WEST LAFAYETTE - Talk about taking advantage of what is given to you.
After spending the first two months of the season seeing his playing time severely limited due to the emergence of freshman James White, third-string running back Montee Ball has never stopped working to help his team.
It paid off in a big way Saturday at Purdue.
Article Continues Below
Ball reemerged as an important part of the Wisconsin offense when White went down with an injury at Iowa, scoring the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
His performance at Ross-Ade Stadium was even better.
"Montee knew pretty much all week it was going to be John and Montee," head coach Bret Bielema said. "He was snapped in and just another example of great preparation by him."
For the first time this season, Ball knew all week he would be the No. 2 option out of the backfield, a role he played well late in his freshman season.
When Saturday's game rolled around, Ball simply went out and rushed for 127 yards on 21 carries and two big second-half touchdowns.
"I knew that the team was going to look for me to come in strong," Ball said. "I wasn't going to let them down."
Early on, the Badgers went with a heavy dose of John Clay, with less than desirable results. When Clay got banged up during the course of the game, the load was all on Ball's shoulders.
To say he responded well would be quite the understatement.
Ball finished the first half with just nine yards rushing on four carries, eight of which came on a single carry in the Badgers' final drive of the second quarter. Over the final 25:32 of play, Ball ran for 118 yards on 17 carries, for an average of nearly seven yards per rush.
Midway through the third quarter, Ball helped the Badgers reel off a two-play, 51-yard, 38-second scoring drive. After a 20-yard pass to Nick Toon, Ball took the ball down the left sideline 31 yards for the score, diving for the pylon and giving UW some breathing room at 20-10.
"I just kept running behind the blocks, waiting for them to set up," Ball said. "It was just there, so I just kind of leaped over them a little bit and reached the ball a little bit."
Ball reeled off another run of 26 yards on the Badgers' first drive of the fourth quarter before getting his second touchdown of the day when Wisconsin got the ball back for a second drive in the period.
Following Mike Taylor's impressive interception, Ball took the handoff twice, losing a yard on first down and finding a huge hole for his second touchdown of the day, this time from 15 yards out.
"He did a great job," John Moffitt said of Ball. "The way he can step up, it's so nice to have three backs that can do that. Running the football here is not easy, we put a lot of carries in your hands and it's going to be tough, but Montee definitely stepped up."
Ball found out just what it meant to be the Badgers' every down back on the game's final drive. Wisconsin ran 10 plays for 40 yards, eating up 5 minutes and 50 seconds off the clock.
Each of the 10 plays was a handoff to Ball.
"When you come here, the team's going to put the load on your shoulders and you've got to be able to carry it," Ball said. "That's what I feel like I did. The O-line did a great job up front pushing them, and I just don't want to let them down."