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Monday, June 24, 2024

Tolzien's performance shows he's the right man for the job

One of my favorite professors here likes to talk about how, in international politics, style is substance. He says that when global leaders interact, their strategies and appearances can be just as important as what they actually achieve. 

In Badger football, that idea describes how fans feel in the wake of Saturday's win over Northern Illinois.

What many will take from the game was not Wisconsin's near collapse in the fourth quarter, but instead a newfound confidence in the team's offense, specifically its quarterback. While running backs Zach Brown and John Clay put in solid performances, the play of quarterback Scott Tolzien was even more impressive.

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Tolzien completed 15 of his 20 attempts, ultimately throwing for 257 yards and an 80-yard touchdown pass. What fans appreciated most about his play, though, was his accuracy.

Being able to hit a wide-open Isaac Anderson downfield and simply finding a tight end coming across the middle were two strengths former quarterbacks Dustin Sherer and Allan Evridge never truly possessed.

Of course, a home game against Northern Illinois does not provide quite the same challenge as going on the road to face a team like Ohio State. But accuracy was something neither Sherer nor Evridge had against any foes, and the fact that Tolzien could showcase it Saturday is a good sign.

Tolzien's strong start also helped fans forget about his mistakes later in the game.

It was, after all, Tolzien's fourth-quarter interception that helped keep the Huskies in the game.

Despite those late mistakes, Tolzien has shown that he deserves the starting role and can lead this offense. Curt Phillips was respectable as a rushing quarterback, but there's no doubt he is second to Tolzien.

For head coach Bret Bielema to keep the two of them as co-starters from now on is foolish, since Tolzien has firmly established himself as the first string quarterback. There is one Wisconsin starter now, someone who has earned the job and is ready to take control of the team,  and to call Phillips a co-starter does not properly define his duties.

Phillips' role on the team is now to come in for one or two series, probably as a rushing quarterback, and help Tolzien run the offense. Playing as a second-string quarterback will give Phillips, a redshirt freshman, time to hone his skills and turn the raw talent he has now into something he can better use in the future.

This will be Phillips' offense one day, but for now it is time to learn under Tolzien.

Last season, if a team found a way to stop Wisconsin's running game the feeling among fans was ""we're in trouble now."" Without a reliable quarterback to lead the team if the running backs were having a tough day, the Badgers often fell apart.

Now, fans have confidence that Tolzien can take control of the offense and lead the team to a win. Despite his mistakes, Tolzien's accuracy gave fans a reason for confidence they have not had in years.

Tolzien's style was his substance Saturday night. Appearances were just as important as the numbers, and giving a solid performance against Northern Illinois has made many fans much more optimistic about the coming season.

Still not convinced about Tolzien? E-mail Nico at savidgewilki@wisc.edu.

 

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