PASADENA — Many times, in talking about what his team did to get to a share of the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl bid, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema went back to their Oct. 2 loss at Michigan State.
As he saw it, Bielema’s team managed an 11-1 record with big wins over then No. 1 Ohio State and on the road at Iowa because of what they learned from the Badgers’ loss to the Spartans. Had it not been for that game, they wouldn’t be where they are today.
Ironically enough, nearly three months later, the issues that cost Wisconsin in its only regular season loss were much the same problems they had in the Rose Bowl against TCU. The Badgers couldn’t get off the field on third down and left plenty of points on the board through missed opportunities in the close loss.
“I don’t think anybody can beat us but ourselves,” said left guard John Moffitt. “I think we beat ourselves today. We didn’t do what we needed to do.”
From the beginning — literally as Montee Ball ripped off a 40-yard run on the first play from scrimmage — the TCU defense struggled to stop the potent Wisconsin offense. It was the Badgers themselves that did most of the work in keeping points off the scoreboard.
Unfortunately for the Big Ten champions, they followed Ball’s big run — which brought them form their own 32-yard line to the TCU 28 — with a false start penalty on Nick Toon. When the drive came to an end, the Badgers put three points on the board on a 30-yard Philip Welch field goal, which came on 4th-and-8 at the 13-yard line.
On the previous play, Toon added a second mistake, dropping a pass over the middle. Had he not been called for the false start penalty, however, the Badgers would have been in a 1st-and-Goal situation on that series, rather than 1st-and-10 at the 15.
“What got us here was clean execution and clean disciplined football,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “We didn’t do that today all around, myself included.”
Tolzien, normally as efficient a quarterback as you’ll find, went just 12-of-21 for the game, passing for 159 yards while getting sacked twice.
On their first drive of the game, Wisconsin left a potential touchdown drive out there, but managed to salvage it with a field goal. When they opened the second quarter with another long drive, they weren’t so lucky.
After moving the ball down the field from their own 23-yard-line to just outside the red zone, Wisconsin faced 4th-and-3 at the TCU 22-yard line. Trailing 14-10, Bielema sent Welch out once again for the 39-yard attempt. He missed it, wide left, for another three points left on the board.
“I just think we missed out on a lot of opportunities that we had,” left tackle Gabe Carimi said. “It’s really just missed opportunities through and through.”
The missed opportunities and sloppy play were not limited to the offense, either.
A pass interference call on Devin Smith played a role in TCU matching Wisconsin’s early field goal with a 10-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that took less than 4 1/2 minutes off the clock.
On the first play following Welch’s missed field goal, a pass intended for Jeremy Kerley went through Henry’s hands over the middle. While he broke up the pass effectively, it was a very catchable ball for Henry.
Whereas the Badgers continually missed out on opportunities and left plenty of points on the board, the Horned Frogs always seemed to make the right plays at the right time. In the end, that made a big difference in a game decided by just two points.
“It is definitely unfortunate man, but sometimes that’s just the way the ball bounces,” Henry said of the loss. “They made a few more plays than we did. But this team fought hard every step of the way, and hats off to my teammates. But TCU, they did a tremendous job and unfortunately, they just made a few more plays than we did.”
MADISON — For the past two decades, Wisconsin has always been a run-first program. Over the last few weeks, the Badgers have been running wild, while opponents had little hope of stopping them.
On Saturday, when they needed a win to clinch a share of the Big Ten title, it was the passing game that really made the difference offensively. In his final home game, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien delivered one of the top performances of his career.
“Scott’s a guy that takes advantage of every opportunity, every play,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “He made a tremendous check there at the line of scrimmage on that last deep ball to David [Gilreath], that was all him.
“He had a huge strike there that just kind of finally put the dagger where it needed to be.”
Tolzien passed for 230 yards and four touchdowns on the day, while connecting 15 times on 19 pass attempts. He found five different receivers on the day, including four passes apiece to Nick Toon, Lance Kendricks and David Gilreath.
For his four touchdowns, Tolzien connected with Toon twice, while finding Kendricks and Gilreath for one score each. Kendricks led the way with 80 yards receiving, while Gilreath added 75 and Toon had 62.
“We have playmakers all over the board,” Kendricks said. “We deserve it.”
Kendricks’ four-catch performance came in less than 30 minutes of play, as the senior tight end left the game with an injury following his 29-yard touchdown reception with 3:14 to go in the second quarter.
Tolzien finally came out of the game himself following a timeout in the fourth quarter, earning a big ovation from a packed house at Camp Randall Stadium. When his name was announced during the pregame Senior Day festivities, he drew even bigger cheers.
