MADISON – For the first time all season, the Wisconsin football got through a week with no injuries, no flu cases popping up and appear to be 100 percent healthy heading into its border battle with Minnesota.
Actually, the Badgers appear to be at 101 percent, seeing as true freshman Montee Ball is expected to play.
In a surprising move, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema announced Thursday that the coaching staff expects to utilize Ball in some role on Saturday.
"Montee Ball is going to get in there a little bit," Bielema said. "After week two, we practiced him all week with the intent to get him in the third game. Unfortunately (that) Friday at 4 a.m., he went into the emergency room, had some congestion with the pneumonia, compounded by that with the passing of his grandfather.
"He wasn't able to get back and practice till about midway the next week, which was last week's game. (We) just didn't feel he was ready. I brought him in on Monday and asked if he was ready to go if we need you, he absolutely said yes."
It was an interesting move to use Ball, who still had his redshirt intact, this late in the season, seeing as the Badgers haven't utilized their depth at running back through four games. With the Badgers handing the ball off 137 times to their running backs, sophomore John Clay and junior Zach Brown have taken 92 percent (126 carries).
Even so, Bielema cites that the decision was not a hard one to make for Ball, who came to Madison as the state of Missouri's all-time leading rusher.
"It is but it isn't," Bielema said of the decision. "We had planned on using him but just because of the timing of it, we haven't been able to get him in the game. We've got eight games remaining on our schedule and he felt comfortable. When I asked him if he is still good to go, it took him about .5 seconds to respond ‘Absolutely' with a big smile. I would like to see what he does."
Raising the Crowd Noise
Preparing for Wisconsin's first road game of the season in an environment that nobody can accurately simulate, Bielema has gone to the Camp Randall speaker system to try and provide some difficulty.
Throughout the course of the week, the Badgers have been pumping simulated crowd noise during certain drills, designed to help the offense work on their non-communicated hand signals and assignments.
"In the offensive scheme of things, there are certain things we do offensively, as far as what we are able to do pre-snap, that we just need to understand hand signals, just like every road game," Bielema said. "We've had the crowd noise out there all week, we'll have it tomorrow and try to simulate what will be an exciting stadium come Saturday."
Despite the brand-new surroundings, Bielema is not planning on deviating from his routine of not taking his team to the opposing stadium for a pre-game walkthrough, letting the players know that the game is still won on the football field.
"The great thing in the world of college football is that every field is 100-yards long and has a certain width," Bielema said. "During home games, one of the simple things we do is practice on one end and stretch on one end and on road games, we go down to the other end just to show them that the 30-yard line on one side is just the same as the 30 on the other.
"Every stadium is determined by what happens on the field, and this is another example."