PASADENA, Calif. — Montee Ball has said all month he didn’t want to be remembered as a player who set boatloads of records but never won a Rose Bowl in three tries.
The records will have to do.
Despite another noteworthy effort from Ball, which fittingly included a 100-yard rushing performance in a career that included 26 of them, Stanford edged Wisconsin, 20-14, to capture the Rose Bowl in Ball’s final college game.
“This is not the way I want to be remembered,” Ball said. “Speaking for the entire senior group, this is not the way we wanted to go out. But at this point right now, it is what it is.
“I felt like I did a great job of leading the team through adversity this season and in past seasons did a great job of capitalizing on big plays. But very unfortunate situation for us.”
Ball, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound tailback from Wentzville, Mo., did his best to keep the Badgers in the game. He broke off a 24-yard run on his first carry from scrimmage and finished with 100 yards rushing on 24 carries with one touchdown. The score, an 11-yard run with 9:05 remaining in the second quarter, cut Wisconsin’s deficit to 14-7.
In the process, Ball became the first player to score a touchdown in three straight Rose Bowls in the history of the 99-year-old game.
It was the last of many records Ball set during his illustrious career. Ball finished his four seasons at Wisconsin with 924 carries for 5,140 yards with 77 rushing touchdowns. His 83 career touchdowns are an all-time FBS record. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, a Doak Walker Award winner in 2012 and a two-time consensus All-American pick, among hosts of other honors.
Perhaps one of the most curious images from Tuesday’s game came when Ball stood on the sideline as Wisconsin used its “Barge” package with backup tailback James White on a fourth-and-inches play at the goal line. White was snuffed before he could reach the end zone to keep Wisconsin in a 14-0 hole.
“I’m always upset that I’m not in the game,” Ball said. “It’s just the competitive nature that I have. But we have a lot of faith in our offensive coordinator, coach (Matt) Canada. That play has been working leading up to this game, and we were very confident that it was going to work. But the D-line did a great job of clogging the holes, submerging our linemen and not leaving any gaps for James to find.”
White carried the ball six times and gained just four yards for the game. Canada also attempted to use third-string tailback Melvin Gordon around the edge on sweep plays, and he gained 51 yards on nine carries.
“They’re a good defense,” Canada said. “They stopped the run. We had the ball getting outside to Melvin, which was working for us a little bit, but they’re sound. They beat us up front at times. Blocks that we needed to execute, we didn’t cover them up as well as we wanted.”
Ball said the offense struggled some against Stanford’s 3-4 defensive front. Throughout the season, Wisconsin predominantly faced 4-3 defenses, and the Cardinal’s physicality allowed them to blow up holes at the line of scrimmage. Still, Ball churned his way forward and didn’t finish with a single carry for a loss on Tuesday.
It was a game that surely came with mixed emotions for Ball. In the locker room following last year’s 45-38 Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, Ball announced to his teammates that he would return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft. He wanted to be a team captain, win a Big Ten championship and finally win a Rose Bowl.
He nearly accomplished all of those goals.
Now, Ball will move on to an NFL career, and he is projected to be one of the top running backs selected in the 2013 NFL draft, likely as a second-round selection. Despite his looming pro career, he promised to keep an eye on his former team.
“I’m really looking forward to watching the Badgers next year,” Ball said, “because they’re going to be a great team.”