Wisconsin employed a new wildcat formation to great success behind great blocking and the skill of running back James White.
Wisconsin running back James White picked up some of his 175 yards rushing Saturday by stiff-arming Gophers cornerback Troy Stoudermire as he headed for a first-half touchdown. (MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE(email@example.com
MADISON, WIS. - James White has heard on many occasions of late that he's running like he did two years ago, when he took Freshman of the Year honors in the Big Ten Conference.
On Saturday, the Wisconsin running back turned back the clock a little further.
Taking direct snaps for the first time since his senior year in high school in Florida, White scored once out of the Badgers' newly unveiled wildcat formation amid a three-touchdown, 175-yard effort in a 38-13 victory over the Gophers.
Wisconsin stacked nine players -- including seven linemen, among them Minnesota native Tyler Marz -- totaling 3,173 pounds in an unbalanced formation to the left side of the line on its second series.
White went against the grain, easily found the perimeter and tip-toed down the right sideline for a 14-yard TD run with 9 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first quarter that broke a scoreless tie.
"You just try and figure out which hole you're going to run through," White said of his strategy in the wildcat, "because you know there's going to be plenty."
The set is called "Barge" because, in the words of Badgers coach Bret Bielema, it features a "very big piece of people moving down the field together in unison."
It served as a not-so-subtle signal of Wisconsin's strategy to take the back end of Paul Bunyan's Axe and bludgeon a Gophers defense that had been gouged on the ground in losing efforts the past two weeks by Iowa's Mark Weisman and Northwestern's Venric Mark.
White's latter two scores, on runs of 38 and 48 yards through the heart of a Gophers defense that left itself vulnerable by loading the tackle box, played more to his traditional role as the change-of-pace speed option to Wisconsin senior Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist a year ago.
A week after amassing 467 rushing yards in a victory at Purdue that gave them the inside track to the Leaders Division title, the Badgers finished with 337 against the Gophers en route to their record ninth consecutive victory in this series, in which they haven't trailed at any point in a game since 2009.
They did so despite the absence of their stalwart left tackle, Ricky Wagner, who is nursing a right knee injury.
Ryan Groy shifted over from left guard, where fifth-year senior Robert Burge made his first career start.
The cumulative effect of that punishing ground game was evidenced when Ball returned after suffering a third-quarter ankle injury on a touchdown-saving tackle by Minnesota defensive back Troy Stoudermire and produced fourth-quarter scoring runs of 14 and 44 yards, effectively icing the game after the Gophers had pulled within 24-13.
"Give them credit -- they physically keep coming at you," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "I think they just wore us down at the end of the day. And when you wear people down, a lot of times that's where you make a lot of mistakes."
Ball wasn't sharp early, but he finished with 166 yards and two touchdowns, pulling him within five touchdowns of breaking the NCAA record of 78 held by former Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice (1996-99).
"It's great to have that 1-2 punch because you have both options," Wisconsin center Travis Frederick said. "If the upfield game's not working, maybe you're getting a little more side-to-side, a little juke -- it makes us more versatile as a team."
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