9 lives: Badgers top Gophers for ninth straight time
White tramples Minnesota in 38-13 win by Wisconsin Saturday
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin running back James White is used to taking a backseat to 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball, but Minnesota defenders will be seeing the dynamic duo in their sleep after Saturday.
White rushed for 175 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries as the Badgers (6-2, 3-1 in the Big Ten) used a punishing ground game and strong defense to run over the Gophers, 38-13, for their third consecutive Big Ten victory.
“It was a lot of fun out there; the offensive line, receivers and tight ends opened up the holes, and I was just making my reads and trying to score,” White said. “If we get better as a whole, then each and every person will get better.”
Wisconsin has won nine consecutive games against Minnesota, matching the longest streak by either team in the 122 meetings of the most played rivalry in college football.
Minnesota (4-3, 0-3) came in ranked eighth in the conference in rushing defense, giving up an average of 150.7 yards per game, but had no answer for the Badgers’ backfield duo, giving up a season worst 337 yards rushing.
“I think we have some disappointed players and coaches,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “Give (Wisconsin) credit, they keep coming at you. They did it to Purdue a week ago. They keep coming at you with those good backs and offensive line.”
Badger coach Bret Bielema was excited to see the one-two punch of Ball and White be so successful, but noted that the offensive line’s improved play was a big factor in the tandem’s current surge.
“I can’t emphasize this enough, the reason Montee and James are having success and are doing great things individually is because the people in front of them are playing well,” Bielema said.
Ball was coming off of a career game at Purdue, rushing for 247 yards, and continued his rejuvenated play by gaining 166 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns.
The offensive line was dominant throughout the game, even without left tackle Rick Wagner, out injured and replaced by left guard Ryan Groy.
“We knew we had the potential to run like we had in the past couple of weeks,” Groy said. “I don’t know if there is a better one-two combo. They’re playing their butts off, they’re playing great.”
Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson made his debut for Minnesota and led the Gophers in passing and rushing, gaining a combined 216 yards (67 rushing, 149 passing), while throwing for two touchdowns.
Kill noted that the decision to play Nelson was not taken lightly, but was the result of a lot of internal discussion.
“I think no question, it’s a good move for us,” Kill said. “In the situation where MarQueis (Gray) has not been able to be durable and is struggling right now, I think putting him on the outside (gives) him a chance to heal up a little bit, but still help us make plays.”
Four Gopher receivers caught at least two passes, with Brandon Green leading the way with a touchdown and 44 yards receiving.
Quarterback Joel Stave of Wisconsin passed for only 106 yards, content to hand the ball off 54 times and stay in Bielema’s good graces.
“He’s a guy who really takes coaching,” Bielema said of Stave. “He understands the situation.”
White opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 14-yard touchdown run to cap a three-play drive opened by a 42-yard pass from Stave to Jared Abbrederis.
Minnesota answered immediately with a 65-yard scoring drive, capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Green, but Jordan Wettstein missed the extra point.
Wisconsin’s response came late in the second quarter, as Bell and White accounted for all 70 yards on the scoring drive. White’s 34-yard touchdown run sent the Badgers into halftime leading, 14-8.
Wisconsin’s offensive line was able to wear out the Gophers in the second half, scoring 24 points and keeping the Badger offense on the field for a majority of the time.
NOTES: James White’s previous career high came in November of 2010, when he ran for 181 yards against Michigan as a freshman. … Minnesota redshirt senior Brandon Green scored in his first game back this season. … Wisconsin has won 21 consecutive home games, the second best streak in the country. … Philip Nelson became only the third true freshman quarterback in Minnesota history to start in game.