Badgers expect a full Montee this time
What: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State in first Big Ten title game
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
When: 7:17 p.m. Saturday
TV/Radio: FOX/WCLO, 1230 AM
MADISON You could identify at least a half-dozen plays that shifted the momentum during Michigan State's 37-31 victory over Wisconsin during the regular season.
Those include: Russell Wilson's first interception, with UW holding a 14-0 lead; Keshawn Martin's 34-yard touchdown run for the Spartans; two blocked kicks by Michigan State, one a field-goal attempt and one a punt, that represented a 10-point swing; and several key third-down conversions by Michigan State would make the list.
So should the loss of tailback Montee Ball, who left the game with an injury in the second quarter with UW holding a
14-9 lead. By the time Ball returned for UW's first offensive series of the third quarter, Michigan State had a 23-14 lead.
"Montee is playing at a pretty good level," UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "But I think there are a lot of things that factored into it. I think there was a stretch there we just didn't execute."
Ball on Wednesday was named the Big Ten offensive player of the year. There is no doubt UW (10-2) must keep the junior on the field and be more efficient on offense when it faces the Spartans (10-2) in the Big Ten title game at 7:17 p.m. Saturday in Indianapolis.
Ball finished with 139 total yards (115 rushing and 24 receiving) and two touchdowns in the teams' first meeting. He rushed eight times for 59 yards and a touchdown on UW's first two possessions as the Badgers built a 14-0 lead with 7 minutes, 42 seconds left in the opening quarter.
He was injured at the end of a 7-yard run to the Spartans 14 in the second quarter, leaving UW facing third and 2.
"I can remember everything clearly," said Ball, who suffered a head injury, when he fell backward to the ground after trying to get up from the pile. "Michigan State had a good hit on me, and I took myself out of the game. Our trainers and coaches did a great job making sure I was OK to go back in the game."
With Ball out, reserve tailback James White was held to a 1-yard gain on third down. In fairness to White, several UW blockers did not execute their assignments on the play, and there is no guarantee Ball would have picked up the first down.
Nevertheless, Philip Welch's 30-yard field-goal attempt was blocked on the next play, the Spartans drove 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and UW's final possession of the half ended with a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown.
"Obviously, Montee is a big part of our offense," UW coach Bret Bielema acknowledged. "But another big part of that was Michigan State's defense. They are very good. They are very talented. They have a lot of different players who can make big-time plays."
Ball enters the rematch healthy and relatively fresh. He had 25 carries for 156 yards and four touchdowns last week against Penn State but is averaging 20.6 carries per game.
His value to UW's offense can be measured in his national-best touchdown total of 34 (29 rushing and five receiving), his rushing yards (1,622) and his per-carry average (6.5).
"Whoever is out there voting they probably need their voting cards taken away from them," UW senior free safety Aaron Henry said, referring to the fact that Ball is out of the top five in several Heisman Trophy polls. "I don't know what else you need. For a guy to score that many touchdowns ...
"What he is doing is utterly amazing. I don't think it has been done here for a while. The last guy that did do it was Ron Dayne, and I think he did win the Heisman.
"I'm not saying he should win it but for people not to take notice … is utterly foolish."
Ball's value can also be measured in his tenacity, a trait noticed by his opponents.
"I think he is phenomenal," Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson said. "He runs so hard. Every carry he gets, you could tell the type of work he does in the weight room and at practice."
White finished with 42 yards on 11 carries in the first game against Michigan State. His play has been uneven this season compared to his freshman season (1,052 yards, 6.7 yards per carry).
However, White ran well (16 carries, 73 yards) last week against Penn State.
"I'm well prepared," White said. "I'm going to keep running hard this week, work on the little things I need to correct."
Konz will travel
UW junior center Peter Konz, out for the last two games since suffering a dislocated ankle at Minnesota, is set to travel with the team to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game Saturday.
Konz has done limited work in practice all week and hopes to play. However, his playing status likely will be determined after the team practices today at Lucas Oil Stadium.
If Konz isn't moving well enough to play effectively against Michigan State, which seems likely, sophomore Travis Frederick of Walworth Big Foot should get his second consecutive start at center and sophomore Ryan Groy should start at left guard.
Those were the positions they manned in last week's
45-7 victory over Penn State.
"I thought Travis did an excellent job at center this past week," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "And Ryan really played his best game and against very good competition."