November 20, 2010

Big day in the Big House for Ball, White

ANN ARBOR -- What do you do when you know what's coming, and you still can't stop it?

If the Wisconsin Badgers have the ball, more often than not, it's going to be a running play. You know it, I know it, Bret Bielema knows it, the opposing defenses know it.

But it doesn't matter.

Between its monstrous offensive line and all-Big Ten worthy running backs, Wisconsin is so good at what it does running the ball that you cannot stop it. As the saying goes, you can only hope to contain it.

"I got on (with offensive coordinator Paul Chryst) and said, 'Hey, they can't stop your run game,'" Bielema said. "Point blank. There wasn't anything they could do to slow that down."

With that in mind, Bielema and Chryst went to the run game when they needed it most. After an early second-half interception allowed Michigan to cut the lead to 24-14, the Badgers dropped back to pass just one more time in the game, though that play ended with quarterback Scott Tolzien rushing for five yards.

The next 28 plays were runs by either James White or Montee Ball.

"Wisconsin's always been built off the running game," said White, a Big Ten freshman of the year candidate. "So whenever we're going down, or things seem to be down, we always just go back up and just rely on the run game.

"Me and Montee just took it in our hands. We knew that the team was going to be counting on us, so we just went out there and had a great performance."

White and Ball rushed for 181 yards and 23 carries and 173 yards on 29 carries, respectively. Ball did not lose yardage on a single carry, while White lost eight over the course of the game.

Combined, the duo netted 354 yards and six touchdowns on 52 carries, with an average of 6.68 yards per attempt. By comparison, Michigan rushed for 168 yards -- 121 of which came from Denard Robinson -- on 36 carries as a team, averaging 4.7 per carry.

"We just imposed our will on them," Ball said. "The offensive line did a great job of pulling off the blocks.

"We tell each other, 'We're going to move this ball.' What John Moffitt always tells us in the huddle is, 'Let's roll.' That's what we're all about."

With the way they've run the ball over the past few games, Wisconsin looks reminiscent of its glory years during the Barry Alvarez era.
When they went to back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000, the Ron Dayne-led Badgers would line it up with everyone in the stadium knowing they would run the ball. It didn't matter.

Now, the Badgers have a strong enough rushing attack that they can do the exact same thing, for 28 straight plays even, with two "backup" running backs. As reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay watched on the sideline, his replacements have stolen the show of late.

Of course, at nearly any other school in the nation, Ball and White would be starters.

"Somebody just told me, 150 yards apiece, that was only the second time in school history, or something along that lines," Bielema said. "It allows us to recruit good running backs, I know that.

"I get excited because, to see the smiles on their faces, and to realize that one's a true freshman and the other's a sophomore, is a pretty good feeling with the all-Big Ten player sitting on the bench. It feels good."

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