Considering its arsenal of weapons, sometimes it’s pretty hard to keep track of everybody on the Wisconsin football team’s offense.
In Saturday’s 59-7 victory over Indiana at Camp Randall Stadium, the most obvious example came early in the second quarter when one of the least suspected players on the Badger offense – given the situation – snuck past the Hoosier defense to deliver another blow.
Running back Montee Ball took a sweep from quarterback Russell Wilson, and as 10 members of the offense flooded right, the defense followed suit, leaving Wilson all by his lonesome downfield.
“I knew I was going to catch it,” Wilson said. “I was hoping Montee would make a great throw like he’s been doing during the week. We were 10 for 10 during the week on it, so I knew it was going to be a touchdown.”
Today, however, Wilson didn’t quite get the “great throw” he was looking for, joking that it was probably the worst pass Ball had thrown all week. Nevertheless, he still tracked down the ball and scored the 25-yard touchdown, his first touchdown reception and Ball’s first touchdown pass.
Several members of the team joked about Ball’s bad pass after the game, from head coach Bret Bielema to Ball himself, who said he became nervous when the play was called.
“Terrible, terrible form,” Ball said. “It looked like a duck up there, but Russell did a good job tracking it down and catching it.”
Calling it a “duck” was a common way of describing the pass amongst team members, and for tight end Jacob Pedersen, a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, seeing Ball’s throw made him feel like he was back at home hunting.
“I was kind of giving Montee a little crap,” Pedersen said. “I felt like I was in the UP in my duck blind.”
But despite the bad throw, the play succeeded mainly because of the ruse. And on Saturday, Wisconsin didn’t always need smoke and mirrors to force the defense to overlook one of the Badgers’ weapons.
With 5:32 remaining in the first quarter, Wisconsin came to the line of scrimmage in a shotgun, five-receiver set, with Ball and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis to Wilson’s right. As Wilson took the snap, Abbrederis tore upfield, taking his defender with him while Ball ran a simple five-yard out.
Wilson found Ball uncovered, who then streaked down the sideline for a gain of 46 yards, which set him up for the game’s first touchdown on the next play.
Ball finished the day with 143 yards on 14 carries, three rushing touchdowns and the 25-yard touchdown pass. His 46-yard reception was his only catch of the day.
Bielema was glad to see Ball get those kinds of numbers after blowouts earlier in the season caused him to call it a day earlier than usual, which kept his rushing yards in check.
“Montee took it in stride,” Bielema said of Ball, whose impressive season has been somewhat overshadowed by Wilson’s. “We just haven’t been able to build up Montee’s and [running back James White's] numbers cause we were playing so well. Those non-conference games, they just didn’t get a lot of yardage out there.”
Where Ball’s numbers have not been kept in check this year is in his touchdowns. Ball had already scored a total of 14 touchdowns by the time Indiana came to visit and when Wisconsin neared the end zone, they made sure they didn’t forget about him.
But that just left Pedersen wide open in the end zone.
“I was a little surprised there,” Pedersen said of how he snuck past the defense in the second quarter and grabbed a 3-yard touchdown pass from Wilson. “I’m sure [the safety] was expecting run and I just had to get behind the defense and make a nice play.”
On the play, Wilson took the snap out of the shotgun and ran to his left along with Ball. Four defenders were in the area and three ran towards – or were looking – at Wilson and Ball, while the fourth defender trailed Abbrederis.
Pedersen just ran right past them and made the catch.
“So much emphasis gets put on stopping Montee and stopping James, but I’m sure the defense is thinking, ‘Okay, they’re on the 3-yard line, they’re going to pound it in here,’” Pedersen said. “So I’m sure that contributed.”