Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 11/10/12
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - No matter the situation or the makeup of his team, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema likes to deliver a poignant message the night before a game to serve a purpose. Whether it's to motivate his squad or to deliver a teaching point, the message Friday night was simple: opportunity.Leading up to Wisconsin'schance to clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game just an hour up the road at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Field, Bielema wrote down approximately 20 programs who had been involved in Bowl Championship Series discussions the last several years, but have fallen far off the map in 2013.Teams like Arkansas, Auburn and Virginia Tech traditionally strong programs will either spend the bowl season at the second tier bowl or, worse yet, at home for the holidays while Wisconsin has a chance to play for another league title despite three agonizing defeats and heaps of adversity."A lot of times people would let go of the rope in this situation or back away from the ways in front of them," said Bielema. "(I wanted) our guys to charge ahead with full speed."It's evident that the message was well received. Not only are the Badgers going to play for a conference championship for the third straight season following a 62-14 thrashing of Indiana at Memorial Stadium Saturday, Wisconsin did it with its bread and butter, setting a school record with 564 rushing yards."We've gone through a lot of adversity," said junior center Travis Frederick, asWisconsin fell 10 yards short of breaking the conference rushing record. "The amount of adversity and how you handle it defines you as a man and as a champion. For us to geta chance to go through that, really back and put ourselves in the position that we're in, is a great opportunity for us."Bielema didn't want to compare the squad he'll be taking to Indianapolis in three weeks to either play Michigan or have a rematch with Nebraska, but the Badgers (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) that showed up in Bloomington were a carbon copy of the program over the last 20 years.All 69 yards on Wisconsin's first series came on the ground, foreshadowing how it was going to attack Indiana and its 107th-ranked rush defense. On the board in the offensive line's meeting room, someone wrote the number '400' as goal number one, signifying the desire to break that mark for the 17th time in school history.Senior tailback Montee Ball stumbled upon that stat on accident when his meeting room was locked and he went into the offensive linemen's room to watch his film. "That meant a lot," said Ball. "As running backs we love it. We didn't want to let the offensive line down."He didn't, as his 198 rushing yards were his fourth career game of at least 100 rushing yards against the hapless Hoosiers. He also lurched within one of the NCAA's all-time touchdown record of 78, scoring on touchdown runs of 10, 1 and 49. In his last nine games in November, Ball is averaging 179.1 rushing yards and three touchdowns."A couple of those runs were out of his mind, breaking tackles, staying alive, elephant crawling with one arm on the ground," said Bielema. "He was just possessed."Junior James White chipped in with 161 yards on 14 carries and two scores, both on runs over 50 yards, Melvin Gordon rushed for 96 yards and a score and senior Curt Phillips rushed for 68 yards andhad his first collegiate touchdownin the first quarter in his first collegiate start.When running at full strength, Wisconsin's running game can deliver a dagger at any time. Case and point: White at the end of the first half.With Wisconsin seeing potential for an inside handoff on third-and-16, White's handoff was a thing of beauty. Originally running to the right, White cut back to the middle, made one defender miss, found a seam between four players and hit the jets.Instead of stopping Wisconsin on third-and-16, Indiana trudged to the locker room down 24-7. "They are a great team running the ball," said Indiana defensive tackle Adam Replogle. "They are a great team; we knew what they were. It's Wisconsin. They're big, they're physical and they have a great run game."Not only didWisconsin deliver the quick strike, it showed the run game can also be methodical. Getting the ball to start the third quarter, Wisconsin executed a methodical 11-play drive that erased the first 6 minutes, 11 seconds off the third quarter clock.Of UW's 10 scoring drives, five were at least 3 minutes, 50 seconds, as the Badgers dominated the Hoosiers in time of possession: 39:27 to 20:33Not only did Wisconsin's tailbacks get production, but the Badgers utilized the still flexible legs of Phillips. Despite three ACL surgeries, Phillips made plays with his arm and his legs. He scrambled 52 yards in the third quarter, outrunning defenders and executing a stiff arm to set up a UW field goal.He made blocks downfield and ran interference on some of UW's longest touchdown runs, but the play Phillips was the proudest of was his 17-yard completion to Derek Watt on fourth-and-2, one of only seven attempted passes. Not because of the end result, but because Phillips stood in and took a hit while still delivering the pass."I came trying to act like I had nothing to lose and just have fun," said Phillips, who had 20 tickets at his disposal for family and friends. "I definitely did."Thanks to Phillips managing the offense, the last two games are now a formality, but don't expect anyone in Wisconsin's locker room to admit that. Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) will bring in the conference's top scoring offense (41.3 points per game) to Madison next weekend for Wisconsin's final home game; a contest UW has hadcircled since Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller stunned the Badgers in Columbus last year. If Ohio State wins one of its final two games, it wins the division outright.Penn State won't be playing in any postseason games for the next four seasons due to the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but the Nittany Lions had won six of seven entering Saturday. The Badgers have lost three of five in the series and haven't won in State College since 2003."It would bother us (if we went to Indianapolis not as division champs)," said Ball. "Obviously the other teams are handicapped, but we want to go to Indy because we won the big games."It's vital for a team that is still trying to find a rhythm and register a signature win. Last season, Wisconsin had a six-game and a five-game winning streak and picked apart No.8 Nebraska in primetime.On its longest winning streak of this season, Wisconsin beat three teams who at the time had yet to win a conference game and have beat seven teams that have a combined 27-38 record, which included a victory over 8-2 Utah State.But that was then, as Wisconsin has now entered its month of dominance. Under Bielema, Wisconsin is 23-6 in games played after Nov. 1, including a 20-2 mark in regular-season games and an 18-2 record in Big Ten games. Over the last two seasons (seasons that provided Bielema's first two conference championships), Wisconsin went 8-0 in November.For a team searching for its first statement win and another championship, November is off to a good start."I don't think we've had (a statement win) yet," said Frederick. "We've played some close games. We've lost really close. For us, it's just the matter of going out doing the things we need to do. Hopefully that will help us make a statement." For more Wisconsin coverage, visit BadgerNation.com.
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