With his performance, Tolzien had a passer rating of 250.1, which marked the fifth-best single-game pass efficiency in school history. On the season, Tolzien has a rating of 169.8 while completing 74.3 percent of his passes.
After running back Montee Ball got things rolling with three first-half touchdowns to put Wisconsin up 21-3, Tolzien delivered the next four touchdowns for the Badgers.
“I think it starts with the running game, and kind of always has,” Tolzien 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.”
MADISON — As the postseason awards name their finalists, they should always be taken with some grain of salt. Even with that in mind, it was an impressive week for Wisconsin.
As a number of postseason individual awards named finalists this week, five Badgers — four on offense and one on the defensive side of the ball — and one UW head coach made the cut. They weren’t listed for just any awards either.
Senior left tackle Gabe Carimi made the final cut for the Outland Trophy, given annually to the nation’s best interior lineman. Three-time Pro Bowler, and Brookfield, Wis., native Joe Thomas currently holds the honor of being the only Outland Trophy winner in school history.
“I remember holding the bag for Joe Thomas,” Carimi said. “It’s a long way from that.”
Carimi’s honor undoubtedly comes in part as recognition for Wisconsin’s dominant rushing attack, which has been near impossible to stop over the past few games.
Of course, the three-headed monster out of the backfield wouldn’t likely have quite the same success without Carimi, a future first-rounder, leading the way.
“It’s a great honor and all I have to do is focus on keeping on playing well,” Carimi said. “I know my teammates helped me out to get me in that position. We have a great offensive line and obviously they looked at that, and we’re scoring and we’re running well. Obviously all that came into play when I got nominated.”
Joining Carimi in playing a huge role in blocking for the Wisconsin running game is senior tight end Lance Kendricks. While the Milwaukee native has not enjoyed the kind of statistically impressive season many predicted for him in the passing game, it didn’t matter.
Kendricks found his name this week as one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s best tight end. Though current New York Giants tight end Travis Beckum was a semifinalist in 2006 and a finalist in 2007, if he were to win Kendricks would be the first Mackey Award winner in school history.
“That was definitely one of my preseason goals, just a personal goal to have and just something to strive toward,” Kendricks said of the award. “I think it’s a good honor just to be nominated for something like that.
“Just going out there and working hard and knowing at the end of the day, as long as you work hard, you’re going to get better. I think that’s kind of just what I live by as far as playing football.”
With Kendricks up for one of the more prestigious awards in the nation, it has not gone unnoticed by Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.
In fact, he’s gotten on the phone since hearing the news, campaigning for his tight end. It’s not the first time Bielema has done such a thing, either.
“Early in my coaching career, one of the first players that was up for a national award was, Joe Thomas was up for the Outland Trophy,” Bielema said. “At the time Justin [Doherty] was the guy, and I said ‘Give me the voting list of all the people that vote for the Outland Trophy,’ and I just started calling people.
“I was in my car, driving around recruiting, called like 25 people, and they were all taken aback that I would call and lobby for my guy. I’m like, ‘Well, hey, he’s done everything for me for this year and beyond, I’ll do anything for him.’ So I’ve gotten on the phone over the last week and tried to reach out to so many people.”
One of three running backs Carimi and Kendricks have been blocking for is John Clay, the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year.
Despite missing the last two games due to injury, Clay was one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given each year to the best running back in the country. While backups Montee Ball and James White have stolen the show lately, Clay got the nod as the Badgers leading rusher.
While the injuries have prevented Clay this season from putting up the numbers he’s shown he is capable of, the success and reputation of the Wisconsin rushing attack likely gave him a boost.
“I definitely think that has a lot to do with the success of the team,” Kendricks said of the multiple award finalists. “It’s hard to say enough about those guys.”
While Carimi, Kendricks and the rest of the offensive line lead the way up front for Clay, none of it would run as smoothly as it has without a competent signal caller behind center. Enter senior quarterback Scott Tolzien who has quietly led the nation in completion percentage through 11 games.
Tolzien, who also ranks in the top ten in pass efficiency, was named a finalist this week for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, given each year to the top senior quarterback in the country.
“Me and Gabe were talking about it, and there’s a lot of interchangeable parts on this team, along the line, the running backs, the receivers, and I don’t think Scott Tolzien is one of them,” said senior left guard John Moffitt. “Scott is a valuable piece of the offense.”
Being the humble leader that he is, Tolzien politely disagreed.
