MADISON - It only took Melvin Gordon one carry to gain the one-yard needed to break the Wisconsin/Big Ten record for the most rushing yards in a single season. The rest of the game for Gordon wasn’t as easy.
One of the reasons Gordon decided to come back for his junior year was to show that he could be physical and that he wasn’t just a running back who needed to get outside to have success. That was on full display in another physical Big Ten contest for Gordon, who finished with 151 yards on 29 carries and two total touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 34-24 victory over Minnesota.
“His performance was very physical,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “I thought he was unbelievably tough minded in some tough sledding. There was a lot of tackles going down low on Melvin. That's good defense when you go play against a tremendous back. Those guys were good tacklers, they're physical tacklers and they wanted to get physical with him.”“Again, the flashy runs, everybody sees those,” Andersen continued. “Everybody sees those time and time and time again. The ones I look at is when he's on the line of scrimmage, you need to get four yards, he's getting five or six yards. I saw that again today.”
Gordon did give Andersen and Badger fans a scare late in the fourth quarter after appearing to injury his right ankle following a six-yard carry. Getting treatment on the sidelines, Gordon returned to the field when the Badgers went into victory formation on their final drive.
Andersen said Gordon was “jumping around” in the locker room following the game, suggesting his Heisman Trophy hopeful tailback will be ready when the Badgers take on No.7 Ohio State for the Big Ten championship Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“This happens to me all the time,” Gordon said about his ankle injury. “I can’t really tell right now but I think (Sunday) I’m going to be pretty sore.”Rushing for at least 100 yards against all 11 FBS opponents on Wisconsin’s 2014 schedule, Gordon grinded against the Gophers, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and having no runs over 25 yards. He ran for a 1-yard touchdown and caught a four-yard score, giving him at least two touchdowns in seven straight games.
“I just knew I was going to have to grind it out,” Gordon said. “I had a couple of opportunities to break some long ones, but they got me in the one-on-ones. Some battles you win, some battles you lose, it is what it is, but at the end of the day we came out on top.”Improving his season rushing total to 2,260 yards, fourth best in FBS history, Gordon only trails Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders (2,628 in 1988), UCF’s Kevin Smith (2,567 in 2007) and USC’s Marcus Allen (2,342 in 1981). While the Gophers did hold Gordon below his 191.7 rushing average this season, quarterback Joel Stave and the passing attack turned in another solid performance for Wisconsin as it was able to take some pressure off of Gordon.
“Very important; hopefully it takes some guys out of the box,” said Gordon. “It won’t but if they don’t get out or back up then Stave will kill them, Erickson will kill them, those guys will kill them. We’ve been playing against fronts like that all year, people stacking the box and we still go out there and somehow we’re able to run the ball but that’s just Wisconsin we don’t get away from our identity.”
Up-and-Down Day for Doe
To say Kenzel Doe’s final home game was a roller coaster would be an understatement.
One of 18 players honored prior to the start of the game, Doe was greeted by his mother, step father, brother and uncle prior to the game and celebrated a trip to his third Big Ten championship game in four seasons with them after.
In between was a whole bunch of sketchy moments. Doe finished with three punt returns for 20 yards and three kickoff returns for 60 yards, but fumbled on his first punt and muffed his final punt that he was fortunate to recover.
“Me personally, it was probably the worst game I’ve had, but we came out with the win, and that’s what I am glad for,” said Doe. “I tried to bounce back and try to do what I can when my opportunities came.”
After Wisconsin’s defense forced a three-and-out on the first series, Doe caught a punt on the Minnesota 11, tried to make a few players miss before getting the ball stripped by linebacker Jack Lynn. The Gophers recovered on the UW 13 and scored the opening touchdown two plays later.
“He just made a good play,” said Doe. “I saw him, and I had it high and tight. His helmet hit right on the ball. Majority of the time if he gets a good shot like that with his helmet right on the ball it’s going to come out. I could have probably did something else.”
Down 34-24 with just over three minutes left, Minnesota appeared to raise the white flag by punting from its own 19. Doe also gave them a second life after bobbling the kick at the Wisconsin 37, quickly falling on it to retain possession.
“I can live with (my play), but I’m not going to be satisfied with it,” said Doe. “I’m never going to be satisfied making mistakes. I’m going to try to improve them … It’s the game football. Every game is not going to be perfect, go the way you want to, so I have to bounce back from it and look ahead.”
Extra Points: UW finished with seven regular-season Big Ten wins, equaling the most in school history. This marks the fifth time in school history the Badgers have won seven conference games, also pulling off the feat in 1998, 1999, 2006 and 2010 … Andersen improved to 13-3 (.813) in Big Ten games, owning the best start by a UW coach through his first 16 Big Ten games in the modern era … Wisconsin trailed 17-3 in the second quarter and erased a 14-point deficit, for the second time in three weeks (also trailed 17-3 vs. Nebraska) and the 21st time in the modern era … The Badgers posted 233 yards rushing and 215 passing yards, topping the 200-yard mark in both categories for the third time this season (also did it vs. Maryland and at Purdue).
Benjamin Worgull contributed to this report