Wisconsin running back James White could start for almost any team in the country.
When Montee Ball said he was coming back for his senior season, White, a junior in line to start only one season, could have looked to play elsewhere. No one would have blamed him for transferring. But the option never entered his mind. He couldn't wait to back up one of his best friends and help Wisconsin try to win another Big Ten title.
White's opportunity arrived Saturday against Minnesota, both before and after Ball briefly left the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter. The junior delivered in a big way, racking up 175 rush yards and three touchdowns on only 15 carries as Wisconsin beat Minnesota 38-13 to retain Paul Bunyan's Axe for a record ninth consecutive time. Ball wasn't too shabby himself with 166 rush yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, but White carried the offense for stretches.
The Badgers' run game was too much for a Gophers team led by quarterback Philip Nelson, who made his collegiate debut and started the game. With MarQueis Gray (knee) still hobbled and Max Shortell ineffective in Big Ten games, Gophers coach Jerry Kill burned Nelson's redshirt in Week 8, a debatable decision that looked a bit better by the end of the day.
Nelson not surprisingly had mixed results, racking up 149 pass yards, 67 rush yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. He made some nice throws into traffic and showed good mobility in an offense that requires it. Nelson also made some freshman mistakes, like a fourth-quarter pass picked off by linebacker Ethan Armstrong. Minnesota went 1-for-10 on third down. Still, the Gophers' quarterback of the future certainly could be the quarterback of the present, at least until Gray gets healthier.
But Wisconsin had too much firepower, even on the day where the offense looked choppy at times. Once again, the Badgers turned it on in the fourth quarter, as Ball returned from injury to cap an 11-play, 60-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run. After Nelson's second interception, Ball raced in from 44 yards out -- game, set, axe. Wisconsin's offensive production has steadily increased during the course of the season, and especially as recent games have worn on.
White and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis kept Wisconsin's offense afloat in the first half. White had seven rushes for 98 yards and two touchdowns, while Abbrederis had two leaping receptions for 68 yards. The rest of the team accounted for just 34 yards, as Minnesota consistently put pressure on freshman quarterback Joel Stave, who looked good on play-action passes but not much else.
Wisconsin took another step toward Indianapolis, and Bret Bielema's team seems to be getting stronger as the year goes on. Minnesota, meanwhile, dropped its third straight league game. The Gophers try to regroup next week against Purdue.