Led by Gordon’s career-high 253 yards and school-record-tying five touchdowns, Wisconsin rolled up a school record 756 yards of offense, including a Big Ten record 644 on the ground, in a 68-17 crushing of Bowling Green in what amounted to be a clinic Saturday afternoon.
“Melvin is determined for his football team and I promise you that is the driving force between him wanting to have success,” head coach Gary Andersen said. “He doesn’t ask how many yards he has rushing. He learned the rushing totals were a record and that put a great big smile on his face because he was a part of it, not just what he did.”
Gordon’s 253-yard performance came on just 13 carries, a single-game performance that made him the seventh player in school history to run for over 250 yards and 10th all-time in the school’s record book, falling just 86 yards behind Ron Dayne’s 339-yard performance over Hawaii in 1996.
After slipping a little in the Heisman race following a four-carry second half against LSU and a 38-yard performance against Western Illinois, Gordon used the early season struggles as motivation to bounce back and make a statement, even going so far as to remove the Twitter app from his phone.
“I heard a lot of people doubt me saying, ‘Melvin shouldn’t be considered with this guy, or be talked about with this guy.’ I heard it,” Gordon said. “That definitely motivated me to get out there and do what I needed to do. Plus I kept thinking about the Western Illinois game. As a player, as a competitor, that’s not the type of performance you want to have, so I kept thinking about that every day in practice and it motivated me.”
If that didn’t motivate him enough, a lost fumble – the first on a rush in his career – on his first carry of the game certainly fueled the fire.
“I didn’t let it get me down too much,” Gordon said. “A lot of guys were just saying it’s still early. It was like ‘whatever, it’s a lot of football left to play.’ I can’t let it get me down but I definitely felt like I had to make up for it, and I did that.”With his head coach having no thoughts about benching him, the opposite of what usually happens when a tailback makes a mental error, Gordon began run like a man on a mission, finishing the ensuing 11-play, 5:05 scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown to begin his historic performance.
On his fifth carry, Gordon showed why he began the season on the list of Heisman Trophy candidates, taking a handoff from quarterback Tanner McEvoy, burst through the line after one cut and, with a swift stiff arm, blew past the last Bowling Green defender in his way for a 50-yard burst that pushed UW’s lead to 27-10. The Falcons (2-2) never recovered.“That’s the best tailback I’ve seen in a long time,” said Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers. “We helped him, there’s no doubt about it. We missed a bunch of tackles, but you can’t take anything away from that young man.”
There were few runs that Gordon didn’t score on. The junior finished with runs of 21, 28, 40, 50 and 69, setting a new school record averaging 19.5 yards per carry while breaking the previous record of 14.9 set by Ken Starch in 1974. After the offense had 11 plays of at least 20 yards in the first two games, Wisconsin – thanks to Gordon – had 13.Gordon wasn’t the only one who showed he could run the ball effectively. McEvoy set a new school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 158 and sophomore Corey Clement added 111 yards and two scores – giving the Badgers three 100-yard rushers for the sixth time in school history and the fifth time in the last 18 games.
Third-string tailback Dare Ogunbowale, who was playing in the Wisconsin secondary a little more than a week ago - was close to adding his name to that list, finishing with 94 yards on 14 carries.
“It’s an awesome performance,” said Andersen. “I’ve never been around a rushing total like that, that’s for sure. There’s been some great teams that are a part of the tradition here at Wisconsin … For those kids, for those offensive lineman and everybody that played on offense today that’s something they should remember for the rest of their life.”
After rushing for just 38 yards on 17 carries against Western Illinois, Gordon was justifiably frustrated with his performance, especially considering he ran for 140 yards in the loss to a vaunted LSU defense. He graded that performance as a “D.”
This time he’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.