Vintage Performance

Montee Ball rushed for 247 yards (Fleming/12)

The fall may not belong to Montee Ball as much anymore, but his performance on Saturday against Purdue showed the senior tailback is still one of the best in the nation, rushing for a career-high 247 yards and breaking the conference's career touchdown record in a 38-14 blowout.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – It was only one of the 78 offensive plays Wisconsin ran during its 38-14 victory at Purdue Saturday, but the message Montee Ball sent on the play stood out.

The run amounted for only 16 of Ball's career-high 247 yards, but the fact that the senior lowering his shoulder and flattening Boilermakers safety Landon Feichter to the ground was one of many loud statements sent by Wisconsin in the statement performance of the season.

"It was great to see because we obviously had our struggles the first couple games, but knew we had it in us," said junior tight end Jacob Pedersen. "(Montee) had one of the best games of his career and to see that (hit), to see No.28 coming into the huddle fired up, that fires us up."

Consider it a release of pent-up frustration or a warning sign to the final five teams on Wisconsin's conference schedule, but perhaps the 46,007 supposed fans that braved the rain, wind and chill at Ross-Ade Stadium saw the return of a vintage Montee Ball.

Not to mention, it was a performance that gave Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) the tiebreaker over Purdue, and a 1.5-game lead in the division race for Indianapolis.

"(It's) about time," said Ball, who scored three times to give him 72 career touchdowns and break former Badgers tailback Ron Dayne's Big Ten and school career touchdown mark of 71. "This was the game we were looking for. We practiced really well coming into this game, and we've been getting better and better."

Ball's school-endorsed Heisman campaign was nonexistent through the first six games last season, but his numbers (653 yards, 16 touchdowns) over that time were setting the framework of a championship offense and fourth-place finish in the Heisman balloting.

It was ironic that since Wisconsin unveiled its ‘Fall Belongs to Ball' Heisman campaign at the conference's media day in late July that it's been a struggle.

A few days following media days, Ball was assaulted on campus the week before training camp opened, and his first six games included two performances of 61 yards or fewer, a concussion, a fired offensive line coach and a yards-per-carry average that dipped from 6.3 last season to 4.0 in 2012. There had been little to celebrate about Ball forgoing the NFL Draft until Saturday, when he set a new career high in rushing yards before the fourth quarter began and finished averaging 8.5 yards on 29 carries.

"In today's world, everybody wants urgency, everybody wants to be great, everybody wants to be undefeated, but when you have a team like we did you have to keep building," said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. "We had to make some modifications, move forward and that's what Montee has done. He's been patient, never really presses and lets the game come to him. He made a lot of good reads today."

While his hopes of returning to New York's Heisman banquet are slim, Ball's performance allowed Wisconsin to expand the playbook. Rushing for 190 yards and passing for 173, Wisconsin's 363 yards of total offense in first half verse Purdue was more than what the Badgers had amassed in three previous games.

Wisconsin's 645 yards of total offense was the second-highest total in school history while its 467 rushing yards was the fifth-best total in school history.

"We were clicking as a unit," said junior tailback James White, who finished with 124 yards and a score. "We were having fun out there and bringing energy to the game … Just having confidence and working with each other, communicating, it's all it takes for us to get rolling."

Averaging 3.3 plays over 20 yards through its first give games, Wisconsin reeled off seven plays over 20 yards in the first 30 minutes. After rushing for over 20 yards only twice on the season, Ball had four runs over that distance, the last being his 67-yard scamper in the third quarter to extend Wisconsin's lead to 24-7 49 seconds into the third quarter.

"I needed this," said Ball. "I wasn't doing too well earlier on in the season, and things weren't really going my way. I just have to keep practicing and practicing. I'm just playing for my teammates now. I'm becoming the player they were looking for."

A week after the Boilermakers (3-3, 0-2) allowed Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson to rush for 235 of the Wolverine's 309 rushing yards, the Boilermakers saw three Wisconsin running backs go over 80 yards. UW did most of it without senior left tackle Ricky Wagner on the field.

After Wagner got his right knee rolled over by right guard Kyle Costigan with 1:36 remaining in the second quarter, the Badgers adjusted by inserting Zac Matthias at left guard and moving Ryan Groy to right tackle; an ironic move consider Groy took his first left tackle reps in the last year yesterday.

Even with a makeshift line in the second half, Wisconsin rushed 34 times for 277 yards (8.1 yards per carry), three touchdowns and didn't give up a sack against a Purdue defensive front hyped to be one of the best in the conference.

"It was a testament to how we work and how we study the game," said junior center Travis Frederick. "We study it from all angles, so we know all the positions we have to play … It shows how the offensive line plays the game and how coach (Bart) Miller teaches us the game."

While both Bielema and the players remained coy leading up the game, White hinted that this road game ‘meant something' to UW re-establishing its dominance down the stretch.

In the same breath, both White and his teammates acknowledged there is a lot of football, and an important goal next week of retaining Paul Bunyan's Axe against border-rival Minnesota.

"We will prepare just as well as we did last week or even better," said White. "Just keep winning."

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