WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—Considering the way the Badgers have run the ball this season, their opening drive Saturday was noteworthy. Wisconsin (2-1 Big Ten, 4-2 overall) matched an early Purdue touchdown by marching 75 yards in five plays, including two rushes for 21 yards and three effective play-action-passes. Absent from the whole drive: senior running back Montee Ball.
Whether the ensuing events were obvious to the announced crowd of 46,007 at Ross-Ade Stadium or not, that trend did not last.
After junior running back James White set the tone on the first drive, Ball joined the party and proceeded to completely take it over, racking up a career-high 247 yards on 29 carries and adding three touchdowns for a 38-14 win over the Boilermakers (0-2, 3-3).
The third touchdown gave Ball 72 for his career, lifting him past former UW star Ron Dayne and breaking the Big Ten record for career rushing scores.
“I had no idea until I had an interview on the field,” Ball said of his record-breaking score. “It’s special, obviously we know what [Dayne] did and how hard he worked, and his records will never be forgotten. I’m just blessed to be up there with him.”
Late in the first quarter, Ball had just two yards on one carry as the Badgers started their third offensive drive at their own 2-yard line. He took a handoff from redshirt freshman Joel Stave and, thanks to a free defender, looked to be in danger of being tackled for a safety. Instead, he spun off the tackler and gained 8 yards.
“That’s my job. Everybody’s not going to be blocked, and I think that’s what I realized this game,” Ball said. “I need to get some YAC—yards after contact.”
Ball punished would-be defenders and made others miss for the rest of the afternoon en route to one of his best performances as a Badger.
“I needed this. Obviously, I wasn’t doing too well and a lot of things weren’t going my way,” Ball said. “I’m really glad that I stuck with it and overcame that adversity.”
UW rolled up a season-high 363 first-half yards of offense but also had three drives inside Purdue’s 35-yard line end in field goal attempts.
Sophomore kicker Kyle French missed two of them, keeping the Boilermakers within 10 points at the half.
Ball made sure it did not matter on the second play of the third quarter, ripping off a 67-yard touchdown run—the longest carry of his career. At the time, it felt like a back-breaker.
“I cut back and I was actually going to take it outside, but I hit them with a juke and [two defenders] both jumped out, so I just cut it straight up and just took off from there,” Ball said.
Not even an injury to stalwart senior left tackle Rick Wagner could slow down the UW running attack. In the third quarter, Wagner was rolled up on from behind in what looked to be an ugly knee injury. Head coach Bret Bielema did not have an update after the game, but Wagner walked off the field under his own power, albeit with a significant limp.
After Wagner exited, redshirt junior left guard Ryan Groy slid out to tackle and backup redshirt junior right guard Zac Matthias moved to left guard.
“It’s just a testament to the way that we work and the way we study the game,” redshirt junior center Travis Frederick said.
Somewhat lost in Ball’s performance was a standout effort from White, who finished with 124 yards and a score on 16 carries (7.8 yards per carry).
The Badgers finished with 467 rushing yards, the fifth-most in school history and the first time over 400 since Nov. 8, 2008, against Indiana.
For the day, UW averaged 8.2 yards per carry on 57 attempts and used the ground game to completely control what became a rainy, windy environment in West Lafayette.
“Our offensive line took the competition and made sure they were going to make some holes for our running backs, and they did,” Ball said.