MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin running back Montee Ball said he needed this. So did the rest of the Badgers.
Joel Stave threw two touchdown passes and Wisconsin's running game showed signs of life late as the Badgers defeated Illinois 31-14 on Saturday.
Struggling on offense for much of the year, Wisconsin has had an offensive line coach fired, two starting quarterbacks and a Ball that looked very little like the guy that tied the NCAA record last year for touchdowns in a season with 39.
But Ball rushed for 116 yards on 19 carries and said it finally felt like the Wisconsin of old as the Badgers took over in the fourth quarter.
"It was a different feeling this season," Ball said. "But I've always been behind my offensive line, and I knew they would get the job done. I knew I would get my chance and I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to let them down. My job is to make guys miss, and I did it."
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) came into Saturday with an offense that ranked last in the conference overall and was putting up just 56 yards rushing a game. But Wisconsin ran for 173 yards, with 96 of that coming in the fourth quarter.
The offensive struggles of the Illini (2-4, 0-2) continued, however, with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase the only positive. He finished with 178 yards passing and 84 rushing as Illinois gained 287 yards overall.
Scheelhaase ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter and threw for an 8-yard touchdown to Ryan Lankford to make it 24-14 late in the game.
But Jared Abbrederis fielded the ensuing onside kick, and Ball scored his second touchdown to snuff out any hopes of an Illinois comeback.
Ball has 69 TDs (63 rushing, six receiving) in his career, nine shy of tying the FBS record held by Travis Prentice of Miami of Ohio from 1996-99.
Abbrederis caught Stave's 59-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that put Wisconsin up 24-7 and gave him his third consecutive game with more than 100 receiving yards since returning from an injury. He finished with seven catches for 117 yards.
"Our defense played really good today, but it was good to be able to see our offense move the ball, especially when it counted," Abbrederis said.
The Badgers capitalized on a pair of Illinois miscues for their other second-half points.
With the game tied at 7-7, Stave hit Derek Watt for 26 yards, and Illinois defensive back Terry Hawthorne was called for a personal foul on the hit, putting the ball at the Illinois 33.