MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Badgers ran all over the Minnesota Golden Gophers and kept Paul Bunyan's Axe for the ninth-straight year Saturday with a 38-13 win. The Badgers bludgeoned Minnesota's defense behind the two-back tandem of James White and Montee Ball, who combined for five touchdowns on the ground during the game.
The Badgers racked up 337 rushing yards, and outgained the Gophers by 198 total yards in the game. Quarterback Joel Stave completed 7-of-15 passes for 106 yards, but White and Ball were the real story of the game. Ball built on a strong performance against Purdue by rushing for 171 yards on 24 carries, and White finished with 175 yards on just 15 carries.
The Badgers also revealed a Wildcat-like formation with White taking a direct snap, which the Badgers used in the game to score early in the first quarter. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said they've been working on the so-called 'Barge' package for a while, which featured seven offensive linemen and two tight ends on the field at the same time.
"During fall camp we've actually been working with that for a while, so it's fun to see that come through," Bielema said. "It's a difficult formation for them to line up to, and obviously we had a little bit of success."
Both teams struggled out of the gate, and the two teams combined for nine punts in the first half alone. The Gophers and Badgers traded three-and-outs to start the first quarter, but the Badgers scored first on a 14-yard rush from White in their new 'Barge' package.
"It's pretty cool. It's something I did in high school, so it's not something that's too new to me," White said after the game. "It's just another way to get me the ball, and I just try to take advantage of it."
Minnesota freshman quarterback Philip Nelson completed 13-of-24 passes in the game, but had two interceptions to go with his pair of touchdowns. It was Nelson's first career start, after Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill decided to burn Nelson's redshirt season with MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell struggling to stay both healthy and consistent. The Badgers didn't get much advance warning that Nelson would start for the Gophers, but having him under center didn't change much for Wisconsin's defensive plan.
"We didn't have any idea who was going to play quarterback," Bielema said. "We knew he was a good athlete. Obviously it's in Minnesota's system because of what they were doing. Even (Shortell) they started using more in the quarterback run game. I know they've got a good group of coaches over there and they weren't going to re-invent the wheel."
After the Gophers responded in the first quarter with a touchdown of their own, the Badgers hit pay dirt again with White, who rushed 34 yards for his second touchdown of the game to give the Badgers a 14-6 lead at halftime. The Gophers forced a three-and-out on Wisconsin's first drive of the second half, but the Badgers sealed up the win by scoring on each of their next four drives.
White added his third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, and Ball tacked on two touchdowns of his own after he came close to breaking a few runs earlier in the game. Ball and White both said after the game that their friendly competition helped give the team a spark when they struggled to get the offense going early in the game.
"When (James) starts playing really, really well, it kind of sets a fire into me," Ball said. "I told him I better get going, and vice-versa, which is the healthy competition we have here. It betters the offense. The offensive line is clicking, fullbacks and receivers are clicking. It's a great feeling right now."
With the win, the Badgers (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) secured bowl eligibility for the 11th-straight season. The Badgers will host Michigan State next Saturday, Oct. 27, for homecoming, and they'll resume a rivalry that has grown more intense over the last few seasons, especially after the Spartans upset the Badgers in East Lansing last season on a Hail Mary pass to end the game.
The Badgers got their revenge in the Big Ten Championship Game, but Bielema said his team won't need any extra motivation to play one of their newest rivals.
"It'll be nice to get them here in Camp Randall," Bielema said. "I really respect Mark and his staff. Obviously defensively they play really, really solid defense. It's just a game of respect."