A Simple Concept for UW's Backs

With three healthy running backs in the rotation, all with over 880 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, Wisconsin has to find a way to get all three backs involved against the nation's No.1 defense in TCU. The simple way to determining playing time: practice production.

MADISON — Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle has one very simple message he doles out when recruiting:

Production Plays.

It doesn't matter if they are a senior, freshman or anything in between. Whether they are the returning starter or buried on the depth chart — production plays.

Sophomore halfback Montee Ball has been on both ends of that stick this season. Early in the year, Ball spent too much time dancing behind the line of scrimmage and saw his playing time reduced eventually to zero carries against Ohio State as James White secured the No. 2 role. With injuries derailing both John Clay and White for a few games each, however, Ball rolled back into form as a power-back with good speed and creative instincts in the open-field. He started running with violence and anger — and kept running and running.

He is now, without a doubt, the No. 1 back for the Badgers. Just one season ago, Clay was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

Production really does play.

"It is not something we just pay lip service to," Settle said. "We have always played the guys that give us a chance to win. He got hot at the right time down the stretch, he has been able to go out and put up some big numbers. All of the guys will have the opportunity to get on the field, but unless something happens, he is the guy who is going to come out and lineup in the backfield at the beginning of the game."

"I credit them for that for sure," Ball added. "They are most definitely men of their word."

The numbers Settle speaks of are more than just impressive. Over the past three games, Ball has rumbled for 518 yards and 11 touchdowns, stats that would have been even beefier if any of the games had been close in score.

On the season, Ball has carried the ball to the tune of 6.1 yards per carry and proven to be much more elusive at the second level then Clay was early in the season. Clay's stats are strong as well, of course, with 936 yards at a 5.3 yards per clip average. Settle said Clay "looks as strong as he did at camp."

Either way, the three-headed trio of Ball, James and Clay will be giving No.3 TCU's defense fits in preparation.

Just don't expect the trio to disrupt themselves during the competition.

"John is a great running back and the same with James. I just love how they are using all three of us right now," Ball said. "There is no tension at all between us."

Settle confirmed that there was plenty of love to go around among the three backs all clamoring for more carries.

"Anytime you are winning and anytime you are having success it is going to be a team effort," Settle said. "They care a lot for each other, they care a lot about the success of the other guy and they got their backs. It is a genuine caring. It is not lip service, these guys have bonded and we knew from camp we had an opportunity to have something special."

The No. 1 goal come the 1st of January will of course be touching the Rose Bowl. There is a secondary goal within reach though — all three players have a shot at 1,000 yard seasons.

White is already there with 1,029. Ball needs 136 yards and Clay requires 64 more yards.

If all goes according to plan, the unique achievement could define UW's season.

"It is a testament to the players," Settle said. "We have three guys that came in and committed themselves to being the best that they could be and giving us a chance."

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