MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin running back Montee Ball may have found his groove again.
Ball ran for a career-high 247 yards on 29 carries and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's 38-14 victory over Purdue on Saturday. The team said he gained 194 of those yards after initial contact.
Ball already has set the record for career touchdowns in the Big Ten with 72, surpassing the 71-touchdown mark held by former Badgers star and 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. He is in third place for most career touchdowns in NCAA history, six behind Travis Prentice, who scored 78 touchdowns at Miami (Ohio) from 1996-99.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema saw little difference in Ball's game preparation, but said Monday that offensive line improvements and Ball's sharp instincts yielded results.
``A lot of what you saw out of Montee is a direct result of what's going on in front of him,'' Bielema said. ``The holes are there. The people are making blocks. He's reading. But he had a number of yards on Saturday that were there, but then we earned a lot of those yards, broke some tackles, made some people miss.''
Ball entered the Purdue game with eight touchdowns and 569 rushing yards. The 4.0 yards-per-carry average was off point for the reigning Big Ten offensive player of year, who earned Heisman finalist and first team All-American accolades in 2011 for a performance that included 1,923 rushing yards, 33 rushing touchdowns and a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. Ball scored 39 touchdowns to tie Barry Sanders' NCAA record for most touchdowns in a single season.
Ball and the Badgers got off to a slow start this year, and Ball said he felt revitalized by his effort at Purdue.
``I needed this,'' said Ball, who scored a career-long 67-yard touchdown. ``I wasn't doing too well earlier on in the season, and things weren't really going my way. I just have to keep practicing and practicing. I'm just playing for my teammates now. I'm becoming the player they were looking for.''
Bielema felt that Ball turned a corner in the Badgers' 31-14 win against Illinois on Oct. 6. He had 11 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-point fourth quarter for the Badgers.
``Montee did something during the course of the week last week that changed up a bit of his approach, and you definitely saw it (against Purdue),'' Bielema said. ``The good news is we're seven games in, and we got five more guaranteed games left, and it's going to be fun to watch him grow.''
Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) has won two straight and hosts Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) on Saturday. In a series that dates to 1890, the Badgers are winners of eight consecutive games against the Gophers.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill is expected on the sideline this weekend after suffering a seizure after Minnesota's loss to Northwestern. He was released from the hospital on Sunday morning.
Bielema said he has the utmost respect for Kill.
``Jerry is an extremely dedicated coach,'' Bielema said. ``My guess is he's doing whatever his wife tells him to do and half of what the doctor tells him to do. We'll see his best effort on Saturday, I know that.''