This didn’t happen, did it? Really?
On Saturday, lowly Oregon State –last in the Pac-12 against the run last season–accomplished what no other team in the past 21 games has been able to do.
It stopped the great Montee Ball cold.
His stat line: 61 yards on 15 carries and no touchdowns in a 10-7 all-around debacle for No. 13 Wisconsin.
Keep in mind that Ball had scored at least one touchdown in every outing since game six of his sophomore season. During that run, he piled up a ridiculous 55 touchdowns while topping the 100-yard barrier 16 times.
His amazing junior year–1,923 yards and 39 scores–propelled him to a fourth-place Heisman finish and he entered this season as one of the preseason favorites for the trophy.
But, after tonight, it looks like Ball and Wisconsin will have to recalibrate their goals.
The warning signs were there last week against Northern Iowa. Wisconsin held on for an ugly 26-21 win and Ball rushed for 120 yards and one touchdown, but it took him 32 carries to do it (an average of just 3.75 yards per carry).
While he tore through the last six games of 2011 to the tune of 1,070 yards and 18 touchdowns, Ball has just 181 yards and one touchdown in the first two games of 2012.
Perhaps the loss of Russell Wilson and some key offensive linemen plus a new offensive coordinator are to blame. But it’s not like Wisconsin has had this much trouble running the ball in the past, oh, 20 years or so. Something seems to be up. Could Ball still be feeling some lingering effects from an off-the-field physical altercation that occurred in early August? Did the resulting loss of training camp time from the concussion he suffered make him rusty?
Whatever the case, Ball’s Heisman hopes are now on life support, their pulse fading fast. Keep in mind that it was already a long shot that he would be able to match his incredible numbers from 2011. His best hope to win the Heisman was to carry Wisconsin to another Big Ten title while leading the nation in rushing and breaking the NCAA career touchdown mark (he has 62, just 17 shy of the all-time record).
All these goals are still within reach for Ball. But such a slow start makes a serious run at the Heisman really, really difficult. It’s certainly possible that he’ll bounce back to have a fine season and I certainly wouldn’t count him out, given his track record.
But Heisman voters are a fickle bunch. If the mood strikes, they’ll look for every reason NOT to vote for a candidate. Just ask Andrew Luck.
In order to crawl back into the race, Bell will need the rest of the field to also hit a road bump or two while he goes on an epic tear.
Can it happen? Certainly.
Is it likely?
Ball has had a heckuva run, but it looks like his time as a Heisman contender has come and gone.