Montee Ball says he is not a big stats guy.
But the Wisconsin junior running back knew that he needed three touchdowns against Minnesota last week to set the Big Ten single-season scoring record. He was so aware that he asked his coaches before the game if he could keep the ball when he broke the record, or if he would get called for delay of game.
The Badgers cleared it with the officials, and Ball did the rest. His three-yard dive into the end zone early in the fourth quarter gave him 27 touchdowns so far this season, breaking the mark that was shared Ohio State's Pete Johnson (1975), Indiana's Anthony Thompson (1989) and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter (1994).
"I've always told everybody that I don't focus on the stats, but this was one I was proud to get," he said. "As soon as I scored, I was really surprised by the feeling I had, and I was really thankful for my offensive linemen."
Every back in the country would love to run behind Wisconsin's mammoth offensive line, and Ball understands this as well as anyone. He had all the Badgers' offensive linemen sign the record-breaking pigskin, then he gave it to his parents Montee Sr. and Melissa for safe keeping. The only other game ball he has kept is the one in high school when he broke an all-time rushing record.
Reaching paydirt became a habit for "MoneyBall" when he played for Timberland High School outside of St. Louis. He scored 107 career touchdowns, including 41 as a senior. That's simply continued at Wisconsin. In his last 13 regular-season games, Ball has 38 touchdowns.
"Montee is a special kid," head coach Bret Bielema said earlier this week. "When he gets down near that end zone, he can smell that goal line, and he does anything to get himself in there."
Ball says it's all about finishing.
"From the first time I stepped on campus to now, it's been beaten in our head to finish drives, finish our work, finish our lifts," he said. "When we're in the red zone, I tell everyone on the offensive line and in the huddle, 'Let's finish this with a touchdown and not a field goal.' We really take pride in that and make sure we get that done."
Of the 27 scores so far this year, Ball said his favorite was a four-yard run in the third quarter against Nebraska in which he bounced off several Huskers defenders. That was the third of his four touchdowns in a 48-17 win.
"On that stage, in that environment, with 'College GameDay' there and everything, it was a great feeling and experience," he said.
To put Ball's production in perspective, he has more touchdowns than 29 FBS teams have scored on offense all season, including Minnesota (23) and Penn State (24). And Ball, who also leads the Big Ten in rushing yards with 1,242 and in yards per carry at 6.7, isn't done rewriting the record book.
Wisconsin has two more regular-season games to play and a possible Big Ten title game if it wins out. Then there's a bowl game.
Ball would need to average three touchdowns per game over the next four games to tie Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders for the FBS single-season record of 39 touchdowns (in fairness to Sanders and others, the NCAA didn't begin counting bowl statistics as part of official full-season stats until 2002, and Ball also benefits from a 12-game season and potential league title game). That's a lot, but it's certainly not impossible for a guy who's scored at least three touchdowns in half his team's 10 games already this year.
In fact, only 11 players in FBS history have scored more than 27 touchdowns in a season. If Ball gets just three more, he'll be one of only five players in history to reach 30 touchdowns in a season. He needs only six more to finish as the No. 2 scorer in history. Check out this list:
When told about those numbers, Ball said this: "Just to be in the company of all those great players and be talked about with them is an honor itself. They all played great football, and the Big Ten and college football have been going on forever. It's a great feeling, an overwhelming feeling and experience. I just really love it."
Almost as much as he loves scoring touchdowns.