MINNEAPOLIS — University of Wisconsin senior guard Kevin Zeitler figured something was up when he saw junior running back Montee Ball keep the football after scoring his third touchdown against Minnesota on Saturday.
Ball has been scoring touchdowns at such a furious clip this season, it's tough to keep track. He had a 5-yard touchdown reception and a 14-yard scoring run in the first quarter, then added to his total with a 3-yard run in the fourth quarter.
"I didn't count how many touchdowns he had today," Zeitler said afterward. "I figured he did (set a record) when he kept the ball and ran off the field with it."
That gave Ball 27 touchdowns for the season, breaking the Big Ten Conference record of 26 that had been shared by three players: Ohio State's Pete Johnson (1975), Indiana's Anthony Thompson (1989) and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter (1994).
Ball has 23 rushing TDs, which is a single-season school record.
Shortly after reaching the sidelines, Ball went up and thanked all of his linemen.
"He said, 'It's all thanks to you guys,' " Zeitler said. "I'm glad he gives (the line) credit, it's really nice. But he's having one heck of a year, there's no doubt about that."
Ball knew he wanted to keep the ball after the record-setting touchdowns, so he talked to the coaches on the sidelines, who cleared it with the officials.
"I talked to the coaches on the sidelines," Ball said. "I asked them if it would be a delay of game if I kept the ball. They made sure they talked to the refs about it. The refs said I could keep it. Overall, just a great experience."
Ball planned to give the ball to his parents, Montee Sr. and Melissa, who moved the entire family from the St. Louis area to be closer to their son during his time in college. The family now lives in Sun Prairie.
"I'm going to give it to my parents, because I owe them everything and I'm going to make sure they have it," Ball said.
Ball rushed 23 times for 166 yards in UW's 42-13 victory, giving him 185 carries for 1,242 yards on the season.
"These personal records mean nothing to him, but they're pretty nice things to have in his hip pocket," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "I tell him he could probably be better next year."
That was a reference to the growing likelihood Ball could leave after the season for the NFL.
While the touchdowns have been partly the result of a prolific offense, Ball said the record is especially meaningful because it represents the successful culmination of a drive.
"Finishing," Ball said when asked what the record means to him. "We really take pride in finishing, that's one of our goals. I'm glad to see myself do that."
Backup tailback James White also had one of his best games, rushing 14 times for 87 yards. His season high was 95 yards against South Dakota.
"I thought James practiced really well this week," Bielema said. "I felt coming in he might have a big game."
Fenelus makes up for flubbed tackle
Senior cornerback Antonio Fenelus is going to have a hard time watching the game tape on Sunday.
Fenelus was in perfect position to make a tackle on a fake field-goal attempt in the first quarter but whiffed on kicker Jordan Wettstein, who scored on a 5-yard run.
Bielema was already giving Fenelus grief, telling him he got "stiff-armed" by a kicker, although Fenelus just appeared to miss.
"We all know we miss tackles from time to time," Fenelus said. "You never want to be the guy that missed the tackle, but when you end up doing it, you just try to take care of the rest of the game."
That's what Fenelus did, intercepting a pass to help stem the Gophers' momentum in the second quarter.
Quarterback MarQueis Gray threw a pass for tight end John Rabe that seemed to hang in the air forever. Fenelus cut in front of Rabe to make the play at the UW 22-yard line.
The Badgers scored on the next drive to take a 28-6 lead.
"It's a great feeling to make up for it, but I still remember the (missed tackle)," he said.
Sprained knee doesn't stop Taylor
Junior linebacker Mike Taylor was knocked out of the game briefly in the first quarter with what was described as a sprained right knee.
To the surprise of many -- including Bielema -- Taylor returned on the next series and finished with a game-high 13 tackles, his fifth double-digit tackle game of the season.
"The same thing happened last week, too," Taylor said. "Something in my knee just pops. It didn't pop back in like it did last week, so I just went back in (anyway)."
Taylor suffered a torn ACL in his right knee as a redshirt freshman in 2009. He got rid of the brace he used to wear prior to the season, but now has to wear it again. He admitted that makes him slower.
"I'd say, just wearing a brace probably affects me the most, just not having the range and all that," he said.
Axe celebration causes rift
UW's postgame celebration with Paul Bunyan's Axe seemed a bit more subdued than usual, but it did include one minor altercation.
After the game, the Badgers head to one of the goal posts with the Axe and pretend to chop it down. They went to the same end zone where the Gophers sing to the student section after the game.
"My guys said there was a little skirmish down there by the goal posts," said Bielema, who agreed the celebration seemed subdued. "I think some of the Minnesota players didn't want that. I forgot they go down there and sing at that end. We probably should educate our guys to go to the other end first."
The Badgers have won eight straight in the series and 15 of the last 17.
Zeitler didn't know if the celebration was much different than prior years but had one complaint.
"People held onto the Axe way too long," he said. "I just got tired and gave up. I think it was about normal. We kind of want to get home."
— Tom Oates contributed to this story.