Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 11/12/11
Two weeks after it looked as though the sky was falling for Wisconsin's football program, the Badgers suddenly maintain control of their own destiny in the Big Ten championship game race. Wisconsin won its second straight game with a 42-13 pasting of Minnesota on Saturday in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe.Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) now trails Penn State (8-2, 5-1) by one game in the Leaders Division for the right to advance to the Big Ten title game in December. The two square off in the regular-season finale on Nov. 26 at Camp Randall Stadium. Before we reach that point, here are five things we learned from Saturday's game:1. Russell Wilson should be a Heisman Trophy candidate. Two losses are all that separate Russell Wilson from being a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy because his individual statistics are absolutely incredible.Wilson continued his stellar season at Wisconsin on Saturday, completing 16 of 17 passes for 178 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He completed his first 16 pass attempts of the game and nearly went perfect. Wide receiver Nick Toon couldn't quite haul in a deep pass down the center of the field in the third quarter, otherwise Wilson's perfect start to the game would have continued.In 10 games this season, Wilson has now completed 160 of 218 passes (73.3 percent) for 2,416 yards with 25 touchdowns a Wisconsin single-season record and three interceptions. Wilson also has thrown at least one touchdown in 34 consecutive games dating back to his North Carolina State days. He's now just two games shy of tying the NCAA record, which is held by Texas Tech's Graham Harrell.If not for back-to-back last-minute losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, Wilson's numbers would make more noise nationally. Instead, several other quarterbacks, including Stanford's Andrew Luck, Boise State's Kellen Moore and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, have shot past Wilson on the Heisman watch list.2. Montee Ball won't stop scoring touchdowns. Barry Sanders' NCAA record for touchdowns in a season might seem untouchable, but Badgers running back Montee Ball is inching closer to that mark by the game.On Saturday, Ball carried 23 times for 166 yards with two touchdowns, reaching the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season. He also caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Wilson.In the process, Ball broke the single-season Wisconsin and Big Ten records for touchdowns. He now has scored 27 touchdowns this season, with 23 coming on the ground.Sanders still holds the Football Bowl Subdivision single-season record with 37 rushing touchdowns and 39 touchdowns scored. And even if Ball doesn't reach that mark, his season is shaping up as one for the ages.Ball has rushed for 1,242 yards one season after falling just four yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard mark. 3. The Badgers' defense shouldn't go overlooked. It's easy to get caught up in the weekly eye-popping statistics that Russell Wilson and Montee Ball produce, but Wisconsin's defense deserves just as much credit for the 8-2 start.Minnesota gained just 156 yards of offense on Saturday, and its only touchdowns came on special teams plays. Even FBC team South Dakota gained 173 yards of offense against Wisconsin earlier this season. Badgers linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland entered the day tied for the Big Ten lead in total tackles with 95. Taylor finished with a game-high 13 tackles, his fifth double-digit tackle game this season, while Borland added seven total tackles.Cornerback Antonio Fenelus also recorded his third interception of the season and the eighth of his career.The entire defense ranked fourth in the country in pass yards allowed at 157 per game. Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray now understands just how difficult it is to gain yardage through the air against the Badgers. He completed 6 of 14 passes for 51 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.4. Wisconsin focuses on what it does well. Sometimes consistency can go overlooked, but it's worth repeating how successful Wisconsin has been on converting third-down attempts.The Badgers entered Saturday's game ranking third in the country in third-down percentage, converting 58 of their 106 attempts (54.7 percent). They also had punted just 29 times, tied for the ninth-fewest among teams that had played at least nine games.On Saturday, Wisconsin continued those trends.The Badgers converted 7 of 10 third down attempts and re now 65 for 116 (56.0 percent) in those situations this season. Punter Brad Nortman only needed to punt three times.One other tidbit of note is that Wisconsin is the only team in the country to rank among the top 10 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Badgers were fourth in scoring offense entering the day (47 points per game) and ninth in scoring defense (16.1 points allowed).They should remain in the top 10 in both categories given their performance against Minnesota.5. Kicking coverage troubles continue. This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but if Wisconsin doesn't fix its tackling issues on kickoffs, big trouble could await down the road.We already saw how poor kickoff coverage can help cost the Badgers a game. At the end of Ohio State's 33-29 victory against Wisconsin two weeks ago, the Buckeyes returned a kickoff 42 yards. That play put Ohio State at its own 48-yard-line and paved the way for Braxton Miller's 40-yard game-winning touchdown pass a few plays later.Last week against Purdue, Boilermakers freshman Raheem Mostert set the team's single-game record for total kick return average. He finished with 206 yards on five returns, an average of 41.2 yards, breaking a 42-year-old team record against the Badgers.Then on Saturday, Minnesota return man Duane Bennett brought back a first-quarter kickoff 45 yards to midfield. The Gophers were unable to capitalize on the good field positioning, but it wasn't the last time Wisconsin heard from him.Bennett later returned the second-half kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, bringing the Gophers to within 28-13.Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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