Ball on the Upswing

A roller-coaster ride is finally on the upswing for sophomore Montee Ball. After being relegated to third string, Ball stepped in for the injured James White and scored the winning touchdown. He may be called upon again this Saturday at Purdue.

MADISON - Of the 8,613 rushing yards Montee Ball amassed as a record breaker at Wentzville High School and as a surprise freshman at Wisconsin, there were none bigger than the 16 yards he muscled for on Wisconsin's final drive two Saturdays ago.

With freshman James White sidelined with a MCL sprain in the second quarter, Ball backed up John Clay and was the vital piece on UW's final drive against Iowa.

After grabbing a 7-yard pass from Tolzien on a fourth-and-four play from the Iowa 34-yard line late in the fourth quarter that kept the winning drive alive, the 5-foot-11, 236-pound bruiser closed out the drive with a pair of eight-yard runs, the second ending with a stretch over the goal line for the winning score with 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining to give Wisconsin a 31-30 win.

"Montee comes running into the huddle and everyone that has played a lot of games had played games with Montee in the huddle," Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst said. "You can make a lot out of him not getting a lot of reps and not playing, but bottom line is this is what you appreciate most. His time came and he delivered."

Ball was all smiles standing outside the visitors' locker room at Kinnick Stadium, especially considering the journey he had been on. Ball didn't play during UW's 31-18 victory over then-No. 1 Ohio State and had five carries for 16 yards in the two previous Big Ten games.

Now Ball could see his role increase when No.7 Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) travels to West Lafayette and takes on Purdue (4-4, 2-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday. With White still nursing a knee injury, the freshman is expected to be held out, meaning Ball will back-up Clay for the first time since the non-conference slate.

"I am not a greedy person and James has performed as many times as I have," Ball said. "He deserves it. I pray that he comes back strong and healthy and I know he will. Once he comes back, he's going to do his thing."

Ball admitted he lost some confidence this season after watching White replace him as the complement to Clay. He was so itching to play that he even approached Head Coach Bret Bielema about contributing on special teams, just so he could help the team.

So when Running Back Coach John Settle told him congrats on keeping his head up after the game, it was icing on the cake.

"I am fully committed to this team, no matter where I play or where I am on the depth chart," Ball said. "I am here to stay and here to keep fighting with the team. We bleed and sweat together, so I am not going to let them down."

As important as his two running plays were, Ball was more important in the passing game. In addition to his key fourth down catch, Ball took a shovel pass from quarterback Scott Tolzien for a 14-yard gain and a critical first down during UW's first touchdown drive of the game.

Ball led all Badgers with five catches and was comfortable lining up as a receiver due to the number of repetitions he and White went through at that formation during fall camp.

"That's what you don't take for granted and you appreciate," Chryst said. "He did what he should do and that's be ready."

There's no doubt that Clay is the workhorse of the running game. He finished with 93 yards on 24 carries and had two touchdowns against Hawkeyes, topping his 104-yard effort from a week earlier against Ohio State.

History shows that the Clay-Ball one-two punch is successful. Last season, Clay averaged 133.6 yards in his final six games, going over 100 yards in each contest. Clay was running with fresh legs in large part to Ball, who rushed for 328 of his 391 rushing yards in the last five games.

Wisconsin's last game was validation that Ball is still a vital part to the team's success. Saturday will be another chance for him to continue his upswing.

"I went on a roller coaster ride," Ball said. "My mind has been saying I can't do this and I've been telling myself I can. I've been trying to keep my head up and kept fighting the fight because that's what I feel like I can do of that."

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