INDIANAPOLIS — Down 21-19 with two minutes remaining in the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien broke his team's huddle, ready to attempt a two-point conversion to tie the game. A run-first team all season long, the Badgers were hoping to catch TCU off guard with a pass out of the shotgun. Tolzien lined up three yards behind his center on the left hash mark, with a running back standing to his left, two receivers split out to his right, a tight end on the line of scrimmage and a third wideout on the left side of the formation.
Tolzien took the snap, dropped back three steps and fired a pass to TE Lance Kendricks, who was standing wide open in the front of the endzone. It looked like the Badgers were going to even the score at 21, until the hand of Horned Frogs LB Tank Carter reached out to knock the ball down, simultaneously ending Wisconsin's chances of tying the game and Tolzien's collegiate career. The quarterback walked off the field with his chin tucked into his shoulder pads, the look of disappointment in his eyes.
Nearly three months later, the former Badgers signalcaller has the look of a man trying to prove himself. Tolzien says he has moved on from the heartbreaking defeat and is looking toward making his mark as a professional. He's aware that he doesn't have all the physical tools that some NFL teams are looking for in their quarterback, but he believes that with the hard work he has put in since he flew home from Pasadena, Calif., he will be noticed by some team this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"There's a lot of things I can improve on," Tolzien said. "Personally, just being myself, and hopefully some team will taking a liking to that. And that's all I can ask for, is that they like Scott Tolzien for being Scott Tolzien and not trying to be someone that I'm not. At the same time there are things I need to improve on — foot speed, pocket presence, studying the game, learning the game more, becoming more accurate."
Wisconsin's offense didn't require Tolzien to have a rocket arm or blinding speed, but in two full seasons as the starter, the QB was efficient and smart, a pair of valuable characteristics that the 32 clubs in Indianapolis this week will be looking for in their signalcallers. Tolzien tossed 32 touchdown passes and only 17 interceptions in the 2009 and ’10 seasons combined while completing 68.2 percent of his passes. Most importantly, his 21-5 career record shows he's a winner. He credited the system he played in as a reason for his success but also pointed out that the success can be easily translated to the professional level.
"I think it really does start with taking care of the football," Tolzien said about his strengths as a player. "The Wisconsin program for years, ever since I was a kid watching the Badgers play, always has been a ball-control, disciplined and physical team. And that's really, the best teams in the NFL are those three things. I feel fortunate to have played at Wisconsin, where that system is pretty traditional, and that seems to be the case in the NFL, as well.
"You have to do that at the next level, or else you're going to have a short career if you're not taking care of the football. Every coach in the NFL prides themselves on winning the turnover battle, and in a lot of ways, that starts with the quarterback."
Tolzien was asked about his last college game and his last college throw, the one that was batted down with two minutes remaining in the Rose Bowl. The quarterback said that since the initial disappointment wore off, he has realized he should take pride in the way his Badgers career concluded.
"It takes time. It was something we were working on from the end of my junior season and all the way through the winter, in summer workouts, through the season," Tolzien said. "It was an awesome season, and it's a shame we couldn't finish it out in the way we wanted to. You go through that process of shoulda, coulda, woulda, and that's the worst process you have to go through. But you learn from it, a week went by, and you move on.
"I use it as another learning experience. It still was an unbelievable experience to get to the Rose Bowl, so that's something I'll always remember and nobody can take from me."