INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin took the ball and ran away with another Big Ten title.
Montee Ball ran for 202 yards and three touchdowns, and the Badgers scored seven touchdowns on their first nine possessions, blowing out No. 14 Nebraska, 70-31, to win their third straight, and most improbable, Big Ten title Saturday night.
Wisconsin will be the first five-loss team to play in the Rose Bowl and is the first school to represent the league in three consecutive Rose Bowls since Michigan in the late 1970s.
It was a milestone night for the Badgers.
For the first time in school history, the Badgers had two 200-yard rushers. They finished with the fourth-highest rushing total in school history (539) and tied a conference championship game scoring record. Texas also scored 70 points in the 2005 Big 12 championship game.
And it was a fitting end to a wacky Big Ten season. Wisconsin (8-5, 4-4) only reached this year’s title game because Leaders Division champion Ohio State (12-0) and division runner-up Penn State (8-4) both were ineligible for postseason play.
The Badgers didn’t care. Instead, they took advantage of their good fortune with a night to remember.
Ball broke the Football Bowl Subdivision career rushing touchdowns record.
Melvin Gordon opened the scoring with a 56-yard TD run and closed the first half with a 60-yard run to set up another TD, rushing for a career-high 217 yards on nine carries. Three different Badgers threw passes, including running back James White who also ran for four TDs.
The defense was dominant, too. In the first half alone, Martinez was sacked three times, fumbled twice, losing one and having the early pick-six.
Ball matched Travis Prentice’s FBS record for most career games with multiple TDs (25), topped the 5,000-yard mark and was named the game’s MVP. He also broke Prentice’s record for rushing TDs in a career (73) and now has 76.
White added 108 yards.
Wisconsin piled up 639 total yards, and after blowing a 17-point lead against the Cornhuskers in a 30-27 September loss, Badgers coach Bret Bielema refused to let up.
Instead, he emptied the playbook and Nebraska (10-3, 7-1) got run over.
The onslaught came quickly.
Gordon took the ball on an end around, made two cuts and sprinted 56 yards for a 7-0 lead on the fourth play of the game.
On the next offensive play, a falling Kenny Bell tipped Taylor Martinez’s pass in the air and Wisconsin’s Marcus Cromartie picked it off and raced 29 yards. It was already 14-0 after only 2:07 in.
The ‘Huskers finally counterpunched on their second series when Martinez avoided four tackles in his own backfield, found a crease in the middle of the field and stepped over one of his own blockers for a 76-yard TD run. Nebraska settled for a 32-yard field goal from Brett Maher to make it 14-10.
That’s when the Badgers opened things up.
With the ball on the right hash, they sent seven players to the left hash and had Curt Phillips throw a pass to Derek Watt on the right. After two more conventional runs, White ran two plays out of the Wildcat formation, finally scooting 9 yards around the right side to give Wisconsin a 21-10 lead with 1:01 to go in the first quarter.
Wisconsin was only getting started.
The next score, a 1-yard run plunge from White again out of the Wildcat, was set up by a 27-yard pass from receiver Jared Abbrederis to Phillips.
And after Ball’s record-breaking touchdown dive made it 35-10, Gordon went 60-yards on an end around to put the ball at the Nebraska 3 with 6 seconds left in the half. White again lined up in the Wildcat and this time threw a 3-yard TD pass to Sam Arenson for a 42-10 halftime lead.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his players were left shaking their heads as a third league championship game opportunity faded away.
But things got even worse in the second half.
Wisconsin picked off Martinez again on the opening possession, and Ball had a 9-yard TD run on the next play.
Martinez answered with an 11-yard TD run, but Ball scored on a 57-yard run and White followed that with a 68-yard TD run to make it 63-17 with 6:42 left in the third quarter.