September 26, 2009

Graham, Tolzien have career days in UW win

MADISON, Wis. - Garrett Graham had a bunch of high school friends in attendance for Wisconsin's Big Ten opening win over Michigan State. So what better time for him to put on a touchdown clinic?

The senior tight end became the first Badger player since Owen Daniels to catch at least three touchdown passes in a game as he led his team to a deceiving 38-30 win over struggling Michigan State.

"Anytime you score three touchdowns you're doing alright," UW head coach Bret Bielema said following the game in regards to Graham. "Garrett is liking what's going on. Like I said before in fall camp, anytime your seniors are playing well....for a senior captain to be playing the way he is right now, it's just inspirational for everybody."

Maybe just as impressive was the play of junior Scott Tolzien. For the fourth straight game, the first-year starter stayed away from mistakes and made the throws necessary to lead his team to victory.

In total, Tolzien set a career high with four touchdown passes, all coming without an interception.

"He's so sound in what's going on around him and he's got a good understanding of the bigger picture," Bielema said about Tolzien's performance. "They were taking away certain things and we thought we could take advantage of the air and he went out there and kept executing and made great decisions."

The first touchdown came when Tolzien found Graham for a 15-yard touchdown on second and goal. He threw it in a spot only Graham could catch it and that is exactly what the senior captain did.

"Graham was the guy who was open today," Tolzien, who finished 19-of-31 for 243 yards and four touchdowns, said. "We have a lot of weapons in the passing game. Each game it might bring out a new guy. Last week it was Lance Kendricks, this week Garrett.

"But whatever it takes, whoever is open, that's who we have to get the ball to."

But it wasn't just the Badger passing game that was working on Saturday afternoon. In fact, the running game was able to put up nearly 200 yards of offense itself.

Sophomore John Clay, who fumbled three times a week ago against Wofford, rushed 32 times (career high) for 142 yards and a touchdown. The Spartans simply couldn't find a way to slow the determined tailback. And if they did, the passing game would open up.

"I thought the response of John Clay was tremendous," Bielema said following the win. "He was kind of indicating to me throughout the week that he was going to be just fine. I think somebody asked me on Thursday, 'Bret, do you have confidence in John Clay and his running game?' And I said absolutely, based off what I have seen him do during practice.

"And I thought that was a great example today."

On the heels of Graham's second touchdown reception and Clay's one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the Badgers held a 21-7 lead at halftime. But though Michigan State had a difficult time slowing the Badger offense and receivers in particular, they still had a chance early in the second half.

After receiving the kickoff to start the second frame, UW's Zach Brown mishandled a pitch from Tolzien and the Spartans recovered the fumble. Down only two scores at the time, MSU started the drive on Wisconsin's 30 yard line.

But the Badger defense, one that forced four turnovers, held the Spartans to a field goal. That was the turning point of the game.

"For us, when they're in your own zone and you can hold them to three, that's a win for us," UW senior safety Chris Maragos, who intercepted two passes, said. "Obviously that just keeps giving us more momentum and then we continue to put up the points and score and that's why we had success."

Following that ensuing kickoff, the Badgers marched 50 yards on 17-plays to regain a two touchdown edge with a 41-yard Philip Welch field goal. MSU would score again and cut it back down to seven, but the Badgers were able to pile it on after that.

Tolzien found Isaac Anderson on a picture-perfect pass play to begin the next drive and then Nick Toon on a seam route to end it with a perfect pass on third down for a touchdown. That gave UW a 31-17 lead and the momentum to eventually open up a 38-17 lead.

"We came back and cut it to seven," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We can't let them drive the ball down the field. I have to credit Wisconsin, they've got some players too. They made some plays."

Michigan State valiantly fought until the final whistle and eventually cut the lead to eight following a 91-yard Keith Nichol touchdown pass to Keshawn Martin on a broken coverage from the UW secondary.

But with only 15 seconds remaining, it was too little too late for the Spartans.

In the end, Michigan State fell to 1-3 on the year and Wisconsin improved their record to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in league play.

"I said all along I like this football team," Bielema said. "And I was very adamant about that last night. I thought they put in a great workweek. We are going to have success this year based on the way we work."

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