MADISON, Wis. — Reeling after back-to-back losses took them out of the national championship picture a month ago, running back Montee Ball and No. 15 Wisconsin have rallied for a spot in the Big Ten title game and a shot at the Rose Bowl.
And as Ball makes a run at the NCAA’s single-season touchdown record, the Badgers just might be grooming a late-blooming Heisman Trophy contender.
Ball scored four more touchdowns and Wisconsin routed No. 20 Penn State 45-7 on Saturday. With the win, Wisconsin will play Big Ten Legends division winner Michigan State in Indianapolis next Saturday.
“We had a group of men in our room that we knew would take one day at a time to get to where we wanted to be,” Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. “They started on a process to get through the last four weeks. Bottom line: We won a trophy today to earn a way to Indianapolis and can’t wait to get there.”
Wisconsin went into the season promoting quarterback Russell Wilson for the Heisman, but recently added a push for Ball.
Ball has scored 34 touchdowns this season for the Badgers (10-2, 6-2), the
second-most in a single season in NCAA history. Barry Sanders holds the record, scoring 39 for Oklahoma State in 11 games in the 1988 season.
Can Ball break it?
“Whatever the offensive line wants,” Ball said. “If they want me to get there, then I’ll get there. But I’m really looking forward to that, it’s an entire offensive achievement, it’s going to be a great feeling if I do break it.”
He finished with 156 yards on 25 carries.
The Nittany Lions (9-3, 6-2) came into the game hoping to salvage something from a season dwarfed by scandal. They took an early 7-0 lead but quickly unraveled, falling behind 28-7 by halftime.
Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley was frustrated by turnovers and poor tackling – but insists that his team deserves to go to a bowl game despite a scandal that has tainted the entire program.
“They didn’t have anything to do with it,” Bradley said. “They weren’t involved in any way. And I think they deserve an opportunity to play in a bowl.”
Wilson threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns, flustering the Nittany Lions’ defense by slipping away from tackling attempts all afternoon.
“We’ve been facing quarterbacks like that all year,” Penn State defensive back Drew Astorino said. “But he’s obviously phenomenal at what he does. When we didn’t have good coverage, he’d complete a pass.”
Wilson has thrown a touchdown pass in 36 consecutive games, tying the NCAA record held by ex-Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell.