Ground Attack Up and Running Again

After being held to 127 and 87 yards in the last two games, respectively, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Chris Pressley and Lance Smith help to put the Wisconsin running machine back on automatic.

MADISON – After six long weeks, senior Paul Hubbard finally returned to the Wisconsin offense, hoping to give the struggling offense a needed boost.

As it turns out, Hubbard could have waiting another week to make his triumphant return.

Wisconsin's trio of running backs stole the show, as P.J. Hill, Chris Pressley and Lance Smith broke Wisconsin's two game running slump, breaking out for 331 rushing yards, in a 44-3 blowout over Northern Illinois.

"Our game is to run the ball and to see that we had over 300 yards rushing, we succeeded a lot," Hill said. "Put anybody in and block it up real nice, we can get some yards and move down the field."

After averaging 205 rushing yards through their first five games, the Badgers stalled two weeks in a row on the road, earning only 127 and 89 yards on the road at Illinois and Penn State, respectively. With Northern Illinois' rush defense allowing over 171 yards per on the ground (ranked 83rd in the NCAA), it was part of the game plan from the start to pound the ball on the beleaguered Huskies.

"We did feel we could grind it out," head coach Bret Bielema said. "One of the things we talked about was to make (today) a Big Ten football game, get a head on a hat and grind it out. I really like how the backs performed."

One of the big reasons for the production was a healthy and motivated Hill carrying the football.

When asked earlier in the week about the team's running struggles, Hill was visibly frustrated with his lack of production the last two weeks, as well, failing to eclipse the 100-yard mark in either game (83 yards against Illinois and a season-low 75 at Penn State).

Desperately wanting to help the Badgers shake their woes, Hill needed only one quarter to grab 100 yards, in route to a season-high 184 yards, including his 72-yard spring on UW's second drive.

With Wisconsin already leading 7-0, Hill took the opening handoff on UW's second possession and plowed through everyone in his way. Showing off his speed, a characteristic the sophomore doesn't get to showcase too often, Hill out ran everybody for the 72-yard touchdown, the longest run of his young career.

"I had the opportunity and, like we (as a team) talk about, you never know when you're going to get another opportunity," Hill said. "I saw the perimeter was blocked real nice. I was going to take it straight up and gain as many yards as I can. I was going to take it to the house."

Hill wasn't the only one to establish career highs on the afternoon, as junior fullback Chris Pressley saw the most ball-carrying action of his career. Coming into the season, Pressley's career high for attempts and yards was in his first career game against Central Florida in 2004, carrying the ball eight times for 22 yards. This season, Pressley had only one carry for five yards against Washington State.

When his first carry went for nine yards and his second carry went for his first career touchdown, everything else was extra credit as far as Pressley was concerned. The junior finished with career highs in attempts (5), yards (31) and caught his first pass as a Badger – a pass over the middle for a six-yard game.

"Coach always emphasizes if you have an opportunity, take advantage of it," Pressley said. "I just kept telling him to let me carry the rock a little bit and he finally let me show him. Hopefully, coach can utilize me as a fullback that's more versatile than just blocking."

Although seldom used in his career, Bielema informed Pressley on Thursday that the fullback would be receiving a decent amount of carries against the Huskies, citing that the opponent provided a good opportunity to finally give some of the offensive workload to Pressley.

"We'd been pressing him try to be more involved with our offense," Bielema said. "Chris is a tremendously focused young man. No one is more committed about the team than winning than him."

Even so, Pressley career day didn't stop Bielema from joking with him just a touch.

"I told Press after he scored that touchdown that he should buy a lottery ticket," Bielema said. "Anytime he catches a pass and scores a rushing touchdown in the same game is a rarity."

While starters Hill and Pressley were racking up the yards, sophomore running back Lance Smith was able to contribute for the first time in two weeks, due to his university-imposed suspension. Entering the game with a 7.9 yards-per-carry average, Smith again showed off his speed and agility, cutting and speeding his way through seemingly the smallest seams in the defense.

Although Smith continues to be unavailable to the press, Hill was hesitant to say how great it was to have Lance in the backfield, giving him a rest while still helping the offense move the ball.

"It's always good to have Lance back there," Hill said. "He's more the shifty one with the moves and stuff like that. It's good to have him back and help us win these games also."

Even though his return was upstaged by his teammates, Hubbard (who finished with one catch for 14 yards) had nothing but praise for the offense; an offense that he feels is about to get back on track.

"The offense went out there and did tremendous things," Hubbard said. "We've known we could do that since day one. Everyone did their job today and if we do that every game, eventually, it's going to come to us."

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