Nov. 27, 2010
Defense continues to force turnovers
Through the first eight games of the season, Wisconsin had forced just one more turnover than it had committed. Fast forward to Saturday night and the turnover margin as grown all the way to a plus-14, thanks in large part to seven turnovers, with zero committed, in Wisconsin’s 70-23 victory over Northwestern.
The Badgers’ defense started strong, forcing turnovers on the Wildcats’ first three possessions, marking the third straight game UW has forced at least two turnovers.
On Northwestern’s opening drive, J.J. Watt and Ethan Hemer got pressure on NU’s Evan Watkins, whose pass was tipped and intercepted by senior Jay Valai.
“It’s been a frenzy out there,” Valai said. “We’re all just having fun, flying around out there. It’s just unbelievable to play with a defense like this. If a guy gets hurt, someone else steps in. We had to get ready for this game. Last year we got embarrassed by Northwestern and we had to get some redemption, and we did today.”
That play would be the beginning of a huge game for Watt. He recorded seven tackles, 3.0 TFLs for a loss of 19 yards and 1.0 sacks for 12 yards. In addition, Watt forced two fumbles, both of which UW recovered. He also blocked an extra point and recorded three quarterback hurries, all of which resulted in interceptions for the Badgers.
“I was just trying to have some fun,” Watt said after the game. “It’s the last game of the year at Camp Randall, so we have to give the fans a little bit of a show. Our offense always puts on a big show so on defense we had to put on a show as well, and we did that in a big way.”
On the Wildcats’ next possession, Watt struck again as he stripped Watkins just before he could get a pass off. Freshman Tyler Dippel scooped up the loose ball and returned it 12 yards to the Wisconsin 13-yard line, setting up a one-yard touchdown run by Montee Ball.
Northwestern moved out to midfield on its next possession, but Antonio Fenelus picked off his team-leading fourth pass of the season as Watkins tried to go deep to Tony Jones. Fenelus picked it off at the Wisconsin five-yard line to continue the strong defensive showing.
Watt came through with another hurry for the Badgers’ fourth turnover, crashing into NU quarterback Kain Colter. The ball popped high into the air, allowing sophomore linebacker Mike Taylor to camp underneath it and intercept it. Taylor returned it 47 yards for the NU 21-yard line, which was followed three plays later by a UW touchdown pass to put Wisconsin up, 28-3.
Before the first half was over, Watt struck one more time. Watkins scrambled to his right for 21 yards, but Watt came up from behind and stripped the ball free. Aaron Henry picked it up and brought it back nine yards. Four plays later, Wisconsin scored to move ahead 42-10.
Henry got in on the act again in the third quarter, jumping in front of a Watkins pass and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown. Watt added his third quarterback hurry of the game on the play.
There was one more turnover to be had late in the game, though. Off a Brad Nortman punt, Ethan Armstrong recorded his first career fumble recovery as Venric Mark was unable to handle the kick.
Three runs and three kneels later, Wisconsin had its first share of the Big Ten title since 1999.
Running back duo makes history
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White combined for 312 yards and five touchdowns on 40 carries on Saturday, providing the balance to the Badgers’ passing attack.
If it does sound familiar, it likely has to do with the fact that this marks the third game in a row that the two have combined for over 300 yards and at least five touchdowns.
In fact, it is the first time in school history that UW has had a pair of 100-yard rushers in three straight games.
“It just feels good, knowing that we had a great team going into this season and just going out and performing the way we have been all season,” White said after the game. “It’s great to see the success we’ve been having.”
For Ball, each performance has been better than the last.
Against Northwestern, he rushed for a career-high 178 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries. It marks the third game in a row that Ball has set a career high in rushing yards, first putting up 167 against Indiana, then 173 last week at Michigan.
“I most definitely would say that the game has slowed down for me a lot,” Ball said. “I give credit to them (the coaches) for practicing us hard in practice. Without practice, none of this would be possible.”
White finished the game with 134 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. For the season, White now boasts 1,029 rushing yards, becoming just the fourth freshman, and the first since P.J. Hill in 2006, to go over 1,000 yards in a season.
Tolzien continues steady play
With the running game getting most of the headlines, the stellar play of quarterback Scott Tolzien has gone somewhat unnoticed.
On Saturday against Northwestern, Tolzien showed why he is one of the most reliable signal-callers in the nation.
Tolzien completed 15-of-19 passes for 230 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. The performance comes out as a passing efficiency rating of 250.1, the fifth-best single game mark in Wisconsin history.
“I think it starts with the running game, and kind of always has,” he said. “Even a prelude to that, just the way the offensive line has been playing. They really got the ship rolling early and it really makes it easier on the passing game.”
Last week against Michigan, Tolzien was 14-of-15 for 201 yards. At one point from the Indiana to the Michigan game, he completed 24 straight passes.
After the win over the Wildcats Saturday, Tolzien gave credit to the men up front.
“It starts with the offensive line,” he explained. “They’ve been tremendous and teams have been loading up the box and they still figure out a way to handle it. It’s something that kind of flies over some peoples’ heads, how special that group is.”
Some might classify Tolzien’s season, and career for that matter, as being special.
In 2010, he’s completed 74.3 percent of his passes and achieved a passing efficiency mark of 169.8, both of which would shatter school records. Darrell Bevell set both records in 1993, completing 67.8 percent of his passes and putting up an efficiency mark of 155.2.
Tolzien has also thrown for 2,300 yards this season, the sixth-best mark in school history and his 16 touchdowns are tied for eighth-best.
UW Athletic Communications