PISCATAWAY, N.J. - A.J. Jordan’s college career has a nomadic feel to it.
A former four-star wide receiver recruit, Jordan has almost played as many positions as he has spent years in the Wisconsin. In the last calendar year, Jordan went from wide receiver to cornerback, cornerback to safety, safety back to receiver and back to safety; all while saying he was willing to do anything to help the team.
On Saturday, Jordan’s patience was rewarded, as his blocked punt late in the first quarter opened the floodgates in the Badgers’ 37-0 victory over Rutgers at Home Point Solutions Stadium.
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen called it a momentum play, an accurate portrayal considering the Badgers' first three offensive series had generated 11 total yards, no first down and two penalties.
“It flipped the field position,” he said. “It was kind of going back and forth. Maybe a first down here, a first down there and a punt on both sides for both teams. We were able to flip the field position drastically with the big play. I think we got the ball first-and-10 at the 20-yard line going in instead of probably being inside our own 20. It was a big momentum boost and it changed the game.”
The scheme was designed by safeties coach Bill Busch and tight end coach Jeff Genyk, and the block call had been successfully practiced throughout the week. Jordan was originally supposed to chip the Rutgers defender to his outside. When that player targeted another blocker, Jordan came free, blocked Tim Gleeson’s punt with his left hand and gave UW its first prime field position of the game.
“We practice how to block a punt, so the first thing on my mind was not to rough a punter and make sure I get my hand and my eyes on the ball as I come through,” said Jordan.
The block comes with a touch of irony considering the opponent. Since 2009, Rutgers has blocked 41 kicks or punts, 14 more than the next closest team. This year the Scarlet Knights lead the nation in both blocked kicks (five) and punts (two).
“It's one of the things we pride ourselves on,” said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. “The reason we spend so much time trying to accomplish it is because we know what it can do within a football game. There's no doubt it's a tremendous momentum swing when you block a punt.
“Up until that point we've done a pretty good job of controlling the field position…All of a sudden you lost that field position advantage and all of a sudden it becomes a touchdown.”
Badgers Dodge a Gordon Injury
Sitting at 128 yards and two touchdowns off 19 carries, Melvin Gordon had helped stake Wisconsin to a comfortable 30-0 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The junior’s day appeared to be done until sophomore running back Corey Clement had an equipment issue following a four-yard carry and had to come out of the game for one play. Gordon trotted back on to the field with near disastrous consequences, going down in pain at the 5-yard line and clutching his left knee at the end of a pass route.
It was a horrible sight for Wisconsin fans, as replays showed the helmet of tight end Sam Arneson, who also went up for the catch, landing on top of Gordon’s knee. After being down for several minutes, the Heisman Trophy candidate was able to get off the field unassisted and reiterated after the game that he was fine.
Gordon said he didn’t know that his day was supposed to be done and expected that the drive would belong entirely to Clement. He also thought third-string tailback Dare Ogunbowale wasn’t warmed up yet, so he decided to fill in and gave everyone a scare.
“Melvin, the competitor, gets out there on the field very quickly,” said Andersen, also reiterating Gordon was fine. “It’s really, really early there in the fourth quarter. I realize the score is what the score was. You’re going to be, I guess, evaluated, whatever you want to say about the scenario of him going in for one snap. It all worked out in the end and away we go.”
While the training staff attended to Gordon, the referee overturned the 31-yard catch, saying that Gordon didn't maintain possession of the ball through the ground.
"I thought I caught the ball," he said. "I was more ticked about that than me hurting myself."
Gaglianone in a Groove
The rainy, cold and windy conditions were nothing kicker Rafael Gaglianone dealt with growing up in Brazil, but that didn’t stop the true freshman from appearing to feel at home in the elements. Although he didn’t attempt one kick into the wind, Gaglianone split the uprights on all three of his attempts, hitting from 32, 27 and 46.
“One of the things Coach Genyk has said during my time here is don’t let (the conditions) affect you,” said Gaglianone. “It’s the same kick every kick. (I) disregard the distance, whether it’s a PAT, whether it’s snowing, whether it’s raining. We’re trying not to care and do the same thing every time.”
After some inconsistencies in the nonconference season, Gaglianone is now 10-for-13 (76.9) on field goals and 37-for-38 (97.4) on his kicks.
“My confidence is highest it’s been since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s hard to come in as a freshman, get used to things and being the little guy on campus. You have to learn your ropes. I feel like the first half of the season wasn’t as well as I expected, but I talked to Coach A and I’ve been maturing.
“Really the biggest thing for me is trusting my holder, trusting my snapper and the protection. Once I trust them, it goes back to the same thing all these past few years and that’s kicking.”
Extra Points: Freshman cornerback Derrick Tindal didn’t make the trip (personal issue). Devin Gaulden replaced him as the team’s No.3 cornerback … Alex Erickson appeared to suffer a blow to the head in the first half and was held out the rest of the game. Andersen believes he’ll be ready for next week’s road game at Purdue … Freshman receiver Krenwick Sanders tallied his first career catch, a 10-yard grab in the fourth quarter, while freshman receiver George Rushing caught a career-high two passes for a personal-best 32 yards.