Big Ten championship
Nebraska vs. Wisconsin
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
LINCOLN, Neb. — Two of the Big Ten’s best running backs will be on the field when Wisconsin and No. 14 Nebraska meet in Saturday’s conference title game.
Wisconsin’s Montee Ball has been at his best lately after a slow start.
Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead is running strong after missing a month with an aggravated knee sprain.
They have long admired and learned from each other.
Burkhead said he’s studied tape of Ball to cull tips on how to better use his blockers and to see how Ball patiently waits for a hole to open and attacks it.
Ball said he tries to emulate Burkhead’s toughness and relentlessness.
“That man, he’s a very physical running back,” Ball said. “He doesn’t shy away from contact. I believe he loves contact. He loves to deliver the blow to defenders. What I take from him is, don’t shy from contact and keep your feet churning.”
Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist after rushing for 1,923 yards and scoring 39 touchdowns last season, this week earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second straight year after a regular season in which he piled up 1,528 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He scored his 79th career touchdown last week against Penn State to set an NCAA record.
Burkhead was a first-team All-Big Ten pick in 2011 after a 1,357-yard, 15-touchdown season. He sprained his left knee on his third carry of the opener against Southern Mississippi, has aggravated the injury twice and appeared in only six games. He has 474 yards on 63 carries, a 7.5-yard average.
Ball and Burkhead played major roles in the teams’ first meeting this season, a 30-27 Nebraska win on Sept. 29.
Ball ran 32 times for 90 yards, and he scored the Badgers’ first two touchdowns as they got out to a 20-3 lead. Ball scored again in the third quarter, but the Huskers (10-2, 7-1) kept him under control most of the second half. Six of his final eight carries went for losses or no gain.
Burkhead had 18 runs for 86 yards, including a 21-yarder. He fumbled on his first carry when he ran up the back of an offensive lineman, setting up the Badgers’ (7-5, 4-4) second touchdown.