Badgers' Ball playing like old self
MADISON It appears another name pronunciation change has given Wisconsin running back Montee Ball his confidence back.
After running for 166 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 38-13 victory over Minnesota, Ball moved into third on the NCAA all-time scoring list and raised his average against four conference opponents to 155.5 yards per game with 10 touchdowns.
“You’re really starting to see him get some of those signature broken tackles that you see him do, where he side steps a guy or runs through a guy,” UW coach Bret Bielema said Monday. “You could see the nastiness come back.”
The results have come at the perfect time for Wisconsin
(6-2, 3-1 Big Ten), which hosts Michigan State this weekend. Over the last three games, the Badgers have averaged 35.7 points and 325.7 rushing yards per game. Two weeks ago against Purdue, Wisconsin’s 467 rushing yards were the fifth most in school history.
It was that weekend, according to Bielema, that Ball went back to pronouncing his name “Mon-tee” instead of “Mon-tay,” which was his preference before the season.
“He’d be the first to tell you he’s done some things away from the field,” said Bielema. “He’s come in and worked with our developmental group at 6 a.m. a couple times during the course of the week just to get back to the basics.”
Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season and Wisconsin unveiled a Heisman campaign in July, using the phrase ‘Fall Belongs to Ball.’
While Wisconsin’s two early losses (at Oregon State, at Nebraska) would presume to end his Heisman hopes, Ball is putting up better rushing numbers through eight games this year (196 attempts, 982 yards, 13 touchdowns) compared with last year (142 carries, 853 yards, 14 touchdowns), though he will be tested this week against the Spartans (4-4, 1-3).
Michigan State has the conference’s top rushing and overall defense, holding teams to 100.3 and 277.1 yards, respectively.
“I said, ‘(Montee), there’s better things in front of you,’” Bielema said. “You keep playing a game like you play against Michigan State’s defense, a lot of people in the Big Ten know about you and know what you’re doing.
“I know he’s having a Heisman performance because of what I’ve seen and the way I’ve been around him every day, but sometimes for the outside world to realize the reality of what’s really going on, it’s hard for certain people to see it, but it’s definitely there.”
In two games against the Spartans last year, Ball totaled 252 yards and four touchdowns.