Published November 20, 2014
Montee Ball is in charge of the entertainment for Wisconsin's senior day.
Needing just two touchdowns to become the all-time leader in major college football, the Badgers running back would like nothing more than to get the record Saturday when Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) hosts unbeaten Ohio State in Ball's final game at Camp Randall Stadium.
"It's going to be extra special to do it at home — if it happens," he said. "It'd be ideal to break a record like that on home turf, in front of our fans."
Ball has 77 career touchdowns after running for three scores against Indiana last weekend. That's two more than 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, and one less than current FBS record holder Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio).
"It's pretty exciting. We take pride in that and having him be able to have the opportunity to break the record," receiver Jared Abbrederis said. "It's been awesome watching him."
Making Ball's run all the more impressive is that he didn't even become a starter — heck, a regular contributor — until midway through his sophomore season. Still, the career record seemed like a given after last year, when he scored 39 touchdowns to match Barry Sanders' long-standing single-season mark. The Heisman finalist would need only 18 TDs to pass Prentice, and he'd averaged almost three per game in his previous 20 games.
Then Ball was attacked by several men as he walked home Aug. 1 after a night out with friends. He was knocked to the ground and kicked in the head and chest, leaving him unconscious and with a concussion. The injuries sidelined him during training camp, and Ball — and the Badgers — continued to feel the effects as their season got off to a rocky start.
Ball was held scoreless in Wisconsin's loss at Oregon State, the first time he'd failed to score since Oct. 16, 2010, when he sat out the Badgers' upset of the then-No. 1 Buckeyes. After four games, he had just four touchdowns and had only topped 100 yards rushing twice.
"I stumbled a little bit out of gate, the first couple games of the season," Ball said. "That goes back to not being able to practice during camp. I knew that was going to be the case and it was. . But it didn't take long to get back."
Though Wisconsin lost late, Ball rushed for three touchdowns against Nebraska. He got two more in a romp over Illinois the next week. Then he really let loose, combining for 418 yards and five TDs against Purdue and Minnesota. He was held scoreless again in an overtime loss to Michigan State, but roared back with the three TDs and 198 yards rushing against the Hoosiers.
He now has 16 touchdowns this year, as many as Idaho's entire team.
"He'll be a fine NFL running back," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He's got great vision, he's very durable. ... He's got great acceleration, much faster than I originally thought. He's a big-time, big-time back."
With a big-time offensive line in front of him.
The Badgers have a long, proud history of stellar running backs — 1999 Heisman winner Ron Dayne is still the FBS' all-time leading rusher — and the Wisconsin linemen take pride in playing a part in that. Ball's name may wind up at the top of the touchdown list, but his line knows it paved the way for him to get there.
"He does most of the work out there and we get taken along for the ride sometimes," offensive tackle Rick Wagner said.
"That's one of the reasons we all came here and want to be O-linemen. We're going to get that chance to focus on the run," Wagner added. "We don't want to be a big passing school here. We want to use the O-line to its full advantage."
And they plan to do so Saturday.
Though Ball said he expects Ohio State to focus on shutting him down — "I wouldn't want for anybody to break a record on me" — Buckeyes linebacker Zach Boren said they're going to stick with what's worked for them so far. They've won 10 games, after all, and are No. 6 in the country. They've got the 16th-best run defense in the country, and have allowed only 11 rushing touchdowns.
"We have to go out there and play a perfect game and be on our game. If we're not, he'll be able to make big plays and make long runs," Boren said. "We respect how good of a player he is, but we're not going to treat him or treat this game like it's anything different."
Neither will the Badgers, coach Bret Bielema said. Though the entire team is anxious for Ball to get the record, and get it at home, he won't run plays simply to make that happen. And Ball's OK with that.
After the way this year started, he's just happy to be in a position to get the record.
"Just everything that happened to me this summer and coming out of the gates real slow, personally, I kind of thought it was way out of hand's reach," Ball said. "But I'm really glad I stuck with it and kept fighting and kept pushing and kept working hard with my teammates in practice."
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.