“I think this program’s in good hands no matter who’s at quarterback.”
Along with the four offensive nominees, junior defensive end J.J. Watt was named a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Award, and Bielema was named by the Football Writers Association of America as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.
In talking about the awards at his Monday press conference, Bielema looked beyond the simple recognition of his players’ accomplishments.
What he was most proud of was the character of the athletes nominated.
“In today’s day and age, with these national awards, it’s one thing, it’s his body of work usually their senior year, or the year that they win the award that they’re going to get this basically get the recognition,” Bielema said. “But what’s this person going to be like two years, a year from now, two years from now, three years from now? I think it came to light with the Reggie Bush thing, and now there’s all this other discussion.
“I can guarantee this, J.J. Watt’s up for awards, Lance Kendricks is up for awards, Scott Tolzien is up for awards, John Clay, [is up for the Doak Walker Award].
“But those kids, if they win those awards, there will never be a day of embarrassment for that trophy because they represent some pretty good qualities in people.”
MADISON – While they all may line up together, the differences between the guard, center and tight end positions are many. That hasn’t stopped Bill Nagy from transitioning seamlessly between the three spots this season.
Nagy, a fifth year senior from Hudson, Ohio, started the first four games of the season for the Badgers at right guard with Kevin Zeitler out with an injury. When the opportunity arose for him to fill in at tight end, Nagy jumped at that opportunity as well.
Now, with Peter Konz aggravating his right ankle injury, Nagy is set to start at center for the first time in his career Saturday against Indiana. As a senior, and one who missed all but three games last year, Nagy is savoring every chance he gets to put on the Wisconsin uniform, whether it be No. 76 or No. 89.
“Yeah, that’s probably the hardest part,” Nagy joked, referring to switching jerseys depending on the position. “It’s been a lot of fun, I’m just happy that I got the opportunity to play some tight end, too. It’s unfortunate what happened with Zeit at the beginning of the season and then obviously, Pete going down with his ankle and everything with that.
“I’m just trying to play hard, practice hard, and just have a next man in mentality.”
Nagy missed much of the 2009 season as a result of the events of July 16, 2009. On that night, as he rode his moped home from Camp Randall Stadium, going east on Dayton Street, a northbound car on Park Street ran a red light, hitting Nagy.
As a result of the crash, Nagy suffered a broken right wrist and torn ligaments in the arch of his right foot. Though he was able to tough it out through three games, Nagy eventually missed much of the season and was not 100 percent through spring practice.
“That was really tough and a freak thing,” said John Moffitt, Nagy’s roommate. “I was thinking about that the other day like, ‘Bill got hit by a car.’ How many people can say that? I was going to say something to him like, ‘Man, you got hit by a car, that’s crazy.’
“But just the way that he’s recovered and fought back, it’s not been easy. I don’t think people realize that, it’s a physical battle, but it’s also a mental battle, too.”
Having fought back, both mentally and physically, from those injuries, Nagy has become one of the most important members of the 2010 Badgers.
When Konz went down against Iowa, Nagy was more than capable of stepping in. He did, and helped the Badgers escape with the one-point victory. After the injury became an issue again at Purdue, Nagy stepped in and the Wisconsin offense didn’t miss a beat.
His performance at three positions this season has been impressive to say the least.
“Bill’s just the total team player and a selfless player. He’s in his fifth year now and he just wants to get on the field,” Scott Tolzien said. “That’s what makes teams special is when you’ve got a bunch of guys that are willing to just sacrifice their roles for the good of the team. Bill’s been a great example of that, and he’s been huge for us.
“He never dwindles in his confidence or what his role is. The great thing is he doesn’t pout, he doesn’t complain, he just takes it upon himself to just keep getting better every day. I admire his patience just for the way he’s approached it and it’s great to see it kind of come full circle and pay off for him.”
While playing three positions for the Badgers is one thing, Nagy’s ability to play center serves an even greater purpose. If he were unable to do so, head coach Bret Bielema would have to move Moffitt to center, forcing someone else to fill in at left guard as well.
With Nagy at center, the Badgers can maintain a stronger sense of continuity on the line, something that is especially important with Wisconsin’s power style of football.
“Me and Bill were talking about that, because he was like, ‘Why don’t they just plug you in at center?'” Moffitt recalled. “And well, one I said, I think I’m too fat for center right now, and on top of that I said, that’s just one change. Bill’s in, and then there’s still that consistency. Whereas, like Hawaii and Miami last year – Miami was a little easier because we had the time – but Hawaii, we moved me to center, we moved [Travis] Frederick into left guard, and that’s two changes, and that kind of changes half a line.”
