Wilson, Ball lead No. 4 Wisconsin against Indiana
Russell Wilson garners most of the headlines for No. 4 Wisconsin, while Montee Ball piles up the points for the Badgers.
Wisconsin's feature running back has two four-touchdown games already this season, yet he's hardly getting a Heisman Trophy look when he's compared to Wilson, the Badgers' polished signal caller.
''The guy I feel kind of bad for is Montee Ball. Montee Ball is a guy that any other place (gets the attention), but he hasn't gotten huge rushing numbers because we haven't used him for four quarters in four games,'' Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said recently. ''I think he deserves all the attention in the world.''
Ball has run for 511 yards and 13 touchdowns, including four scores in Wisconsin's 48-17 rout of Nebraska. Against the Cornhuskers, he ran 30 times for 151 yards, by far the most work Ball has had all season.
''One thing that was kind of lost last week in all the hoopla and then all that went into it was just how good Montee Ball was. Montee was over 150 (yards). He had four touchdowns against a very, very good defense. We're very excited about where he is and where he continues to go,'' Bielema said. ''One of the things that kind of hurt Montee and James (White) was our offensive production.
''Because we were beating people pretty soundly, they were getting taken out of the game, so their numbers weren't really riveting like they have been in the past, but I can assure you they're playing really good football.''
Next up for Ball and the Badgers is Indiana, a team Wisconsin thrashed 83-20 last season while Wilson was still at North Carolina State. The 83 points turned heads and criticism that Bielema was running up the score despite playing third- and fourth-stringers late.
''I was aware of the score,'' Wilson said. ''But it's a new year and it's a new opportunity for us and them.''
Badgers receiver Nick Toon says he sees good effort from the Hoosiers on film, and expects them to be motivated after last year's lopsided loss.
''I would think if I was in a position and that happened to me, whether it's something they talked about or something they didn't talk about, if you took part in that game it's something to remember and ultimately use as fuel come your next opportunity,'' Toon said.
Both sides have new faces, too, even though it's been the same old Indiana at the moment.
The Hoosiers (1-5, 0-2 Big Ten) have sputtered under first-year coach Kevin Wilson. His high-octane offense has been neutralized without a consistent quarterback. Ed Wright-Baker (ankle) and Dusty Kiel (ankle) are both hurting and freshman Tre Roberson threw his first collegiate pass last week in a 41-20 loss to Illinois.
''Ed looked really good (Monday) as we started moving forward, so if he's not full go he is awfully, awfully close. See if we can get him and Tre going as we move forward this week,'' Wilson said. ''That's why we didn't play Ed (against Illinois). He could have played, but the plan was to go with Dusty and try to work Tre in. When Dusty got injured, it became Tre totally and I thought for a young guy Tre handled it pretty good.''
There's been no need for such a rotation at Wisconsin, a key reason why the Badgers are 5-0 and a 40-point favorite on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Russell Wilson said there's room for improvement in his game, a scary thought for the Hoosiers.
''As a quarterback, you really have to be extremely critical of yourself all the time, and so I'm always doing that, and that's how I've improved throughout the years,'' Wilson said. ''There's a couple times that we had a couple penalties here and there or maybe a missed throw, whether it was me thinking that the receiver was going to do something else, the tight end thinking he was going to do something else, or whatever it is. Just small little adjustments here and there.''
Wilson leads the country in pass efficiency and has thrown for at least two TDs in every game this season, and Ball leads the Big Ten in scoring with 14 touchdowns. It's all started again up front for the Badgers, whose beefy offensive line has kept the pressure off Wilson and allowed Ball to find big holes.
Ball said his numbers are a product of team success, not simply his own.
''It's an offensive collective goal or achievement because they do a great job up front blocking for me and like I said, we just keep building on it and keep that going,'' Ball said.
With a few more four-touchdown performances, Ball may be going places, too, including into the discussion of who is the best running back in the country.
''I think our kids enjoy being around that kind of conversation,'' Bielema said. ''Our O-line will take pride in thinking they might be blocking for a Doak Walker candidate as well as a Heisman Trophy candidate at the quarterback position.''