CORVALLIS — Montee Ball says he shook off the offseason in Wisconsin's opener. That doesn't bode well for Oregon State.
A Heisman Trophy finalist last season, Ball ran for 120 yards and a touchdown in the No. 13 Badgers' 26-21 win over FCS-level Northern Iowa last Saturday.
WHEN, WHERE: Today, 1 p.m., at Reser Stadium, Corvallis.
In addition to the letup in the offseason, Ball had missed part of fall camp because of a concussion he sustained when he was attacked by several men near campus in the early morning hours of Aug. 1.
"If you watch the game, you could see I was a little rusty," he said. "If I pick up my feet on a couple runs, I'm gone. I'm out of there."
Ball scored 39 touchdowns last season to tie Barry Sanders' NCAA record. He finished the year with 1,923 yards rushing and 2,229 all-purpose yards, second in Wisconsin history only to Ron Dayne's 2,242 yards in 1996. Ball capped the season by rushing for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Badgers' 45-38 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
When the Beavers visited Camp Randall last season, Ball ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the Badgers' 35-0 shutout.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was puzzled by comments that Ball had a slow start to this season.
"I found it amazing that 120 yards, three receptions and whatever it was, 150, 160 all-purpose yards with a touchdown is a bad day," Bielema said. "I guess we'll take those bad days whenever they come."
While Ball has been able to get the rust out, the Beavers haven't. Oregon State will be playing its season opener today at Reser Stadium.
The Beavers were supposed to host Nicholls State last weekend, but that game was postponed out of concern for student safety because of Hurricane Isaac. The Colonels' campus is in Thibodaux, La.
No makeup date for that game has been set.
Oregon State players were disappointed the opener was put off, but it did give them a bit more time to game-plan for the Badgers.
"It doesn't substitute for getting to play a game, but it's a silver lining for the whole thing," coach Mike Riley said.
Preparations hit something of a snag when Bielema wouldn't turn over the game film of the victory over Northern Iowa to the Beavers — claiming that Oregon State didn't have any film to exchange because the team didn't play its opener.
Riley nonetheless secured the film, which gives the Beavers a closer look at new Wisconsin quarterback Danny O'Brien, a transfer from Maryland who takes over for Russell Wilson, now with the Seattle Seahawks.
O'Brien completed 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Northern Iowa.
Oregon State went 3-9 last season to finish out of the postseason for the second straight year. An issue of particular concern was the Beavers running game, which averaged just 86.9 yards a game. That's low for a team known in the past decade for stout running backs like Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Riley announced late in camp that redshirt freshman Storm Woods would start at running back, beating out sophomores Malcolm Agnew and Terron Ward. Woods, a 6-foot, 202-pound Texan, was on the practice squad last season and impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic.
Part of the problem last season was poor blocking by the offensive line, but that has been a point of emphasis for the Beavers in fall camp. The team has set a goal of 1,800 yards on the ground this season.
On the other side of the ball, the Beavers had a tough time last season defending the run. Oregon State gave up nearly 200 yards a game on the ground, worst in the Pac-12 Conference.
"That's where we have to make our biggest improvements as a team in that area — both running the ball and run defense," Riley said this week.
Today's game will be the Beavers' latest season opener since a Sept. 9, 1989, game against Stanford.
It is the first time a Big Ten team has ventured to Corvallis since 1971, when the Beavers defeated Iowa 33-19. It also marks the third time the Beavers have played the Badgers: In addition to later year's loss at Camp Randall, the Beavers also lost 23-20 in Madison in 1961.
Wisconsin is the highest-ranked non-league team to play in Corvallis since the Beavers upset then-No. 13 BYU 24-19 on Oct. 8, 1977.
"I've been saying it's as big a nonconference game that Oregon State has ever hosted," Riley said. "I think it's awesome."