Since Ron Zook took over at Illinois (2005), the top two rushing teams in the Big Ten have been Illinois and Wisconsin. It will surprise you, but the leagues top rushing team is the Illini, while the Badgers are second. Another surprising fact: the two schools are tied for 5th most players on current NFL rosters among Big Ten teams.
This season is very young, but so far if you look at the Leaders division, two teams stand out from the rest.
Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two squads in that division nationally ranked, meaning their game on 11/19, the second to last of the regular season, will be huge for deciding who goes to the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Once again, both teams are doing it on the ground.
Today, in part one we look at the Badgers, starting with RB Montee Ball who has scored at least one touchdown in each of the last nine games. He has 23 total TDs over that span. No other player has more than 14 TDs during that interval. With his 91 rushing yards on Saturday, Ball now has 1,659 for his career, placing him 19th all-time at Wisconsin. He is averaging 5.37 yards per rush in his career, which is fifth all-time at UW.
Ball and backfield mate James White each ran for TDs in the 49-7 demolition of NIU at Soldier Field on Saturday. That is the sixth time they have both scored touchdowns in the same game. UW is 6-0 in those games. White and Ball, as well as the whole stable of running backs, were very effective catching passes as well.
UW’s running backs combined to catch 10 passes for 126 yards in Chicago, including Bradie Ewing who caught a career-high four passes for 51 yards.
Coach Bret Bielema on the flexibility of the offense with running backs catching the ball from the backfield:
“I think it is, coming in to the season I knew (Montee) Ball and (James) White could catch. They have nice soft hands and are talented. They bring an option to our game that we have never really had before. But I am really excited about Jeffrey Lewis and Melvin Gordon, everyone is talking about Ball and White, but I think Lewis and Gordon are going to be really good.”
Montee Ball is in the best shape of his life, better conditioned to carry the load, he talked about how he lost 25 pounds since last season.
“What I do is, I go home and cut open a baked potato and fill it with cottage cheese. Real nasty because I don’t like cottage cheese, but really healthy for you. And I eat a lot of fruit.”
Since Nov 6th, Ball’s 19 rushing TDs are more than any other team except for (you guessed it) Illinois. Ball talked about the running back competition.
“Lot of fun competing with them. Mainly compete with James, he’s my workout partner. When we’re lifting, I make sure to put just five more pounds on the rack to show I’m a little better. Every time we’re running, I make sure I run a yard further. That’s the friendly competition Coach Hammock makes sure he stresses with us.”
Ball’s favorite running back growing up was Terrell Davis, while James White looked up to Barry Sanders. Different running styles to be sure, just like White and Ball. But all productive and prolific.
“I really idolize him, he was able to make people miss in space, and create something out of nothing,” White said of Sanders.
White was fourth in the nation among all freshman in rushing yards last season, and second in yards per carry.
White talked about the unit’s conditioning, and how the offense consumes so much clock to keep the opponent’s offense off the field, limiting their adversaries opportunities to score.
“We have one of the toughest practices in the country, and we’re going to keep pushing hard each and every week,” White said.
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