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October 23, 2010

Replacements, bold moves key

IOWA CITY -- When talking about his football team, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema likes to say that it's not what happens, but how you react to what happens. You can't react much better than the Badgers did Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

Two days before a pivotal Big Ten matchup with Iowa on the road, Bielema alluded to a number of veteran players that might not be able to go against the Hawkeyes. Come game time, Bielema and the Badgers found themselves without two key players: Nick Toon and Jordan Kohout.

"Brian [Lucas] hit me up early this morning and wanted to confirm the starting lineups, and I basically said 'I wish I knew,'" Bielema said. "There was as much as seven of our starters that weren't sure who was going to play or go or not."

As the game wore on, Wisconsin lost Lance Kendricks, Peter Konz and James White to injury, while John Clay and Mike Taylor battled injuries at various moments in the game.

Even with all of that, the 10th-ranked Badgers came away with a 31-30 victory over the 12th-ranked Hawkeyes, putting themselves in excellent position in the Big Ten title race in the process.

"Iowa is a great team, and they had a great defensive four up front," Gabe Carimi said. "We came out there and attacked it and got a 'W'."

With Kendricks out, tight ends Jacob Pedersen and Jake Byrne stepped up, grabbing four balls for a combined 42 yards. In place of Konz, the Badgers shuffled the offensive line without missing a beat, moving Bill Nagy from tight end to center.

But at no position was there a more impressive replacement than in the backfield.

Relegated to third on the depth chart with the emergence of White, sophomore Montee Ball's opportunities have been few and far between this season. But when called upon in a big moment, Ball reacted better than anyone could have expected.

"I stay ready and kept my mind right," Ball said. "I'm very proud. I had a talk with [running backs] coach [John] Settle, and I told him that I was going to leave it in God's hands. God has a plan for me and I just felt like it happened today."

Carrying the ball three times, Ball picked up 18 crucial yards on the ground in the game. More importantly, he broke the plane of the goal line just enough for the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

With the effort of those called upon to step up in critical situations, the Badgers were able to play the game the way they wanted to, which included a number of bold moves by the head coach.

Trailing 13-10 and facing 4th-and-1 on the Hawkeyes' 2-yard line in the third quarter, the Badgers opted against the game-tying field goal. Instead, they went for it, and one of two Clay touchdown runs put them back on top, 17-13.

Later in the game, with UW trailing 30-24 late in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin got the look they were hoping to see from the Iowa defense on fourth down. The fake punt call was on, and punter Brad Nortman rushed for 17 yards, sending the momentum in the Badgers' favor.

"It really did work out perfect," Nortman said. "Our guys sold it perfectly and I went just about until I was about to drop the ball and it just all worked out perfectly. Once I saw it, I just knew we had the perfect play."

Between the big games by replacements and bold moves in their play calling, the Badgers put together the most important reaction of the day. Following a program-defining victory over No. 1 Ohio State a week earlier, Wisconsin responded with another major win on the road over a Big Ten opponent.

Good teams pull off upsets at home, but it takes a great team to knock off a formidable opponent on the road.

"It was just four quarters of fanatical effort," Bielema said. "Great individual efforts by some of our guys, but yet, unit efforts. Whether it be offense, defense or special teams, guys really had a tremendous amount of faith and executed."


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