Not Having A Ball

After finishing second on the team in rushing yards last season, sophomore Montee Ball was expected to be a nice compliment to junior running back John Clay. With the emergence of James White and Ball's sluggishness, Ball knows this week is vital for him to regain some playing time and carries.

MADISON - Nobody evaluated or critiques Montee Ball tougher than Montee Ball. Maybe that's why he was so emphatic and repetitive when asked if he felt he had a good start to his 2010 season.

"No, no, no," Ball said. "Most definitely not the best I can do."

At least the sophomore is honest. Despite missing the first four games of his freshman season, Ball still managed to play in the final nine games and finish second on team in rushing yards (391), rushing touchdowns (four) and rushing attempts (98), causing high expectations.

Named the No.2 back out of fall camp, Ball looked the part in the season opener against UNLV, rushing for 79 yards and registering his second career two touchdown game, but has been on a slide since. In the last two games, Ball has rushed for only 42 yards on 14 carries (3.0 per carry), and only had five carries last week.

"First game, I could have made some better reads and get more into the game," Ball said. "I just need to get into the flow of the game. I need to make my reads better and trust my eyes."

While injuries and family problems hindered Ball from contributing at last year's starting point, the all-time leading rusher in the Wentzville (Mo.) school district doesn't have an excuse to point to, claiming to be in perfect health and comfortable with his 228-pound playing weight, all the more reason why he is frustrated with his sluggish start.

"I am still fighting every day in practice because I know it's going to come," said Ball. "I like the three-back rotation because it keeps us all fresh. I think right now it's more mental. I thought it might have something to do with me starting earlier because I started late last year. These early games, I need to get in the flow of the game, but it's pretty much the same. There's really no excuses."

Although the running back rotation is keeping everybody fresh, it's allowed true freshman James White to start pushing Ball for more carries. Head Coach Bret Bielema said Monday that White - averaging 5.3 yards per carry - will get more carries behind starting running back John Clay, listed White slightly in front of Ball on the depth chart.

"James has got a lot of talent," Bielema said. "James does certain things very, very well that we think he is different than John and Montee, so he is going to get more attempts. Montee is a guy of the three that probably needs to get it going a little bit more."

The best thing Ball did last week is catch four checkdown passes for 38 yards, including three first downs, but Running Back Coach John Settle eluded that Ball might be pressing. It's something that Ball wasn't denying.

"Yeah, there's pressure on me," Ball said. "I have a back right next to me that's pushing me for my position and I am trying to push Clay for his position."

After showing that spark in practice, Ball said Settle questioned him why he couldn't carry that over on gamedays. It's a question Ball is hunting for, seeing as the running back rotation and its distribution of carries is expected to become more concise for next week's conference opener at Michigan State.

"I am a football player," Ball said. "I like to go out there and like to play football, so that's what I have to go out there and do."

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