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November 26, 2011
Leading the way
MADISON - None of the Wisconsin players would say the thought of redemption fueled them to a 45-7 rout of Penn State in the de facto Leaders Division title game Saturday afternoon inside Camp Randall.
Now that the Badgers have claimed division supremacy, though, they'll have that shot.
Junior tailback Montee Ball rushed for 156 yards and scored four touchdowns. Senior quarterback Russell Wilson completed 17-of-25 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Collectively the Badgers torched the overmatched, and probably mentally exhausted Nittany Lions, inside a soggy Camp Randall Stadium.
"Forty-five points is a lot of points against a good defense," UW head coach Bret Bielema, who's teams have won at least 10 games in each of the past three seasons, said. "I think that's the part that really gets lost. The numbers that Montee Ball and Russell have put up have been against teams that have been ranked nationally.
"They aren't getting these numbers against teams that aren't particularly good on defense."
They're just making teams look particularly bad on defense.
Not only did Ball, Wilson and the rest of the offensive unit score 45 against the Big Ten's premier defense (arguably), they did so in dominating, clock-controlling fashion.
Wisconsin held the ball for more than 38 minutes, ran 78 plays compared to Penn State's 52 and out-gained the Nittany Lions 450 yards to 233.
"I felt like I was out there for only 30 plays," UW junior linebacker Mike Taylor, who led the Badgers with seven tackles, said. "That's really a minimal amount of plays. But anytime you can keep an opponent's offense off the field and let our offense do their thing it's a good thing."
It didn't seem as though that would be the way this game would go, however. Penn State opened the scoring with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Matt McGloin to Curtis Drake.
Senior Aaron Henry made the wrong read and covered the wrong area of the field, leaving Drake wide-open for an easy pitch and catch.
"It was totally my fault," Henry said. "Antonio Fenelus and I thought it was one thing, but it was something else. I totally take blame for that. It was my fault and I shouldn't have let that happen.
"I definitely gave one up."
That was the only miscue for an otherwise opportunistic defense.
In fact, after Penn State scored it's opening touchdown, it's offense only mustered 18 yards on it's next seven plays, threw an interception and logged three penalties.
McGloin's interception to Shelton Johnson during that strech seemed to open the offensive onslaught the Badgers delivered throughout the remainder of the game.
"He baited up toward the line of scrimmage and then faded back out," Bielema said. "I didn't know if he was going to be able to stretch far enough for that. I've been on him to get a haircut. He was growing that thing and I thought it was weighing him down too much.
"But he made a great play."
Johnson's interception was the first of four Penn State turnovers.
"Turn the ball over there and then it starts rolling down hill," Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley said. "Michael Zordich's fumble probably sealed our fate. It was 21-7 when we got the ball to start the second half and (we had a chance to) come out and maybe get a score.
"We just didn't play very well today in all phases of the game."
Wisconsin did for the most part.
It's special teams was consistently inconsistent, as it has been all year. It's defense gave up one big play, but otherwise bottled up Penn State's offense and several guys forced turnovers.
In a game that dealt with constant rainfall, a wave of emotions from both sidelines and one that would determine the inaugural Leaders division title, Wisconsin just played better.
The 45-7 final shows it.
Wilson's complete control of the game - - the senior also rushed for 36 yards - - shows it.
Ball's continued dominance shows it.
Most importantly, the fact Wisconsin did what it had to do to get a shot at a return trip to the Rose Bowl shows it.
"We knew we had to show ourselves every single week and play one week at a time and stay in the now," Wilson said. "We capitalized on our opportunities. We have great leadership on this team.
"It's truly a blessing to be playing in the inaugural Big Ten championship game."