Melvin Gordon, Badgers back in Big Ten title chase
Madison, Wis. — Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon felt no shame rooting for Nebraska.
The nation's leading rusher likely doesn't cheer often for the Cornhuskers. But Nebraska handed Northwestern its second league loss this weekend, putting Wisconsin right back into the Big Ten West race because the Badgers' only conference loss this season was to the Wildcats.
The goal of making it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game is back in play.
"It's on us now," Gordon said Monday. "If we win out, we'll be exactly where we want to be."
This is a nice development for Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1), which had a choppy first half of the season. The defense, which lost senior nose guard Warren Herring in the opening loss to LSU, has had trouble against the run. Herring is close to returning from a knee injury.
On offense, Wisconsin's issues in the passing game are well known. The depth chart again lists either Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy as the starter at quarterback, though Stave would get the majority of the snaps judging by the Badgers' previous game two weeks ago.
Stave presents more of a deep passing threat; McEvoy has more mobility. Coach Gary Andersen said offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig likes having both players available for different situations.
"We have two quarterbacks. Those kids are completely on board with that, and that's how I see it progressing," Andersen said.
There is one true certainty with Wisconsin — Gordon can break away for a touchdown on any carry.
Leading the country at 174.3 yards rushing per game, Gordon is back in the discussion as a Heisman Trophy contender. He is averaging 217 yards per game and 8.8 yards per carry over the last four contests alone, scoring 12 touchdowns in that span.
"I don't know how many times this season I (saw) the Heisman hopefuls come up, and I never saw one that didn't have Melvin on it," Andersen said. "It's great for Wisconsin, overall as a university, to have a great young man kind of be the poster (child). You're in good shoes with that man out there."
Gordon seems to be reluctantly accepting the attention. He said he watched the Nebraska-Northwestern game on Saturday during Wisconsin's bye weekend, along with other college football games, but didn't take notice to how his face was plastered on graphics listing Heisman candidates.
"It's a lot," said Gordon, fidgeting nervously with his right foot as he spoke to reporters. "Trying to go out there and just … It's a lot, that's all I'll say."
His true focus is on the season's second half. After their second bye of the year, the Badgers can now squarely focus on a six-week stretch through late November. Maryland is next for the Badgers this weekend, followed by trips to Rutgers and Purdue. Wisconsin finishes with a visit to Iowa sandwiched around home games against Nebraska and Minnesota.
A strong finish will not only keep Wisconsin in the hunt for the Big Ten title game, but keep Gordon in the discussion for postseason hardware.
"If Melvin's in that discussion, that means we're doing something kind of right, so that's a good thing," right tackle Rob Havenstein said. "I'm sure Melvin's not too worried or bent out of shape by it. He just wants Wisconsin to win. He's that type of team player."