MADISON, Wis. In the adrenaline-infused bowels of Camp Randall Stadium, with Wisconsin football players celebrating yet another blowout victory, there was Travis Frederick somberly expressing disappointment.
Really. Despite a 6-0 start and a No. 4 national ranking already in tow, the Badgers burly offensive lineman had found an area to critique.
Frederick was speaking specifically about the teams running game, which has mostly been overshadowed by a strong passing attack led by quarterback Russell Wilsons Heisman Trophy-worthy start. He felt a sense of dissatisfaction with the overall yardage disparity.
For himself. For the offensive line. For everything the Sharon, Wis., native had grown up seeing of Badgers football.
I think here at Wisconsin, the rushing game is always one of our first priorities, Frederick said. And weve been a little bit disappointed in the way that its been going, with us having more passing yards. Even though weve got great skill guys out there I think for us, its been disappointing to not have more rushing yards.
But on Saturday, with Wisconsins leading receiver Nick Toon sidelined with a foot injury, and Wilsons passing services not needed in bulk against an inferior opponent, all became right in Fredericks world.
During Wisconsins 59-7 demolition of Indiana, the Badgers served notice that one of their greatest weapons remains a strong running game, even as Russell Mania continues to sweep the country.
For the second time this season, the Badgers gained more yards rushing (332) than passing (192). And they accomplished the feat well before Wilson was pulled late in the third quarter with the game already easily in hand.
Today was good for us, Frederick said. It was a step in the right direction that we did have more rushing yards than passing yards.
Wisconsins season rushing statistics have now nearly pulled even with those in the passing game. The Badgers have rushed for 1,545 yards. They have passed for 1,594 yards.
Today really showed that were extremely balanced, that were capable of putting the ball in the air and on the ground, Badgers running back Montee Ball said. We all do a great job in practice and carrying it into the games.
Ball carried 14 times for 142 yards, continuing his touchdown binge with three rushing scores. He now has 16 rushing touchdowns in six games.
But James White, who has demonstrated inconsistency at times this season, also contributed 87 yards on 13 carries. That included a dazzling 15-yard touchdown run in which he juked a cornerback and stiff-armed a safety on his way to the end zone.
Ball has received most of the publicity in the Badgers running game this season because of his high-volume scoring. Few seem to remember, however, that it was White who led the team in rushing a year ago with 1,052 yards, the fourth-best single-season tally in Badgers freshman history.
They do some creative, really nice stuff, first-year Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson said. Bottom line, if they get out in space, those two backs are pretty good. I dont know if they have blazingly great speed, but its pretty good speed. They run through trash and theyre always moving forward. They had a bunch of nice eight-, nine-, 10-yard runs, and then some big ones.
White said he felt motivated on Saturday after tallying just 26 yards on 11 carries two weeks earlier against Nebraska.
(Running backs) coach (Thomas) Hammock was talking to me when I was on the sideline waiting for Montee to get tired, White said. He was like, When you get in there, make a play. Just get four yards. I was like, Yeah, I hear what youre saying because youve got to get four yards before you can get 40. Thats been my motto for the whole week.
The combination of Ball and White has created headaches for most opponents, and that clearly didnt change against the Hoosiers. The two combined for 229 yards on the ground, the first time they had collectively gone over 200 yards this season.
Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema said part of the reason the statistics have been skewed is that his two best running backs havent been needed for long stretches because of the Badgers sheer dominance in games. Wisconsin is now outscoring opponents roughly 50-10, and neither Ball nor White saw any carries in the fourth quarter against Indiana.
We just havent been able to build up Montee and James numbers because we were playing so well in those non-conference games, they just didnt get a lot of yardage out there, Bielema said.
Even Wilson incorporated himself in the running game act on Saturday. In addition to completing 12-of-17 passes for 166 yards with a touchdown, he tallied 42 yards rushing on two carries. His longest rushing play, a 25-yard scamper down to the Indiana eight-yard line, helped lead to another touchdown in the third quarter that put Wisconsin ahead 38-7.
Of course, the game was over for all intents and purposes even before that drive. The rushing attack was a big reason why. And its a strength the Badgers will need to rely on as they prepare for the most challenging portion of their Big Ten schedule.
With our running backs and offensive line, to get to the second level and then make a move to score a touchdown, its vital for our offense, Wilson said. If we can do that and also throw the ball extremely well, I think thats a great thing for our offense.