MADISON, Wis. -- While the BCS National Championship was certainly an opportunity for the Badgers this season, the main goal was to get to Indianapolis and win the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
Despite the bone-crushing losses at Michigan State and Ohio State earlier this season, the Badgers came to Camp Randall Stadium Saturday with the main goal still firmly within their grasp and left it up to their two main horses to book the trip to Indy.
Russell Wilson and Montee Ball put together their latest Heisman-esque performances side-by-side as the Badgers romped Penn State 45-7 Saturday to clinch the Leaders Division title and earn an opportunity to play Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Wilson completed 19-of-29 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns and once again wowed the crowd with some ridiculous moves to escape disaster and turn negative plays into positive ones. On one second quarter touchdown drive, Wilson escaped a sack three times, completing an 11-yard pass to Bradie Ewing on one play and running for gains of 20 and 19 yards on the other two.
Meanwhile, Ball ran for 156 yards and four touchdowns, setting an NCAA and Big Ten record in the process. He now has at least two touchdowns in 12-straight games, breaking the previous NCAA record of 11 set by Barry Sanders. He also continues to chance down Sanders' record of 39 total touchdowns in one season, set in 1988. Ball now has 34 touchdowns on the season.
"Whatever the offensive line wants," Ball said about possibly breaking the record. "If they want me to get there, then I’ll get there. But I’m really looking forward to that. It’s our offensive achievement. It’s going to be a great feeling if I do break it."
Ball's 29 rushing touchdowns on the season are also a Big Ten record.
Wilson and Ball continue to do amazing things together as it's so rare for a quarterback and a running back on the same team to put up the kind of numbers they have this season.
"It’s extremely rare," Wilson said. "It’s a once in a lifetime type thing. You don’t see it very often, but I think with Montee’s ability to do a lot of different things and with my ability to throw the ball extremely well and improvise when I have to, it’s pretty dangerous."
Bret Bielema agrees, saying he would split the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Award in half and give it to both of them.
"These two are in my opinion two of the most complete players at their respective positions that I have ever seen play the game," he said.
It will be interesting to see how Wilson's and Ball's performances Saturday will affect their Heisman candidacies considering the importance of the game. While both have slim chances of winning it, a big performance in next week's championship game could at least lead to one of them being named a finalist with an invitation to New York.
"It’s no question, what Montee Ball is doing is utterly amazing," senior safety Aaron Henry said. "And it’s sad to know that people rarely take notice of that. I mean, for a guy to score (34) touchdowns and to not even be recognized, I mean, whoever is out there voting they probably need their voting cards taken away from them because I know what else you need."
Senior Day for Ball Too?
Obviously Ball, a junior, wasn't among the 21 seniors honored before Saturday's game, but it could have been his last home game as well.
The running back has not committed to returning for his senior year with hopes of an NFL career on the horizon.
"Honestly, I don’t know," Ball said when asked if Saturday's game was his last at Camp Randall. "I don’t know how it ends. I’m going to ask a few questions at the end of the season and see what happens. If it is, it’s a great win, a great way to leave. And if not, then I’ll be happy to come back."
Rematch In Indy
Wisconsin's win set up a rematch against Michigan State, which beat them on a Hail Mary earlier this season in East Lansing, ending their national title hopes.
"I’m sure they are probably going to replay (the Hail Mary) like crazy this week, but as a football team and has a secondary, we have to let it go," Henry said. "But we can’t forget the moment when it happened. We can’t forget that opportunity that we let slip away. We have to learn from it and move on."
While not every player will admit it directly, it's pretty obvious Michigan State is the team they wanted to see in the Big Ten Championship Game.
"This is the first time in Big Ten history we get rematches," Bielema said. "When this whole format came up everybody knew it would be a possibility. Even leaving the field against Michigan State, I think a lot of our guys thought to that moment. The way the world works, it kind of panned itself out and right now it’s in front of us."
Walk-on linebacker Greg Russo, an Iraq war veteran who walked onto the Badgers this year with only one year of eligibility, finally got in a game Saturday in the final minute.
"When Coach Partridge looked at me and said, ‘You’re on alert,’ I was thrilled," he said. "A culmination of years of work and lot of coaches and players believing in me. Thrilled. Absolutely."
Linebacker Ethan Armstrong was taken off the field in an ambulance after suffering a hip injury, but the x-rays came back negative. Bielema said the ambulance was used because they wanted to get him to the hospital as soon as possible in case the hip was displaced. He added that Armstrong has a history of hip issues and was already due for off-season surgery on both hips. He also needs shoulder surgery. No further word was given on Armstrong's availability in Indianapolis next week.