BLOOMINGTON, Ind. —Holding the ball on a crucial carry late in the fourth quarter near the goal line, few running backs want to see a linebacker standing in the hole with a good shot to make the tackle.
But that was the hand dealt to the Badgers' true freshman Montee Ball, and he applied a simple philosophy to the situation.
""Being a running back, you've got to lower your shoulder and just punish him,"" Ball said.
The Missouri native slammed into a would-be tackler and then spun into the end zone to push No. 24 Wisconsin's lead back to 10 and help hold off a late Hoosier charge in Bloomington.
Ball scored two touchdowns on the day, and in the second half he carried a prolific rushing attack that helped Wisconsin close out the 31-28 win.
The Badgers pounded out nearly 300 yards on the ground with Ball and sophomore running back John Clay as the main contributors. Clay ran for 134 yards on only 15 carries, all before a slight concussion knocked him out of the game at halftime, and had four rushes of over 10 yards.
""Our kids did enough to win,"" Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. ""John Clay, in the first half, was a machine ... Ball was kind of like the Energizer Bunny. Every time he got a rep he just kept grinning, smiling and gaining momentum.""
Thirty minutes into the game, Ball had only run for 30 yards, but he got the ball 19 times after halftime and finished with 115. It was the first time Wisconsin had two 100-yard rushers since its last visit to Bloomington in 2008, when three Badgers broke triple digits on the ground.
The game also marked the first time Ball has surpassed 100 yards in his young career.
He came to Madison as a well-regarded recruit and for the first few weeks of the season was expected to redshirt. The coaches, however, ultimately decided he was good enough to see the field as a true freshman, and Saturday that decision paid off.
Late in the game, Ball was called on yet again. Just a few minutes after his touchdown, the Hoosiers drove for 7 points of their own, cutting the Wisconsin lead to 3 with four minutes left.
Ball ran on eight of the next nine Wisconsin plays, the lone exception being a 17-yard strike from junior quarterback Scott Tolzien to sophomore receiver Nick Toon to convert a 3rd and 8. Indiana never got the ball back as the Wisconsin offense chewed up the clock.
After the game, Ball made sure to give credit to his offensive line for the team's running success.
Clay's injury was not the only significant one Wisconsin had to overcome. Sophomore offensive tackle Josh Oglesby hurt his knee in the second quarter and was replaced by junior lineman Jake Bscherer, who started the first three games of the season at guard but has played sparingly since then.
With Bscherer in the lineup, the Badger offense did not miss a beat, something he credited to coaching and preparation.
""I think it just comes down to and shows the way we practice,"" Bscherer said. ""We practice physical, we practice hard and I think that just carries over a lot to situations like this.""
At day's end, however, many of the Badgers came away with even more respect for Ball.
""He stayed mentally tough the whole game,"" junior guard John Moffitt said. ""There were some tough times down here, after they scored to go down by 3, and he just stayed focused the whole time, and I admire that, especially out of a freshman.""