Nov. 28, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- Taking a seat on a bench outside the UW locker room, Scott Tolzien put on the headsets and did a short postgame interview for the Wisconsin Radio Network.
Tolzien was subdued; restrained, low-keyed.
Tolzien was melancholy; pensive, reflective.
Tolzien didn’t disagree with either observation following his final game in Camp Randall.
“There are times in life when it’s the exact opposite of this,” Tolzien said. “And, then, there are times like this. At this point, you’re really thankful for the opportunity that we have.”
That embodies Tolzien – transitioning from the individual (“you’re”) to the team (“we have”).
Minutes earlier in the locker room, a Big Ten representative had congratulated the Badgers on winning a piece of the conference’s title, along with Ohio State and Michigan State.
Championship t-shirts and baseball caps were dispensed.
Minutes earlier in the locker room, a Rose Bowl representative had all but guaranteed the Badgers that they would be playing in Pasadena on Jan. 1 against an opponent to be named later.
Long-stemmed roses were handed out, starting with the seniors.
“It’s just so cool,”Tolzien was saying now, “when you have worked so hard for something with a group of guys and then you reach that goal. It’s kind of special.”
In the next breath, he admitted that he hadn’t digested everything yet. “Once you’re alone, that’s when it really sinks in,” he said. “It will be a good next 48 hours.”
Pausing to reflect on what he had just experienced in Camp Randall Stadium, he noted, “Twice in the same year we’ve had our fans on the field. Once is cool, twice is icing on the cake.”
It’s cool to say cool – and stay cool – if you’re Scott Tolzien.
That was the case during the senior introductions prior to the kickoff.
Tolzien took the mindset that “we have a game to play” against Northwestern and “there’s a lot on the line” and “I didn’t want to get caught up” in the emotion of the moment.
That’s easier said than done when you’re greeted by family on Senior Day. “It’s emotional when your name is called,” he said. “But after you get your hugs, it’s time to get ready for the game.”
Tolzien’s biggest fan was wearing a No. 16 jersey and watching from the coaches offices on the eighth level of Camp Randall. In truth, Jaxson Hinkens’ biggest fan is No. 16, Tolzien.
“It’s pretty cool,” Tolzien said of his well-documented friendship with Hinkens, a cancer survivor. “This is big – having an opportunity to win a Big Ten championship.
“But there are so many more important things in life. To see where Jaxson was 15 months ago – to see how far he has come – to see that he’s healthy, well, that’s something special.”
So is this quarterback; something special.
So is this football team; something special.
“I’d be an idiot if I didn’t say our offensive line has been unbelievable,” Tolzien said. “They make everything go. We have talent with our running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.
“But the foundation is this group of offensive linemen. It has always been that way at Wisconsin. That’s when this program has the most success – when they do what they do.”
It all adds up to a special season. “It just shows that when you work your tail off during the week what the results can be on Saturdays,” Tolzien said. “We’ve not focused on numbers or statistics.”
Nonetheless, the numbers tell a story. The Badgers are the fourth-highest scoring team in college football, averaging 43.33 points per game. Actually, they’re tied for fourth with TCU.
How fitting is that? Wisconsin could draw the Horned Frogs in the Rose Bowl.
Only Oregon, Boise State, and Oklahoma State are averaging more than the UW and TCU.
What separates the Horned Frogs from the others has been their defense. They are No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. They’re No. 3 in rushing defense.
Tolzien, meanwhile, is No. 1 nationally in pass completion percentage (.742).
Can the Badgers play with anybody?
“If we’re on, we can,” Tolzien said. “It all starts with how we prepare for the bowl game. But if we’re on, we can (play with anybody). We just have to make sure that’s the case.”
As Tolzien was finishing up an interview with the Big Ten Network, one of his favorite targets, Nick Toon, walked by. Toon caught a couple of touchdowns passes against Northwestern.
“I’ve obviously had an up and down year with injuries,” Toon said. “But today is what I’ve expected out of myself all year. It felt good to finally showcase that in a game.”
Toon singled out Tolzien for being “very detailed” in his preparation and “not making a lot of mistakes,” which has helped lift the Badgers among the nation’s leaders in turnover margin.
Did Toon see any of this coming, especially on offense? “You have to have confidence in yourself,” he said. “But I think we’ve exceeded a lot of expectations.”
Toon got his hands on two long-stemmed roses during the locker room celebration. He was taking one home. He was leaving the other rose in his locker; a reminder of unfinished business.
“We’ve had a great season,” Toon said. “But we have one more to get.”