- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A five-loss Wisconsin team that didn't win its division and, according to many, didn't belong in the Big Ten championship game dominated No. 12 Nebraska from the onset. The Badgers punched their ticket to the Rose Bowl for the third consecutive year in by far their best performance of the season.
Some quick thoughts from a mostly stunned Lucas Oil Stadium following Wisconsin's 70-31 victory.
It was over when: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, exploiting Nebraska's game-long inability to defend the edge, scored on a 16-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter to put the Badgers up 35-10. Yes, this game was over that early, if not sooner. The Badgers had weathered a small Nebraska rally after scoring two touchdowns in the first 2:07 and reclaimed a commanding lead on Ball's run. Just in case Nebraska had any notions of another second-half rally, Ball raced 57 yards to the end zone in the third quarter, posterizing Huskers nickelback Ciante Evans along the way.
Game ball goes to: Wisconsin's running backs. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was masterful in mixing and matching the Badgers' three top backs -- Ball, junior James White and freshman Melvin Gordon -- each of whom eclipsed 100 rushing yards. Ball (202 rushing yards, 3 TDs) stole the show in the third quarter, while Gordon (216 rushing yards, 1 TD) set the tone with a 56-yard touchdown on the fourth play of the game. White had a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown out of the Barge formation in the first half and added another rushing score as Wisconsin stormed out to a 42-10 halftime lead. He finished with 109 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns along with his passing score.
Stat of the game: There's something about Wisconsin's rushing offense and the state of Indiana this season. Despite an inconsistent rushing attack all season, the Badgers went nuts in their three games in the Hoosier State. They had 467 rushing yards and four touchdowns Oct. 13 at Purdue, a team-record 564 rushing yards and seven touchdowns Nov. 10 at Indiana and 539 rushing yards and eight touchdowns Saturday night.
Best call: There are so many to choose from, as Canada saved all his tricks for Saturday night. We saw the Barge a bunch, including White's pass to Sam Arneson at the end of the first half. But we'll go with a pitch from quarterback Curt Phillips to receiver Jared Abbrederis, a high school signal-caller who threw back to Phillips for a 27-yard gain. White scored from a yard out on the next play.
Second guessing: Down 49-10, the Huskers showed some life when Jamal Turner appeared to score on a 55-yard reception early in the third quarter. But the play was brought back when officials flagged Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell for unnecessary roughness on a block against Wisconsin's Devin Smith. Bell led with his shoulder, and while the play looked ugly, it seemed like a clean hit.
What it means: Wisconsin becomes the first five-loss team to punch its ticket to the Rose Bowl. While the Badgers undoubtedly saved their best for last, their advancement likely will increase criticism and mockery of the Big Ten after a rough season. After a wildly inconsistent season on offense, the Badgers had everything click in their most important game of the season. Nebraska, meanwhile, had its worst performance since an Oct. 6 beating at Ohio State. The game certainly raises questions about the Huskers, which were far from dominant in Legends Division play and overcame sloppiness with second-half fortitude. After so many escapes, the Huskers dug themselves way too deep a hole against Wisconsin. Nebraska is still searching for its first conference title since 1999.