Fiammetta: Wilson, Ball, can’t have one without the other

first_imgOn a team with two top-10 Heisman Trophy finalists, who’s the leader?Montee Ball’s appearance in New York Saturday night for the presentation of college football’s greatest honor was Wisconsin’s first since Ron Dayne won it back in 1999. Ball finished fourth while Russell Wilson finished ninth, a nice inclusion on the list that typified the season UW has had this year.Some might say the Badgers are two last-second heaves away from a perfect record and a more legitimate Heisman candidacy for both their running back and quarterback. A more rational mind would mention the offensive ineptitude Wisconsin suffered from in the second and third quarters of those games. Either way, the Badgers have been stunningly proficient in 2011 en route to the nation’s No. 4 scoring offense (44.6 points per game) and No. 6 scoring defense (17.0 points allowed per game).In Wisconsin’s first loss to Michigan State, Wilson threw two interceptions but did engineer a riveting fourth quarter comeback that, at the very least, put the Badgers in suitable position to win the game. Ball rushed for 115 yards on 18 carries (6.4 yards per) and one touchdown. He also added a two-yard touchdown reception on a pass from Wilson with 1:26 remaining in the game that tied the score at 31.At Ohio State the following week, Ball scored two touchdowns but was held to just 85 rushing yards. As a team, Wisconsin was held to only 89 rushing yards, a troubling number for a program renowned for its ability to maul opposing defenses and gash them with big plays on the ground. Wilson completed 20 of 32 passes for 253 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Once again, he engineered a fourth-quarter miracle that put the Badgers ahead 29-26 with 1:18 left on the clock.Of course, that was too much for the Buckeyes in what ultimately became a 33-29 OSU victory. But the point here, in the midst of these oddly quiet post-Heisman, post-Big Ten championship days, is that Wisconsin once again finds itself in consecutive Rose Bowls for the first time since the 1998 and 1999 seasons.Along the way, there was Wilson and Ball, Ball and Wilson, but rarely one without a significant performance from the other.Leadership’s always a funny thing to scrutinize from a media perspective, and football coaches would probably tell you it’s overblown. Teams thrive off players holding themselves accountable and staying earnest, but at this competitive level of the game, all the rah-rah stuff only goes so far if it doesn’t translate to production on the field.In that sense, it’s perfectly fine that this year’s Badger squad doesn’t live or die by one single player. Last season, it might’ve been defensive end J.J. Watt, as quarterback Scott Tolzien was a pretty reserved guy and the running backs took turns basking in the spotlight garnered by the three-headed monster of Ball, John Clay and James White. UW fed off Watt’s work ethic and never-say-die attitude, but his production on the field (62 tackles, 21 for loss, seven sacks and three fumble recoveries) spoke loudest.Off the field this season, Wilson’s been nearly perfect. Heck, you could’ve cut this guy from the Friday Night Lights mold of Hollywood quarterbacks. From his consistent expression of his faith as an explanation for his success to his ability to deflect criticisms with robotically phrased answers and his ending of all press conferences with “On Wisconsin,” Wilson made himself impossible not to root for as a Badger fan.On the field, he’s been, at best, brilliant. At his worst, Wilson’s still been remarkable. His lowest passer rating of the season came Nov. 26 in the regular season finale against Penn State, when Wilson completed 19 of 29 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns for a 142.2 rating.Wisconsin won that game 45-7. Not too bad, eh?Dissecting Ball’s season is even more difficult. In all likelihood, barring a total breakdown in Pasadena against Oregon, Ball will break Barry Sanders’ NCAA record of 39 total touchdowns in a single season. His fewest rushing yards (63 on 10 carries, also his lightest workload of the season) came in Wisconsin’s first game, a 51-17 drubbing of Nevada-Las Vegas. Ball rushed for at least one touchdown every Saturday – he’s scored at least two in all but two games – and he’s also caught a touchdown pass in six of the Badgers’ 13 contests.Wisconsin’s offense has been a marvel to watch all season, and with their proclivity for blowing the great majority of the team’s opponents utterly out of the water, it’s no surprise there’s no root cause for this sort of dominance.As opposed to previous seasons, the Badgers have thrived without one singular leader. Ball will shred defenses over and over until he’s finally in the endzone, and Wilson will certainly start games off with a bang and finish them with one even louder.But without them together? Who knows where Wisconsin would be at this junction.Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. What have you thought of the Badgers’ leadership situation? Let him know on Twitter @mikefiammetta and be sure to follow @BHeraldSports for all the latest Badgers news.last_img

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