Notes: Fall Can Still Belong to Ball

Thanks to cohesion on the offensive line, putting in extra work and another name change, senior tailback Montee Ball is hitting his Heisman stride just as Wisconsin prepares for the tough defense of Michigan State.

MADISON – It appears another name change has given Wisconsin senior tailback Montee Ball his confidence back. It also could mean that Ball's once ill-fated Heisman Trophy campaign could be back in full swing.

After running for 166 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's 38-13 victory over Minnesota Saturday, Ball moved into third on the NCAA all-time scoring list and upper 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," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said during his Monday news conference. "You could see the nastiness come back."

The results have come at the perfect time for Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten), which debuted at No.25 in the second week of the BCS and host Michigan State this weekend. Over the last three games, the Badgers have averaged 35.7 points per game and 325.7 rushing yards per game. Two weeks ago against Purdue, Wisconsin's 467 rushing yards were the fifth most in school history.

In was that weekend, according to Bielema, that Ball went back to pronouncing his name ‘Mon-tee' instead of insisting ‘Mon-tay' was correct prior to 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 6:00 a.m. a couple times during the course of the week just to get back to the basics."

Through eight games last season, Ball – who finished fourth in the 2011 Heisman Trophy balloting – wasn't on many voters radar. To compensate, Wisconsin's athletic department unveiled Ball's Heisman Trophy 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 to last year (142 carries, 853 yards, 14 touchdowns), and will be tested this week against the Spartans.

Despite their .500 record, the Spartans boast the conference's top rushing and total defense, holding teams to 100.3 rushing and 277.1 total 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 meetings against the Spartans last year, Ball totaled 252 yards and four touchdowns.

Barging forward

After twice running the ‘barge' formation against Minnesota (putting seven offensive linemen, two tight ends and Ball split out) in the first quarter and running it again later in the game, Wisconsin got the success it was looking for with James White scoring on a 14-yard touchdown to open the game.

With the Spartans solid on defense, Bielema said the decision whether to make the package a larger part of the offense is up to offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

"It originally started with Montee and James running around," Bielema said of the formation. "I remember James running that in high school, and we watched him play. It was kind of a work in progress because we've been losing offensive linemen, and we didn't want to rep it on Saturday with that guy in the spot. We worked it during the course of the week.

"Can it grow? Yes. Obviously, we've only run a certain number of plays off of it. There's some things with Montee, and also James … that definitely can throw the football and bring that element as well."

The formation also was a huge benefit in getting Tyler Marz on the field. Not only did the redshirt freshman turn down a Minnesota offer to play at Wisconsin, Marz was the offensive scout team player of the year last year and could see plays at left tackle next season in place of Ricky Wagner.

"(He) has done everything we've asked him to do physically," Bielema said of Marz. "We know he's a good athlete, but he comes in and continues to work … It was a good way to get him on the stride and get his feet wet, and we'll continue to move forward with him. Tyler Marz has got a very nice football career in front of him yet with three years after this year."

Kick in the Butkus

With another double-digit tackle performance against Minnesota, senior Mike Taylor has registered 84 tackles on the season, ranking him second in the Big Ten and tie him for fourth nationally. His average of 10.5 stops is second in the conference and 14th nationally. They are impressive accolades, but not impressive enough apparently.

The Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's top linebacker, announced its 12 semifinalists on Monday, and one-third of the list is populated by Big Ten players. However, neither Taylor nor Borland made the list, which irritated Bielema.

"Those four guys, not taking anything away from them, but Mike Taylor is the reigning Big Ten tackle leader, finishing number one over his teammate Chris Borland last year," said Bielema. "He's number two in the league right now, number one in tackles for a loss (and) statistically a really, really good defense. For him to be left off that, I'm going to try to make an inquiry whatever I can do. Our guys aren't into awards and all that jazz, but that's pretty significant. I can't believe that that would happen."

The four Big Ten linebackers who made the list are Jonathan Brown (Illinois), Max Bullough (Michigan State), Gerald Hodges (Penn State) and Michael Mauti (Penn State).

Extra Points: In addition to Taylor, Wisconsin gave a defensive MVP award to Devin Smith. The offensive MVPs were Ball, Jacob Pedersen and White while the special teams MVP was Kyle French … Bielema said that Curt Phillips got reps ahead of Danny O'Brien Saturday because O'Brien got reps at the end of the Purdue game. "I wouldn't read into it," said Bielema … Bielema was unsure if Ricky Wagner (right knee) would play this Saturday after initially saying he would likely be available … Bielema announced that sophomore cornerback Devin Gaulden has a partially torn ACL and will undergo surgery Friday. The one bright spot is that UW will be able to redshirt Gaulden, who played last year as a true freshman.

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