Heisman worthy?: Badgers’ Ball, Wilson putting up impressive numbers

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, November 18, 2011
— Senior quarterback Russell Wilson dropped out of the Heisman Trophy conversation after Wisconsin suffered consecutive losses to Michigan State and Ohio State.

UW tailback Montee Ball, who wasn’t mentioned in any discussion of the Heisman Trophy when the season opened, has forced some voters to pay attention by setting the Big Ten’s single-season touchdown record (27) with two regular-season games remaining.

According to ESPN’s Heisman poll, which lists 14 candidates, the UW teammates don’t have a prayer of winning the 2011 Heisman Trophy.

Ball is 10th in the balloting; Wilson is 14th. Both received one fifth-place vote.

As UW (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) prepares to face host Illinois (6-4, 2-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday, a look at the numbers reveals both players deserve more consideration.

“I think they deserve equal consideration,” UW coach Bret Bielema said.

In ESPN’s Heisman poll, Wilson is the seventh of seven quarterbacks. Preseason favorite Andrew Luck of Stanford remains the leader with 52 points.

Luck is just ahead of Alabama tailback Trent Richardson (50 points). Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden is third (45 points) but received the most first-place votes (six) of any player.

Yet Wilson leads the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 201.6 points, yards per attempt (11.1) and yards per play (9.9). He is on pace to set national records in all three categories and has thrown a touchdown pass every 8.7 attempts, the best rate in the nation.

“He has surpassed my expectations,” senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. “I knew he was a really good player, but I didn’t know he was this good. He is unreal. Unreal. Minus two hiccups he would be right up there in the Heisman talk.”

The hiccups were the losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.

However, in those losses Wilson completed a combined 64.2 percent of his passes (34 of 53) for an average of 238 yards per game.

He had two interceptions, both against Michigan State, but threw five touchdown passes. He threw touchdown passes in the final two minutes of each game, to forge a tie at Michigan State and to give UW a lead at Ohio State.

Asked what he thought was the most important number by which quarterbacks should be rated, Wilson offered this answer:

“In my mind, it’s competing. When things aren’t going too well, when you’re behind and you have to bring the team back, when it’s third-and-13 or third-and -7 or third- and-2, how is that quarterback going to get the first down?

“When you’re in the red zone? So I think those two things ... competing on third down and in the red zone are the two main things that a quarterback has to do and be successful at.”

UW leads the nation in red-zone touchdown percentage at .870, with 47 touchdowns on 54 trips. On third and goal, Wilson is 5-of-5 for 20 yards and five touchdowns.

Ball is the fourth of four running backs in ESPN’s poll. He leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally in rushing at 124.2 yards per game, despite averaging only 18.5 carries per game, and leads all backs in total touchdowns (27). He also leads the nation in rushing touchdowns (23) and his per-carry average of 6.7 yards is second to Oregon’s LaMichael James (7.9).

Ball averages 146.7 yards per game (rushing and receiving), the No. 4 mark nationally among running backs. He has a chance to become just the fifth player in NCAA history (among FBS programs) to score 30 touchdowns in a season and recently was named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the top running back in the nation.

“I think everybody kind of came into the season, they thought maybe it was going to be more of a split role between him and James (White),” Bielema said of the lack of early attention paid to Ball. “So, as he began to emerge, with the things we saw during the fall camp, Montee had kind of separated himself.

“And then just that Montee isn’t a real vocal kid. He’s not a guy that’s going to grab the headlines for anything other than his play, and that’s exactly what he wants.”

The possibility exists that neither Wilson nor Ball will be invited to the Heisman ceremonies on Dec. 10 in New York City.

It will be interesting to see whether Wilson or Ball is named offensive player of the year in the Big Ten.

Several UW players said

if they had to choose between one or the other, they couldn’t.

“Both of those guys have been equally valuable to us,” senior free safety Aaron Henry said. “Russell, his ability is through the roof.” Montee, his ability is through the roof.”

Last updated: 6:54 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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