Ballâ€™s status for Nebraska still undecided
MADISON, Wis. — The status of running back Montee Ball for Wisconsin's Big Ten opener against Nebraska remains up in the air. But it appears all that stands between last year's Heisman Trophy finalist and the football field is the successful completion of the team's concussion test.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema indicated that, should Ball pass the necessary cognitive exam, he could practice as early as Tuesday.
"We'll see where that goes," Bielema said during his weekly Monday press conference. "I know he's very encouraged about where it's at."
Ball suffered a head injury early in the second quarter of Wisconsin's game against UTEP on a 1-yard touchdown run and did not return. He finished the day with nine carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. Although he didn't play the rest of the game, he remained on the sideline, cheering on his teammates.
Ball wasn't made available to the media following Wisconsin's 37-26 victory against UTEP, but he did indicate he was OK on Twitter.
"Just fine!" Ball tweeted. "I really am, great win boys..Great job James n Melvin steppn in! headin in the right direction!"
On Monday, Bielema never used the word concussion to describe Ball's injury.
"There was definitely some symptoms, but he wasn't like knocked out cold or anything like that like you see (with) certain guys," Bielema said. "Just as a head coach, you can kind of almost gauge by what initially happens and how severe it is. But again, every kid handles it a little bit different."
This marks the second time in less than two months that Ball has sustained an injury to his head. Ball suffered a concussion when he was assaulted the morning of Aug. 1 while walking back to his apartment after a night out with friends. That injury sent Ball to the hospital and sidelined him for the first week of fall practice. He wore a green non-contact jersey during the rest of camp.
"I go back to seeing some of the things Montee has gone through in the past," Bielema said. "He came back from the one before the season ever started, obviously with the incident, fairly quick. My hands are off on that situation. I know the things (doctors) said to me that he took on Sunday were very low. I'm not overly concerned to keep him out for this week."
Ball is not yet cleared to play, but he is listed as Wisconsin's No. 1 running back on the depth chart released Monday.
Ball's return would come at an opportune time for Wisconsin, which is facing a Nebraska defense on the road in primetime that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season. The Cornhuskers are the only Big Ten team not to have surrendered a ground score and one of just four teams in the country to achieve that feat.
Last season, Ball tied the single-season FBS record with 39 touchdowns scored, including 33 rushing scores. Ball has carried 93 times for 360 yards and three touchdowns this season.
In Ball's place on Saturday, redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon carried eight times for a career-high 112 yards and a touchdown. James White added 15 carries for 65 yards with two touchdowns, primarily running between the tackles.
"It's been a while since we've seen him in that role," Bielema said. "I thought he was exceptional. Obviously Melvin had a couple of those big runs, so he had the 100 yard-game and everybody wanted to draw attention to him, and he did phenomenal. But I couldn't be more proud of those guys. The preparation they put in and then when Montee went down, they were excited about the opportunity."
Weekly team MVPs: Bielema gave out the offensive most valuable player award to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis for his performance on Saturday. Abbrederis caught six passes for a career-high 147 yards with a touchdown. His previous career high was 113 yards at Ohio State last season.
Linebacker Chris Borland and defensive tackle Ethan Hemer shared defensive MVP honors. Borland, who tallied 12 tackles with 3.5 tackles for a loss, also was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Hemer recorded five tackles.
"Ethan Hemer has played a lot of really good football games, but that was one that he was just in the right gap at the right time," Bielema said. "He stayed on his feet. Sometimes defensive tackles, it's hard to get them the headlines that they deserve."
On special teams, Konrad Zagzebski and Devin Smith shared the MVP. Zagzebski blocked UTEP's first extra-point attempt, and Smith picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for two points, trimming Wisconsin's early deficit to 6-2.
Double-digit dogs: Rare are the games during the Bielema era in which the Badgers are so heavily considered an underdog. But Las Vegas oddsmakers have pegged Wisconsin as a 13-point underdog against No. 22 Nebraska.
Bielema, in his seventh season as head coach, has fielded teams that were double-digit underdogs on just three other occasions, all on the road. Wisconsin lost all three games: to No. 9 Ohio State in 2009 (31-13), No. 1 Ohio State in 2007 (38-17) and No. 6 Michigan in 2006 (27-13).
For what it's worth, the Badgers failed to cover the spread in any of those games.
Jesse Temple on