As long as they’ve got Nagy, who can fill in anywhere on the line, the Badgers should not have to worry about such dramatic changes this season.
MADISON – In football, things often are described in militaristic terms, with the game frequently described as a war or battle. In reality, the sport and its players pale in comparison to those that dedicate their lives to service in our armed forces.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the major hostilities of World War I formally ended with the Germans signing the Armistice. Since 1919, Nov. 11 has set aside to remember the nation’s veterans.
On this Veterans Day, several members of the University of Wisconsin football team will honor their family members that are serving or have served their country in the military.
“I’ll be thinking of my grandpa for sure,” running back Montee Ball said. “Last year, against Wofford, he passed away and that was really rough, so I’m most definitely going to think about him.
“I think he was in the Air Force, in the Korean War, but he didn’t really talk about it much. It was rough for him. I miss him a lot, and I’m definitely going to be thinking of him.”
Ball missed that game last year against Wofford as he dealt with the loss of a beloved family member. This week, he’ll be playing with his grandfather in mind.
A common theme among the Badgers was grandfathers who served in various wars, but who did not talk much about it with their grandchildren. Among those are linebacker Mike Taylor whose grandfather served in the Air Force during World War II, but died before Taylor was born, and safety Aaron Henry whose grandfather dropped out of high school to serve his country.
Another is running back James White, who was not sure which branch of the military his grandfather, who passed in 2005, served in. White’s cousin recently joined the Marine Corps, giving him another family member to honor on this day.
Like White, quarterback Scott Tolzien has a close relative currently serving in the military.
“My brother is currently at an Air Force base in Biloxi, Miss., right now,” Tolzien said. “He flies the C-130, a big cargo plane.”
Tolzien’s grandfathers each served during World War II, his paternal grandfather in the Navy, and his maternal grandfather in the Army.
With three close family members having ties to the armed forces, Veterans Day is important one for Tolzien.
“It’s close to my heart,” Tolzien said. I think it’s important and it should be that way for everyone really. We’re pretty blessed to have it the way we have it because of the people that are serving and protecting our country.
“Hopefully everyone will take a second out of their day at least to think about it. I think it would be a shame if you didn’t take some time to think about it on Thursday just because there’s so many people that have served our country.”
Safety Jay Valai has two cousins currently serving, one in the Coast Guard and another in the Marine Corps.
When asked which branch he would choose if he had the chance, Valai debated a few before going with the Air Force, though he would also consider the Army and Marine Corps.
“If I could swim, I’d do it all like a Marine, but I can’t swim, little known fact about me,” Valai said. “So, I guess I’d go with the Air Force. If I got to fly an airplane, I’d do Air Force.”
Defensive end J.J. Watt was one of the few whose grandfather had told him stories of his time in the military, but Watt still was unsure which branch he served in. What he did know was that his grandfather served in the Korean War, and fought in the Battle of Porkchop Hill.
Beyond that, Watt said he has told him plenty of good war stories, despite never specifying which branch of the armed forces in which he served.
“I’m definitely going to give him a call and thank him. And I’m going to put on my Twitter a thank you to all the veterans,” Watt said. “I’m thankful to have him around still obviously and thankful for everything he did. We wouldn’t be doing what we do if it weren’t for those people, so we need to thank them every chance we can.”
WEST LAFAYETTE – Most of the focus after the Badgers’ second half turnaround led to a 34-13 victory was on the turnovers, which seemed to spark the entire team.
Simple execution may have had something to do with it, too.
In the first half, Wisconsin ran into a familiar problem as it struggled to stop Purdue on third downs. The Boilermakers were 6 for 9 on third down conversions, as the UW defense struggled to get off the field and give its offense an opportunity to put point on the board.
“We knew the only way we were going to win this ballgame was getting off the field on third downs, and we were able to do that in the second half,” said linebacker Culmer St. Jean, who shifted the momentum with a third quarter interception.
The Boilermakers’ converting on two-thirds of their third-down attempts was even better than the 9 of 18 mark put up by Michigan State as they handed Wisconsin its only loss early last month.
If the Badgers didn’t turn things around after halftime, they were likely headed for a second road loss in Big Ten play. Fortunately, as head coach Bret Bielema said in his postgame press conference, they didn’t need anything resembling superhuman effort to turn things around.
“It was just about execution,” St. Jean said. “In the first half, we had people there and we weren’t tackling. That was one of the things that we stressed going into this game, we knew we were going to have guys in space and we had to get them down. We weren’t able to do that in the first half, and in the second half we just swarmed and kept getting the ball.”
