There’s something about playing Nebraska that makes Melvin Gordon look superhuman and Wisconsin unstoppable on the ground. The Badgers’ running back set a new FBS record for rushing yards in a single game with 408, leading his team to their biggest win of the season, walking all over the Cornhuskers, something of a tradition by now, 59-24.
Flashbacks to the Big Ten championship game of two years ago came to everyone’s minds, when Nebraska lost 70-31 and were buried under a rushing attack led by Montee Ball, gaining a total of 539 yards on 10.8 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns and five carries for 25 yards or more. This time it was even worse: Wisconsin ran for 581 rushing yards, scored seven rushing touchdown, averaged 11 yards per carry and their backs ran for eight runs of 25 yards or more, seven of them by Gordon.
Gordon finished with 408 yards on 25 carries, scoring four touchdowns. He has now reached 1909 yards this season on the ground, and the Junior has at least three more games to play if not four, depending on whether Wisconsin do make the Big Ten championship game, which they’re now in pole position to do, being the only one conference loss team in the West division, trailed by Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa. Wisconsin have to play Iowa on the road followed by a home game to finish the season against Minnesota.
How easy was it for Gordon to break loose like that? He gained 262 of his rushing yards outside of the tackles, six of those runs going for 25 yards or more, a category he led the nation in before the game. He wasn’t contacted by a defender on seven of his 25 rushing attempts for at least 20 yards as he went past the line of scrimmage. Nebraska had a pretty decent run-defense going into the game, but completely fell apart as Wisconsin kept pushing the same buttons.
It’s easy to forget the Huskers led 17-3 after a Tommy Armstrong run early in the second quarter. The moment things changed and Nebraska had to rely on Armstrong throwing the ball instead of the running of Ameer Abdullah (69 yards on 18 carries), they were in trouble. Armstrong completed only 6-of-18 passes for 62 yards. He was 0-for-6 on throws traveling more than 15 yards in the air. In the losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin, he has completed only 15.8% of his attempt on such throws.
As for Wisconsin’s quarterback? He simply didn’t get in the way. Joel Stave’s job is to hand the ball off and not mess things up. He didn’t throw an interception, completed 7-of-11 passes and even found Sam Arneson for a touchdown pass. His passes traveled a total of 46 yards, saying how little faith Gary Andersen has in his quarterback, but considering they’re on their way to win the division and their only losses this season have come by a combined of ten points, he’s been doing the right thing.
Nebraska fans are only at two losses, but they can feel the same feelings of underachieving under Bo Pellini once again. There are two more games to go before the West division is decided, but it’s not up to them anymore, and this is the kind of blow it’s often hard to recover from. Wisconsin don’t have easy games waiting for them, including the one in Iowa City. And still, with Gordon looking so light on his feet and the rest of the team doing exactly what they should, winning the division and playing (probably) Ohio State for the title almost feels like a given.