Coming into Saturday's game, most of the talk was about Wisconsin's chances of slowing down the Spartans' prolific passing offense. At day's end, however, it was the Badgers' signal caller who made the big impression.
Junior quarterback Scott Tolzien distributed the ball to seven different receivers en route to four scoring passes—the most for a Wisconsin quarterback since 2006—did not turn the ball over once and made several big plays in the fourth quarter to put a one-score game out of reach for Michigan State.
""The thing I like about Scotty is he is just constantly moving forward,"" Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. ""He's so sound in what's going on around him, and he's got a good understanding of the bigger picture. They were taking away certain things and we thought we could take advantage of the air, and he went out there and kept executing, made great decisions.""
Early in the game, the Spartans were giving up short passes in the flats, and Tolzien took advantage with underneath throws. Then as the defense collapsed on those, the offense went vertical.
Tolzien hit junior receiver Isaac Anderson in stride for 45 yards late in the third quarter to set up a 19-yard touchdown strike to sophomore wide receiver Nick Toon over a pair of defenders. Moments later, he hit junior tight end Garrett Graham, who got behind all of Michigan State's defenders.
""I felt like it was good plays called and guys just making plays,"" Tolzien, who finished with 243 yards, said. ""Nick had a guy on him on the one touchdown, and he just beat his guy off the line of scrimmage and made a play.""
Toon added that Tolzien was hitting players in stride, putting them in the best position for yards after the catch and big plays.
On his first two touchdowns, Tolzien also showed off his accuracy, lacing the first one over a linebacker and tossing the second with a Spartan linebacker hanging off him.
Graham goes big
With family and friends from out of town in the stands, most players aim to put on a good performance. Graham proved Saturday he was more than up to the task.
The junior from New Jersey deserves much of the credit for Tolzien's good day, as he found seams in the defense and came up big as a target in the red zone, gathering three touchdown passes and leading the team in catches.
His effect on the passing game, however, went far beyond those numbers.
""He's awesome. When Travis [Beckum] was here, those guys drew a lot of attention, and he's still drawing a lot of attention,"" Toon said. ""He opens up the rest of the passing game for me and Isaac and [David Gilreath] and the rest of the guys that are out there.""
The three scores were a personal best for Graham, who said he had never scored three times in any game. It was also the most scores in a game for one Wisconsin receiver since current Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels had three in a 2005 game against Temple.
He got the call on Wisconsin's first trip into the red zone, and after his touchdown reception was nullified by a holding call, Tolzien went right back to him for a 15-yard score.
Graham's second touchdown may have even been more impressive. With Tolzien getting pulled down by a linebacker, Graham just got his hands under a short pass to put Wisconsin up 14-0. Officials reviewed the play, but decided that he did indeed have it.
""The coaches were trying to get the offense together to go back out [during the review], but I was positive I caught it,"" Graham said.
""I was supposed to run like a five-yard out [but they blitzed],"" he added. ""So I just turned around real quick and Scottie saw it.""