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October 15, 2011

Having a 'Ball'

MADISON - Hopefully the muscles comprising Montee Ball's face are starting to relax a little bit now that the hysteria following his performance in a 59-7 win over Indiana has subsided a bit.

He had plenty to smile about.

The junior tailback rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns, caught a pass for 46 yards more and even threw his first collegiate pass - one that just happened to go for a touchdown - en route to yet another thrashing of the Hoosiers.

"I feel like I'm doing what I can," Ball said after compiling 214 yards of total offense. "I'm really competing out there and doing a great job. Things are just going to happen."

Things happened early and often for UW's leading rusher. Most notably in the second quarter.

On a rather innocuous second and six play, Ball took a pitch from Russell Wilson, ran a few steps to his right and stopped. He then looked to his left and floated a pass to his wide-open quarterback for a 25-yard score.

That dynamic pitch and catch - Ball's first touchdown pass ever - pushed UW's lead to 21-0.

"It's shocking to see that it worked," Ball said. "Thank God it was a duck. It was really wobbly so he was able to get under it.

"I feel like if it was a spiral I would have overthrown him."

Wilson, who helped his Heisman campaign with that highlight reel play, completed 12 of his 17 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 42 more yards, including his 25-yard scamper that set up UW's fifth touchdown of the first half, a score that had Wisconsin up 38-7 at the break.

"I thought our guys handled the bye week very well," UW head coach Bret Bielema, who's team improved to 6-0 for the first time under his watch, said. "I thought they stayed engaged and in tune with what we were asking."

Based on UW's gameplan it was apparent and obvious to everybody inside Camp Randall, including a hapless Indiana squad, that the Badgers were going to focus on the run game.

In addition to Ball's touchdown runs of five, 35 and 54 yards, sophomore James White chipped in his own 15-yard touchdown scamper. White finished his day with 92 yards rushing on 13 carries.

"They do some creative, really nice stuff," Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said. "If they get out in space those two backs are pretty good. I don't know if they have blazingly great speed, but it's pretty good speed.

"They run through trash and they're always moving forward."

Indiana did have some success offensively - - mostly against UW's run defense - - but three turnovers, including a fumble in the end zone eventually recovered by freshman Derek Landisch, doomed too many scoring opportunities for the Hoosiers.

"It will be nice to put it all together," Wilson said. "It's definitely what Wisconsin does and they're a pretty complete offense right now.

"We're just misfiring on the offensive side."

While Indiana struggled to get anything going outside of Stephen Houston's 67-yard touchdown run, Wisconsin had absolutely no trouble finding the end zone.

Its offense scored, its defense scored and its special teams capped off the trifecta with a 60-yard Jared Abbrederis punt return for a touchdown.

Everybody goes home happy.

"He's pretty special," Bielema said in reference to Abbrederis' punt return. "We thought that the big field return was going to be there if we could finally get one caught without traffic.

"Abby did a nice job doing that."

Defensively, UW's linebacker duo of Mike Taylor and Chris Borland continue to play at a high level. Borland led all tacklers with 15 stops. Taylor wasn't too far behind with 13 tackles of his own. For perspective, the eight leading tacklers behind Borland and Taylor combined for 28 tackles.

Now, though, comes the true test.

For the first time this season Wisconsin will take to the road to square off with an opponent in hostile territory. That return trip to East Lansing, a place the Badgers suffered their only loss a season ago, will test the mettle of this team more than any other opponent has this season.

"To win Big Ten games on the road, that's when you win championships," Bielema said. "That's when you have an opportunity to put yourself in a bigger position.

"I think our guys will embrace the opportunity."


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