Badgers seek a true November reign

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
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The Wisconsin offensive film session on Sunday figured to be a treat.

After all, the Badgers had just run for a school-record 564 yards during a 62-14 win at Indiana in one of the most dominant performances of the year. So the players could just grab some popcorn and savor their many highlights, right? Well, not quite.

"We definitely enjoyed watching that," center Travis Frederick told ESPN.com. "But we looked at it critically. There are lot of things we can still get better at and we know that we could have done a lot more. We left a little bit out there on the field."

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
AP Photo/Andy ManisWisconsin coach Bret Bielema and running back Montee Ball are focused on winning out in November.
More than 564 rushing yards and 62 points? Now the Badgers are just sounding greedy. But that's an attitude that could serve them well the next two weekends.

No matter what happens in its last two games, Wisconsin (7-3) has already punched its ticket to the Big Ten championship game, thanks to the probationary periods at Ohio State and Penn State. If they so desired, the Badgers could rest their starters and sleepwalk through the next two Saturdays while still having to win just one game to reach a third straight Rose Bowl.

Fat chance. The Badgers know there's still a lot left on the table for them, beginning this week against Ohio State. By beating the 10-0 Buckeyes, they'd have a chance to win a share of the Leaders Division title, making their Big Ten title game berth more legitimate.

"We don't want people to say we made it there by default if we lose," running back Montee Ball said.

Facing the Buckeyes and then going to Penn State for the finale will be among the toughest games of the season for Wisconsin. Fortunately, those games are coming at a time when this team usually excels.

The Badgers have won nine straight games in November, with their last loss coming in 2009 to Northwestern. Head coach Bret Bielema is 19-3 in November games.

"We've been perfect in the month of November the last two years to win a championship," Bielema said. "I told our guys, 'You don't need to do anything special in November. You just need to do what you do.'"

There might not be a player who relishes our 11th month more than Ball, who celebrated the arrival of November this year by running for 198 yards and three touchdowns at Indiana. That's par for the course for a guy who is averaging 179 rushing yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games.

If Ball continues that trajectory, he will not only smash the NCAA career touchdown record (he needs two more to pass Miami (Ohio)'s Travis Prentice), but the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist could possibly earn another trip to New York City in December.

"I sure hope so," he said. "But it's not really on my mind. There are other players in the nation that are doing phenomenal things. If it doesn't happen, I'll definitely cherish the time I was there."

Why are the Badgers and their running game so good late in the season, when bumps and bruises have taken a toll on players' bodies? Bielema said he sets up the team's strength and conditioning program to have his team playing its best in the stretch drive.

"Your reps in the weight room start getting shorter, but heavier this time of year," running back James White said. "We're maxing out now. As running backs, we focus on recovery. Stretching a lot, getting into that ice tub."

Wisconsin definitely appears to be peaking with its rushing attack. But to beat Ohio State, the Badgers will almost certainly need more from the passing game and Curt Phillips, who made his first career start at Indiana. Phillips threw the ball only seven times in that game, though Bielema said 11 total passing plays were called. Look for the Buckeyes to bring safeties down into the box for run support and dare Phillips to beat them with his arm.

"Especially after seeing last week's film, they're going to make us throw the ball," White said.

The Badgers would like nothing more than to spoil Ohio State's perfect season, just as they knocked off the then-No. 1 Buckeyes the last time they came to Madison two years ago. With so much on the line, there's no time for Wisconsin to enjoy what it has already secured. Greed is good right now.

"We want to go out and get a chance to grab that Leaders Division title," Frederick said. "It's just as big as getting a chance to go to Indianapolis. We want to be able to say we were part of that as well."

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