Following a 38-13 win Saturday over Minnesota, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema praised the character shown by running back tandem Montee Ball and James White this season.
In his weekly press conference Monday, Bielema said the pair’s production this season is partially a product of their camaraderie. The duo combined for 347 yards and five touchdowns as Wisconsin notched its ninth consecutive victory in the Border Battle.
“They’re both really unselfish kids,” Bielema said. “We recruited them for those reasons.”
Bielema noted Ball and White live together and are pushed by a mutual competitive nature that brings out the best in one another. UW’s head coach even joked Ball should keep an eye on his starting spot because of how well White has played in recent weeks.
Bielema recalled a team meeting that took place last season shortly after he was notified both Ball and quarterback Russell Wilson would be on the Heisman Trophy watch list.
The team was first told Wilson received the distinction. Then, Bielema told the team Ball would be on the list as well.
“The place went nuts,” Bielema said.
Bielema made the case for Ball to be a Heisman Trophy finalist yet again this year. He added that Ball has changed his weekly and daily routine since the start of the season and has started working with the developmental squad several times a week.
Bielema said the results have spoken for themselves on the field.
“You really see him starting to get some of those signature broken tackles that you’ve seen him do,” Bielema said. “You could see some of that nastiness coming back.”
White has been versatile in an array of positions so far this season. Against Minnesota, the Badgers’ No. 2 tailback even lined up a quarterback in a play the team has labeled the “Barge” formation.
Despite his playmaking ability, the coaching staff was reluctant to put White at punt returner after Ball’s concussion this summer. Bielema said losing both Ball and White to injuries would have been a “difficult situation.”
When asked about White’s willingness to share carries with Ball, Bielema credited his upbringing as one of the main reasons for the junior’s maturity.
White attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida, which has the feel of a “small college campus” according to Bielema. The head coach added the school’s reputation and coaching staff have grown over the years as it has become one of the more recognized high school football powerhouses in the nation.
“They’ve got more coaches than I do,” Bielema said with a laugh.
Bielema said he thought White would be his first Heisman Trophy candidate during his tenure before Ball exploded on the scene in the second half of 2011.
“He’s just a big play guy,” Bielema said. “When he gets a little mojo going, he’s special.”
Taylor left off award watch list
Bielema expressed disappointment that fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Taylor was excluded from the Butkus Award watch list released Monday. The Butkus Award is presented annually to the nation’s top college linebacker.
Taylor earned the team’s weekly defensive MVP award from Bielema for his effort against Minnesota after he recorded a team-high 12 tackles. On the season, Taylor has racked up 84 total tackles, which ranks second in the Big Ten and is tied for fourth nationally.
Twelve players are named semifinalists on the award watch list. This year, four linebackers from the Big Ten made the list, but Taylor was not one of them.
“Our guys aren’t into awards, but that’s pretty significant,” Bielema said. “I can’t believe that that would happen.”
Bielema also updated the status of several injured players Monday.
Wisconsin’s head coach said he’s unsure if fifth-year senior and left tackle Ricky Wagner, who injured his knee at Purdue, will be able to play Saturday against Michigan State at Camp Randall. Redshirt junior Ryan Groy – who usually lines up at left guard – started at left tackle in place of Wagner against Minnesota.
Redshirt junior defensive lineman Tyler Dippel re-aggravated his shoulder but should be back to practice Tuesday according to Bielema.
He also said Devin Gaulden, a sophomore cornerback, suffered a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament several weeks ago and will have surgery Friday. Gaulden will not lose a season of eligibility and will be able to obtain a medical redshirt, according to Bielema.