Badgers 'barge' their way past Gophers
OCT 20, 2012 5:39p ET
Seven offensive linemen. Two tight ends. Two tailbacks. The package name -- "Barge" -- doesn't even sound pretty.
"At Wisconsin, we have a lot of big people," Badgers coach Bret Bielema explained. "That got quite a few of them out there. We cut all the pretty guys out. No wide receivers, no quarterbacks."
If any series demonstrated Wisconsin's renewed offensive line and run-game dominance during a 38-13 victory against Minnesota on Saturday, it was the Barge package, revealed for the first time all season. Running back James White, behind more than one ton of human mass, took two first-quarter carries from the shotgun for 22 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown around the right sideline for the first points of the game.
Essentially, the package is a message that oozes confidence against opposing defenses: We're running right at you. Good luck stopping us.
"It's a lot of fun," said Wisconsin redshirt junior Ryan Groy, who moved from left guard to left tackle for the injured Ricky Wagner. "We knew we had the potential to run the ball like we have in the past couple of games. And it's nice to actually go through with it and run like we have."
That same type of confidence was clearly missing early in the season, and members of Wisconsin's offensive line openly took responsibility for the lack of run-game production, particularly during a putrid 10-7 loss to Oregon State on Sept. 8. The performance led to the firing of then-offensive line coach Mike Markuson after two games.
But six weeks into new offensive line coach Bart Miller's regime -- and with three straight Big Ten wins in tow -- the swagger has returned.
It is no coincidence that White and fellow running back Montee Ball produced huge games on Saturday yet again. White finished with 175 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist last year, added 166 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns.
Last week, Ball gained a career-high 247 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. White tallied 124 yards with a touchdown.
"You see them running a little different," Bielema said. "Obviously they're breaking tackles, they're making people miss. They're getting something out of nothing. But also I can't emphasize this enough. The reason Montee and James are having success -- they're doing a lot of great things individually -- but the people in front of them are playing well."
Behind the legs of Ball and White and the power of the offensive line, Wisconsin has rushed for an astounding 804 yards in the past two games. Ball is slowly creeping back into the Heisman Trophy discussion. He now is averaging 122.2 yards per game and has 13 touchdowns, which ranks among the national leaders.
White entered the day averaging 42.1 yards rushing per game with three ground scores all season. He eclipsed his yardage average in the second quarter on his sixth carry of the game.
"The way they play," Badgers quarterback Joel Stave said of his running backs, "the way they can make people miss, yards after contact, things like that, I don't think there's anyone better."
The combination of Ball and White also helped Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 in Big Ten play) earn Paul Bunyan's Axe against Minnesota (4-3, 0-3) for a ninth straight season. During that span, the Badgers have outscored the Gophers, 352-203.
"For us to leave without the Axe, that's something that's going to be with us for the rest of our lives, us seniors," Gophers wide receiver MarQueis Gray said.
Wisconsin's running game was so effective Saturday that the Badgers ran on 78.2 percent of plays (54 runs to 15 passes). The tone setter, of course, was White's touchdown run from the Barge, a package the team has practiced since fall camp but didn't use in previous weeks because the offensive line had struggled to garner much push.
White, a speedy 5-foot-10 junior, had run a similar package in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But he didn't have nearly the same beef up front to protect him.
"It's hard to see who you want to put on the field," White said. "Do you want to put more d-linemen on the field or more linebackers? They're all looking toward the sideline, and by the time they look back we've snapped the ball, so it keeps them off balance."
With the victory, Wisconsin matched its record from last season's Rose Bowl team through eight games. And although that team possessed far more offensive weapons, the Ball-White combination appears better than ever this season.
"We both bring something different to the table," Ball said. "He brings a faster tempo, a lot more crisp cuts, agility and speed. I bring the power as well. So (defenses) have a lot to prepare for."
As was the case with last year's team, Wisconsin is finally proving that dealing with its offensive line is no picnic, either.
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