In particular, defensive end J.J. Watt pointed to the team’s performance on first and second down defensively, which made third downs more difficult for Wisconsin and easier to convert for Purdue.
When they went out in the second half, the Badgers forced the Boilermakers to pick up more yardage on third down, averaging 3rd-and-5 on 10 attempts. Purdue went 3-for-10 on third down in the second half.
“When you’re putting them in 3rd-and-long, you’re going to give them tough situations,” Watt said. “We did that well in the second half and obviously that paid off.”
For safety Jay Valai, the bye week wasn’t quite as beneficial to his health as it was for most of his teammates.
After aggravating his right calf on Wednesday, the senior further injured it Thursday, partially tearing the muscle. When the game rolled around Saturday, he was noticeably limited by the injury, especially in the first half.
Eventually, the coaches were forced to sub Shelton Johnson in for Valai.
“Being a senior, you always want to be on the field, but at that point in time, I was more hurting the team than helping the team, so I think that was a smart decision,” Valai said. “It felt a little better in the second half, but it’s still something I need to work on.”
Amid the Badgers’ troubles in the first half, Watt appeared to have suffered an injury, leaving him on the Ross-Ade Stadium turf a little longer than everyone else.
He got up and walked off under his own power, but nonetheless, provided a scare to the Wisconsin players, coaches and fans. Afterward, he expressed little concern over the shoulder injury.
“I was extended out and I dove, and my shoulder kind of clicked in and out,” Watt said. “I’m feeling pretty good now. I’ve still got a little bit of adrenaline going, so we’ll see tomorrow, but I don’t see it holding me out at all.”
While there was plenty to celebrate about in the second half of the 34-13 victory, Wisconsin saw center Peter Konz go down with an injury. As he walked off the field afterward, Konz appeared to be in significant pain, while using crutches and wearing a boot on his right leg.
According to Bielema, the sophomore aggravated the right ankle he injured against Ohio State, which forced senior Bill Nagy to take over at center once again.
St. Jean on his second-half interception
“First I went to my drops and it was an out route, so I knew I wasn’t able to get there. We had extra leverage on that side so I just dropped back and read the quarterback and he took me right to the ball.”
Watt on second-half comeback
“It says we have some good character, we have guys who understand the situation, when we get down we can’t get out. We came back in the second half and played like a first-place team plays, and that’s what we need to do from here on out.”
Watt on the team’s first-half play
“It wasn’t necessarily flat, we just didn’t tackle very well on defense and didn’t put together a very good half.”
John Moffitt on the first half struggles
“I think we came out the first half, there were a lot of looks we didn’t see [before], we weren’t executing right away, and maybe a little hangover from the two weeks off. But you don’t really want to lean on that excuse, because you’ve got to be ready to play at all times.”
Moffitt on the change after halftime
“Obviously, the second half, the execution was there, we were doing the right things, the defense looked great and that made the difference.”
Moffitt on what the comeback says about the team
“Guys didn’t quit. The guys fight to the end and that’s what we need because the game’s not over until the last second ticks off the clock and I think guys understand that.”
Mike Taylor on the team’s slow start
“Yeah, you could say we were flat. It took us a little while to kind of get warmed up I guess, but we came out excited in the second half and took care of business.”
Antonio Fenelus on the turnovers in the second half
“It was very big. In the first half we didn’t come out and do as best as we could. We got talked to after that and they just told us to go out there and just play to the best of our abilities and that’s what I went out there and did.”
Fenelus on getting two turnovers in one game
“It feels real good. I haven’t had a pick since the third game of the season, so it feels good to be just go out there and be able to make a play on the ball.”
Montee Ball on the shift in momentum
“We came in here, got our mistakes down and had a chance to talk to everybody. Coach had a chance to talk to us, and we knew we needed to come out and play Wisconsin football and we get focused because we weren’t in the first half. Once we came out and we knew our assignments, we went out and did it.
“In the first half, I had to knock the dust off a bit from the bye week and we all had to. But once we came out of the locker room, we knew ‘This is our half, and we’ve got to produce.'”
Scott Tolzien on the offense
“Offensively it was a struggle for us, and that’s going to happen at times. But I thought the defense was just tremendous, especially in the second half.”
Tolzien on the team’s slow start
“What frustrates me is, that was one of the things that we emphasized in the bye week. We wanted to start fast because that’s always a concern when you have a week off. We didn’t do that.”