MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin steamrolled Penn State 45-7 on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium in what may have been the most impressive Badgers victory of the season given the circumstances.
With the victory, Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) captured the Leaders Division title and advanced to face Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) next Saturday in Indianapolis in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Handing out grades from Saturday's performance:
Rushing offense: A
They call Montee Ball "MoneyBall" for a reason. The guy has simply been money with the football in his hands all season.
Ball continued his remarkable string of touchdowns, scoring four on the ground against Penn State. In total, he carried the ball 25 times for 156 yards and never lost yardage on any of those runs. It marked his eighth 100-yard game this season and the 14th of his career.
Ball has scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season, breaking a 23-year-old NCAA record of 11 held by Barry Sanders. Ball also moved into second place in NCAA history for single-season touchdowns scored with 34, five shy of tying Sanders' 39.
Ball's effectiveness on Saturday left Penn State little chance to catch up. He rushed for a one-yard score on the first play of the second quarter and added a two-yard touchdown with 2:09 remaining in the half for a 21-7 Wisconsin lead.
Later, he juked a defender at the line of scrimmage on his way to a nine-yard touchdown run two minutes into the third quarter for a 35-7 edge. And he capped off the scoring with an 18-yard touchdown run around the left side with 4:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Running back James White and quarterback Russell Wilson also contributed on the ground. White carried 16 times for 73 yards, while Wilson ran seven times for 36 yards.
As for Ball, his numbers this season have certainly been Heisman Trophy-worthy, although it's doubtful he'll garner enough votes to earn that honor. Nonetheless, Wisconsin's athletic department has started a Twitter feed to aid in his campaign. In five days since the feed went live on Nov. 22, it has picked up considerable steam. As of 10:25 a.m. CT on Sunday, it had 1,723 followers.
Passing offense: A
Wisconsin's passing game struck a familiar refrain on Saturday in that the Badgers really didn't need to throw much with Montee Ball running wild all game.
Still, when quarterback Russell Wilson needed to make a pass, he was right on target.
Wilson finished the game completing 19 of 29 passes for 186 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with wide receiver Jared Abbrederis on a 21-yard touchdown in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7.
Later, Wilson found Nick Toon on a four-yard touchdown pass, which boosted the Badgers to 28-7 just before halftime.
"We have a lot of talent on offense, and coach (Paul) Chryst does a great job of exposing the defense," Wilson said. "No matter what it is, running the football or throwing it, we can do a lot of different things."
Wilson has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 36 straight games, tying the NCAA record held by Texas Tech's Graham Harrell. His 28 touchdown passes this season are also a Wisconsin team record. The old mark of 21 was set by John Stocco in 2005.
Toon caught his ninth touchdown pass this season to move into a tie for second place on UW's single-season list. He is tied with Lee Evans and his father, Al Toon.
Rushing defense: A
Penn State running back Silas Redd entered Saturday's game having gained 1,122 yards rushing this season with seven touchdowns, and he presented what appeared to be a formidable challenge for Wisconsin's defense.
But Redd, like every other Nittany Lions runner on Saturday, was no match for the Badgers.
Redd gained 66 yards on 12 carries with no touchdowns. As a team, Penn State carried the ball 27 times for 114 yards without scoring a touchdown.
Redd fumbled on the Nittany Lions' first drive of the third quarter, and it was recovered by Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor at Penn State's 46. Three plays later, the Badgers scored another touchdown to take a commanding 35-7 lead.
"We were just fortunate," Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said. "We knew it was a wet day and the ball would be out on the turf. We got a good shot on their guard and their back bumped into them and stuff like that happens on rainy days."
Passing defense: A-
If not for one blown assignment on coverage in the secondary, the Badgers' pass defense would have been perfect.
The slip-up occurred with 8:44 remaining in the first quarter, when Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin connected with wide receiver Curtis Drake for a 44-yard touchdown pass. Drake was open by more than 10 yards, and the nearest defender was safety Aaron Henry. The score put Penn State ahead 7-0, although it proved to be the Nittany Lions' last points of the game.
"It was strictly a miscommunication," Henry said. "It was totally my fault. (Cornerback) Antonio (Fenelus) and me, we thought it was one thing, but it was something else. I totally take the blame for that ... As a defensive unit, we were pushing for the shutout."
Without that touchdown pass, it would have been an even more miserable day for Penn State's passing game. In total, Penn State quarterbacks McGloin and Rob Bolden completed 11 of 25 passes for 119 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Wisconsin strong safety Shelton Johnson picked off McGloin at midfield with 3:27 left in the first quarter. The play led to the Badgers' second touchdown of the game and a 14-7 edge.
Wisconsin is ranked third in the country in passing yards allowed, surrendering just 144.5 per game. Michigan State is the only team all season to have passed for more than 200 yards against Wisconsin.
Special teams: B-
It was an up-and-down day for Wisconsin's special teams, and it didn't start particularly well for the Badgers.
James White was flagged for running into the kicker on a Penn State punt, which gave the Nittany Lions a first down and led directly to the team's only touchdown of the game.
Badgers kicker Phillip Welch also had two kickoffs roll out of bounds, giving Penn State the ball at its own 40-yard-line. And on punt coverage, Nittany Lions return man Justin Brown brought back a kick 33 yards into Wisconsin territory at the 9:25 mark of the second quarter.
Only White's mistake, however, cost the Badgers on the scoreboard. And Wisconsin made up for those other transgressions by recovering two fumbles on special teams.
First, Penn State's Michael Zordich fumbled away the kickoff in the second quarter immediately following a Wisconsin touchdown. It was recovered by Wisconsin's Conor O'Neill at the Penn State 31-yard-line with 2:03 remaining in the first half. Less than 90 seconds later, Wisconsin scored another touchdown to take a 28-7 lead.
Later, Wisconsin's Andrew Lukasko recovered a punt with 14:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, giving Wisconsin the ball at Penn State's 44-yard-line. Welch eventually drilled a 44-yard field goal to put the finishing touches on Wisconsin's 45-7 blowout victory.
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