October 25, 2010

Ball rises to occasion in win

MADISON -Montee Ball had exactly five carries during Big Ten play entering Saturday's game at Iowa. Therefore, there couldn't have been many people expecting the true sophomore to contribute much throughout the day inside Kinnick Stadium.

But then things started to happen.

True freshman James White suffered a MCL bruise in the second quarter. Then John Clay tweaked his wrist when he was hit near the sideline a bit later on.

It was Ball's time to shine.

"I'm fully committed to this team no matter where I'm put or where I'm put on the depth chart," Ball, who scored the game-winning eight-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, said. "I'm here to stay and here to keep fighting with the team. We sweat and we bleed together so I'm not going to let my team down."

Ball did a little bit of everything in the Badgers stunning 31-30 win. He caught the ball five times, picked up crucial first downs, did fine in pass protection and showcased his determination and will to win.

For a team that hadn't utilized Ball much over the course of the Big Ten slate, it certainly couldn't have won without him at Iowa.

His eight-yard bruiser, one that looked to be stopped on a number of occasions and one that took a risky extension to cross the plane of the goal line for the score, was simply a thing of beauty.

For Ball, it was more a matter of helping his team earn a hard-fought victory.

"I just say that last drive showed a lot of people what Wisconsin football is," Ball, who also logged 41 yards receiving, said. "I feel great about it because we repped that play and repped that play. We went out and did exactly what we did in practice.

"It's a great feeling."

When looking back at that game, and more particularly that fourth quarter performance, people are going to remember the touchdown run. But people need to remember a critical catch the sophomore had just a few plays prior on fourth and four.

With Scott Tolzien under pressure, Ball reached out and caught the senior's side-armed sling for a seven-yard gain. He wasn't open by much, but he made sure he wasn't going to drop that ball, one that would have likely ended any hopes of the dramatics that ensued.

He's had better numbers throughout the course of a game, but he hasn't had better big time plays. He rushed for 18 yards, and had a team-high five receptions that solidified his role as Tolzien's security blanket.

Just like his humble attitude suggests, Ball was more focused on helping his team than anything else during that game.

"One of the coolest things about today for me was watching Montee," Tolzien said. "This is when you praise someone for just staying the course. Montee's reps haven't been as big as they were. That's frustrating when you get all those reps as a true freshman and suddenly you drop a spot in the depth chart. You can't say enough about his approach and his selflessness.

"He just kept focusing and learning the game plan. He knew at some point his time was going to come an it's really about maximizing his opportunities.

"He truly did that."

Ball's first moment of excellence in Saturday's win may have been a glimpse of foreshadowing. One play after White left the game with a knee injury, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst dialed up a shovel pass to Ball.

The team was facing a third and 12 inside the red zone and the play was a thing of beauty. Ball caught the pass, turned up field and plowed forward for a 14-yard gain. During it, the sophomore looked determined to move the chains.

Again, another telling sign for a player that had seen his reps wane over the past couple of weeks.

"What a great story," Bielema said. "He's a serious kid and he knew that his day was going to come. He didn't know how it was going to come because you can't script it and you don't know where it's going to happen. But that little shovel pass, to hit that and execute it and read and run.

"It was a really good job by the coaches to put him in that situation and a great job by him to execute."

When the history books close on this particular season, one that's shaping up to be one of the more memorable ones in Wisconsin history, there will be a decent sized chapter on Ball's role in UW's win over Iowa.

Entering the game as the third string tailback, one that hadn't seen a rep against Ohio State the week prior, Ball proved that the members of this team is all about winning for the good of the name on the front of the jersey.

"A week ago we definitely showed the world what we can do and what we're about," Ball said. "Knowing we were going on a road game we knew it was going to be rough here. It's always rough at Iowa and we kept our heads up.

"We kept fighting and fighting and stayed hungry."

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