Problem will be that the bad will far outweigh the good.
The senior tailback rushed for 191 yards and his NCAA-record-tying 78th touchdown, but his fourth-quarter fumble at the one-yard line was one of a bevy of missed opportunities the Badgers will have to live with after a 21-14 overtime loss to No.6 Ohio State Saturday.
"We had many opportunities to win the football game," said Ball. "It hurts. You do everything in your power (to win), it's emotional … It's extremely bittersweet."
Getting the ball on Ohio State's 46-yard line with seven minutes to go and down seven, Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) drove to the Buckeyes 1. With head coach Bret Bielema saying they were going to go with their bread and butter on fourth down, Ball received the handoff for a dive play, but choose to go over the pile instead of run through it.
"It was a stupid decision," said Ball.
Having studying Ball, and knowing the tailback reached the ball over the goal line a week ago, sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier had Ball marked, popping the ball out and giving Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) the denial.
"We talk about running the ball in the end zone, but that's a teaching moment for everybody," said Bielema. "I just had this flash in my mind when we were lining up to run that play. I'm like, ‘don't jump, don't jump.' I knew he was doing anything he could to get in that end zone.
"I can't discredit him for that effort."
It was one of many plays Wisconsin wanted to have back in regulation.
Six plays before Ball's fumble, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby leveled a hit on fullback Derek Watt at the goal line that broke up a touchdown reception. That added to a painful list that also included receiver Chase Hammond's drop on the first play from scrimmage.
"I wasn't aware he was there," said Watt. "He put his helmet right on the ball. Regardless, I've got to come down with the ball and make a big play when we needed one."
Wisconsin drove into Ohio State territory seven times, including its last four drives of the game, but managed only 14 points. UW was in position to add points following a 16-play, 62-yard drive at the start of the fourth quarter, but sophomore kicker Kyle French hooked a 40-yard field goal attempt.
It was French's only field goal attempt after Bielema decided to punt into the wind from the 30-yard line instead of attempting a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter, saying his comfort level was the 25-yard line or closer in that direction. Drew Meyer's punt went into the end zone, giving UW a net of only 10 yards on the play.
"Coach Bielema just wanted to play it safe and go with the pooch punt, so there's nothing I can do about it," said French, who said he hit a 52-yarder going that direction in warm-ups. "I can't be mad with the decision."
Wisconsin did its job defensively, holding an Ohio State offense averaging 445.3 yards per game and 41.3 points per game to season lows in rushing yards (139), passing yards (97) and offensive points (14). But for the second straight game, Wisconsin's defense couldn't close the gate.
Getting the ball first in overtime, Ohio State needed only four plays to score from 25 yards out, as tailback Carlos Hyde's two-yard touchdown run was eerily similar to his 15-yard second-quarter score when he was barely touched on his way across the goal line.
With two more scores today, Wisconsin has given up points on 21 of 23 red-zone drives (91.3 percent), dead last in the conference.
"We just came up short as a defense," said safety Dezmen Southward, who led the team with two tackles for loss. "We have to keep them off the scoreboard in order to give our offense a chance to keep going. We didn't do that, and that's something we have to improve on and definitely will."
All those missed chances were nearly erased thanks to senior quarterback Curt Phillips. A week after throwing only seven pass attempts, Phillips finished 14-for-25 for 154 yards and a five-yard touchdown to tight end Jacob Pedersen with eight seconds remaining in regulation.
Getting the ball back 1:33 remaining and no timeouts, Phillips rebounded from taking an 11-yard sack on first down to go five-for-five on the final drive, which included a 14-yard completion to Jared Abbrederis on fourth-and-3.
But despite going 40+ yards on nine plays on its final two drives, Wisconsin went four-and-out in overtime after safety Christian Bryant broke up the final play intended for Pedersen.
"We definitely had some urgency going there, but it was truly disappointing," said Phillips. "We definitely left some plays on the field we should have made. We didn't make enough plays."
Ohio State put Wisconsin on its heels early, as the Buckeyes got a 68-yard punt return from Corey Brown and Hyde's first touchdown on consecutive positions to open up a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Wisconsin answered back immediately, driving 82 yards in eight plays with Ball's seven-yard run getting the Badgers on the board and putting him in the record books.
"He was like a man possessed in the second quarter," said Bielema. "It was fun to watch."
Neither team scored over the next 37:22 until Phillips' pass forced overtime.
The win ends all suspense in the Leaders Division in the final week of the season, as Ohio State wins its first division championship but will watch Wisconsin play in Indianapolis against either No.16 Nebraska or No.23 Michigan.
There's no solace in the team still playing for a conference championship in two weeks, or especially in the fact the Wisconsin outgaining Ohio State (360-236) and dominating time of possession (37:17 to 22:43).
"That's where it hurts the most is we're driving the football down the field, driving down the field, and we still fall short," said Ball. "The thing that hurts the most is we all played well and we still fell short."