MADISON, Wisc. — This season did not start the way anyone expected for Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon.
The preseason Heisman Trophy hopeful touched the ball only four times in the disastrous second half against LSU in the opener, then was held to 38 yards on 17 carries against Western Illinois.
With the Badgers off last week, Gordon had time. He listened to talk about his struggles.
He heard the doubts, questions, jokes and negativity that come with unmet expectations. Even his quarterback, Tanner McEvoy, lightheartedly dogged Gordon after outrushing him in Week 2.
Wisconsin | RB | Jr.
All that, combined with his knowning he could perform better and support from his teammates and coaches, pushed Gordon to new heights Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. He ran 13 times for a career-high 253 yards and tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 68-17 win against Bowling Green, with many of those runs leaving onlookers speechless.
“I was really motivated today,” Gordon said. “I just heard a lot of people doubting me, saying I can’t do this, I can’t do that. Melvin’s not this, Melvin shouldn’t be considered with this guy or be talked about with this guy. I heard it.
“It definitely motivated me to get out there and do what I needed to do.”
When the game started, it didn’t look like the start of something special. Gordon fumbled on his first carry and the Falcons made him pay by scoring on the next play to tie the game at 7 early in the first quarter.
The last time that Gordon fumbled was in the early going of last season’s win against Minnesota and he paid for that error by seeing his workload decrease for the rest of that game.
Coach Gary Andersen said last year that benching a player for fumbling isn’t something he wants to happen, and he made sure it didn’t against Bowling Green.
“I echoed it very quickly through the headsets,” Andersen said. “It came right back into my ear that there was absolutely zero plan to do anything like that. It was a normal rotation.
“Melvin handled it very well. And he was right back up when his time came. Melvin deserves that. Nobody’s perfect.”
Of Gordon’s next 12 carries five ended in touchdowns, including his first after the fumble from 2 yards out. He then eclipsed the 100-yard mark less than 4 minutes into the second quarter.
Four of Gordon’s carries went for more than 20 yards, including 50- and 69-yard touchdowns. He broke out spins, stiff-arms, made strong cuts and blew by Falcons defenders.
He had 248 yards with more than 14 minutes left in the third quarter and ran only one more time. His 253 yards marked his 11th 200-plus yard game and the most by a running back against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season.
In short, Gordon put together a masterpiece.
BOOM! On the back of Melvin Gordon the Badgers set school records! Rush yards – 646 Total yards – 758 pic.twitter.com/YriCP4aRyo
— NCAA Football (@NCAAFootball) September 20, 2014
“It feels good when you play well,” Gordon said. “It was exciting out there. We really played Wisconsin football. Every guy played really well today from a blocking standpoint to an execution standpoint.”
With his day done early in the third quarter, Gordon turned his eyes to the scoreboard to check out the stats. He knew he had a big game, but he wasn’t interested in that. He wasn’t trying to calculate his Heisman chances, which he says he doesn’t care about since “they love you one moment then they hate you the next.”
He wanted to see if the team was going to break the school rushing record and how fellow running backs Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale were doing.
The Badgers did break the school rushing record with 644 yards. Clement finished with 111 yards and Ogunbowale, Gordon’s roommate who was recently converted to running back from cornerback, had 94 yards.
“I wanted those boys to eat some,” Gordon said. “I wanted Dare to get out there….I realized Dare had a whole fourth quarter to get some plays in with Corey so I was pretty amped up and excited about that.”
— Gary Andersen
Watching the other running backs run never made Gordon eager to get back into the game, even though he could have become the first Badgers running back to score six rushing touchdowns in a game. He’d had his turn and wasn’t against sharing time.
“Melvin is determined for his football team,” Andersen said. “I promise you that’s the driving force behind Melvin wanting to have the success. He didn’t ask how many yards he has rushing.
“The unselfishness of Melvin Gordon for the last couple-three weeks as we’ve gone through the first part of the season has been incredible.”
After weeks of hearing all kinds of talk, Gordon got the last word Saturday and he aimed them at his quarterback. Moments after the final seconds ticked off the clock, Gordon sought out McEvoy and reminded him who the team’s top runner is. McEvoy may have had 158 yards, but this week he doesn’t have bragging rights.
And if Saturday marked a turned corner for Gordon’s season, McEvoy’s not getting them back.