Having A Ball

With John Clay going down with a slight concussion and sidelined for the second half, the Badgers needed freshman Montee Ball to step up to the plate. Registering career highs in both carries (27), yards (117) and touchdowns (2), Ball was a key to Wisconsin leaving Indiana with a 31-28 victory Saturday.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind - It was no secret that Montee Ball found himself low on the Wisconsin depth chart to begin the year. He was just a freshman, and there were three returning running backs who had established themselves last season, and during spring practices.

Despite Ball dealing with illness and the death of his grandfather in the non-conference season, Ball didn't let anything affect his play. Making steady strides since the beginning of the conference season, Ball has moved up the depth chart, finding himself as the back-up running back, behind starter John Clay.

But when Clay went down with a concussion, Ball became the next man in ... and carried the Wisconsin offense. Filling the void in a big way, Ball finished the game with 27 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns in UW's 31-28 victory over Indiana.

"Montee Ball is kind of like the Energizer Bunny," UW coach Bret Bielema explained. "Every time he got a rep he just kind of kept grinning, smiling, and gaining momentum."

There had been a lot of focus on Clay and Zach Brown before and during the beginning of this season. Clay has been given the majority of the touches, but Brown has fallen back in the rotation, due to his inability to hold on to the ball consistently earlier this season - another contributing factor to the shake up of the depth chart.

The coaches have seen the improvement and are starting to lean on the freshman to spell Clay. Over the last few weeks, Ball has gained more playing time. After not playing in the first four games, Ball set a career high for carries in back-to-back games against Ohio State (five) and Iowa (nine).

"Coming into this game I knew that I was going to get a lot more carries than the previous weeks,"Ball said. "I just became a man today. I just felt like I needed to become a man and step up."

As the all-time leading rusher in Missouri high school football history, Ball is used to getting the majority of carries throughout a season. During Saturday's game at Indiana, Ball was back in his comfort zone and capitalized on his increased playing time. He set career highs once again in carries (27), yards (117), and touchdowns (2).

"It's just what I've been my whole life," Ball said. "You know running the football. I feel like I came to a great school and a great program where will be able to use that. Where they have a great offensive line. The offensive line (makes us so good). They work the hardest during practice, and it pays off during the game. I have to give the props to them."

The coaches liked what they saw from Ball from the time they started recruiting him. Ball never wanted to redshirt and has provided immediate dividends, rushing 48 times for 180 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 33 yards in only five games this season.

"He's got a smile that lights up the room," Bielema said. "He doesn't say a lot, but if you've ever met his father, his father has the same smile. Such a tremendous family. Montee is the kind of kid, once you give him a little bit of sugar, he is just going to keep going and going."

Ball has shown why the Badgers thought so highly of him and only recruited one running back last season.

"I really think the sky is the limit for that young man," Bielema explained. "For what we do, he fits perfectly into our concept, and what we try to get done, and he actually has pretty good hands, I know he bobbled that one today, but he really has good hands."

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