michigan defense honest.

The Wisconsin defense then was forced to bend, but it did not break. The Wolverines moved from their own 28-yard line down to the Wisconsin 13 in 11 plays, but S. Broekhuizen missed a 30-yard field goal to keep Michigan off the scoreboard.

Entering the game, Michigan had outscored opponents 108-47 in the first quarter, but after 15 minutes of play, the Badgers maintained a 7-0 lead.

Wisconsin used another long scoring drive to add to its lead, covering 72 yards in 12 plays. Philip Welch converted on a 25-yard field goal after a Badger touchdown was wiped out by a penalty.

After surrendering a long drive on its previous series, Wisconsin’s defense stepped up on the next two possessions and forced a pair of three-and-outs.

The Badgers capitalized on both three-and-outs, scoring touchdowns after each defensive stop. Ball broke off a 27-yard run to make it 17-0, while James White added a 61-yard score after the second three-and-out to put UW up 24-0.

The special teams came up with a big play next as on the ensuing kickoff Bradie Ewing delivered a big hit on Jeremy Gallon and jarred the ball loose. Antonio Fenelus fell on the loose ball, but the Badgers were unable to convert due to an interception. Michigan ran just two more plays before the half ran out.

The tone had been set, however.

“We played great, technically sound football,” Watt said. “We had guys tackling. We had guys playing with great fundamentals.”

Michigan had failed to score in a half for the first time since against Illinois on Oct. 31, 2009, Wisconsin owned a 24-0 lead and had an advantage of 379-to-124 in total offense. The 24-point cushion would turn out to be huge because the Wolverines came out strong to start the second half, but ultimately the deficit was too much to overcome.

Watt’s pick stops scoring spree
J.J. Watt entered Saturday’s game ranked second on the Badgers with six passes broken up. Coming from a defensive end, that means Watt’s been good at getting his hands up in the passing lanes. At Michigan, he finally was able to secure his hands on a pass, stopping Michigan’s second-half momentum.

After falling into a 24-0 hole at the half, Michigan came roaring out in the second half. The Wolverines scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, all of which came in the third quarter.

A 10-play, 71-yard drive was finished off by a 24-yard pass from Denard Robinson to Darryl Stonum. The Badgers’ ensuing possession was cut short after just three plays due to a fumble, giving Michigan a short field. Starting at the Wisconsin 38-yard line, Michigan needed just two plays to find the end zone again, making it 24-14 just over five minutes into the second half.

The Badgers and Wolverines then alternated touchdowns as Wisconsin got a 23-yard run from James White, Michigan got an 11-yard run from Denard Robinson and UW answered that with a three-yard run by Montee Ball.
Michigan tried to keep the pattern going but Watt had other ideas.

Starting at its own 28-yard line, Michigan picked up 22 yards over the next two plays to get to midfield. Four plays later, the Wolverines had a second-and-10 at the UW 32-yard line. Robinson looked to pass but Watt tipped the ball up into the air, catching it himself. Watt had thoughts of a pick-six, but Robinson dragged him down after a 15-yard gain.

“That was a huge play for our defense, a huge momentum-swinger, and it obviously turned into a win for us,” Watt said after the game.

Off Watt’s interception, the Badgers were able to hit a field goal to take a 41-21 lead.

Incidentally, Watt had a similar play in the first half, but the batted ball fell to the ground incomplete.

Tolzien nearly perfect
While the Badgers’ running game may get most of the glory with 357 yards rushing, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien was nearly perfect as he provided a good balance that made Michigan respect the pass.

On the day, Tolzien was 14-of-15 for 201 yards. His lone incompletion was an interception at the end of the first half after starting 14-of-14. The interception snapped a streak of 24 straight completions dating back to last week’s game against Indiana.

Nearly all of Tolzien’s production came in the first half as he threw just one pass in the second half, which he completed of course.

His completion percentage of .933 on the day was the second-best for one game in Wisconsin history, while his season percentage of .739 is on pace to shatter the single-season record at UW. That mark is currently held by Darrell Bevell, who completed 67.8 percent of his passes in 1993.

Tolzien hit seven different receivers on the day, including Lance Kendricks who finished with a team-high four receptions for 74 yards.

Karl Anderson
UW Athletic Communications

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