Gordon, Badgers look to run past Purdue
Five things to watch for in No. 24 Wisconsin's Big Ten opener
MADISON, Wis. — Melvin Gordon can really take off on the jet sweep for No. 24 Wisconsin.
The Purdue Boilermakers will probably be prepared for it when they visit Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday for the Big Ten opener. Badgers coach Gary Andersen isn’t shy about acknowledging it might be coming.
Pretty much everyone in Madison expects to see the 6-foot-1 Gordon run the play. Yet it can be so hard to stop.
“He’s a big back … He’s fast when he gets on the edge, but he breaks so many tackles,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. “We’ll have to get him corralled before he gets going.”
Good luck with that, Boilermakers (1-2). No defense has been able to do it, so far.
The sophomore’s 159 yards rushing per game trails only Rutgers’ Paul James in the Football Bowl Subdivision. His 80-yard touchdown run last week on a jet sweep against Arizona State could have been the signature highlight from that game for Wisconsin (2-1), if not for the frantic closing seconds of the 32-30 loss in Tempe.
Five things to watch looking ahead to Saturday’s game:
1. MOVING ON: The Pac-12 Conference reprimanded the officials for not properly handling the end of last weekend’s game, depriving the Badgers of a shot at a game-winning field goal. It grated on Wisconsin fans, not to mention the program. By Thursday, Andersen was confident his players had moved on.
“Solid week of practice. Proud of the kids. The possibility for obvious distractions,” Andersen said without specifically referencing the infamous play. “But I think we had a good, solid week.”
2. IRISH SPRINGBOARD?: Hazell doesn’t prescribe to moral victories. At the same time, keep in mind that it’s a work in progress at Purdue in Hazell’s first year at the school after coming over from Kent State.
After getting blown out by 35 at Cincinnati and squeaking by FCS program Indiana State by six at home, Purdue stayed close to No. 21 Notre Dame before falling 31-24.
“I think we’ve made strides, but let’s not mistake that we’re in the business to win football games, and we won’t be satisfied until we get there,” Hazell said. “The mindset on the sideline (against Notre Dame) was significantly different than Week 1 and Week 2. We need to significantly grow along those lines.”
Purdue has lost seven straight to Wisconsin dating back to 2004.
3. SECONDARY THOUGHTS: The tough moments outnumbered the bright spots last week for the Badgers’ young secondary, which features a freshman and two sophomores among the top five defensive backs. Arizona State beat Wisconsin numerous times downfield with back shoulder throws along the sideline in the second half.
For Purdue, quarterback Rob Henry comes in with confidence after throwing for a season-high 256 yards and his first three touchdown passes of the year against the Irish.
The Badgers tossed two straight shutouts before getting burned in the desert. Andersen thinks his secondary responded well in practice, though he wouldn’t mind getting more pressure up front.
“You know the best pass defense is a pass rush. We’re putting pressure on the kids to get there,” Andersen said. “We’ve got to get there two-tenths, three-tenths of a second faster.”
4. STOPPING THE RUN: Gordon isn’t Wisconsin’s only backfield threat. James White is the FBS’ active career rushing leader in yards (2,868) and touchdowns (34). Freshman Corey Clement has shown promise in his first carries on the job.
“You’ve got to get a lot of men near the football, which leaves you vulnerable in other spots,” Hazell said. “But you have to try to make them as one dimensional as you can.”
Purdue ranks 31st out of 128 major college teams in rushing defense on the young season.
5. SAME ‘OL STORY: In Andersen’s first year in Badger red, the team still boasts a beefy offensive line that likes to push around defenders.
“Hasn’t really changed, very similar stuff. (Offensive coordinator Andy) Ludwig has brought a little more spice to it, brought a couple of plays of his own,” said 6-foot-5, 320-pound left guard Ryan Groy.
Sometimes, Wisconsin will play to its strength and have White and Gordon on the field at the same time.
“When you look at (Gordon’s) production outside the tackle box, it’s great. We want it, we’ll take all we can get obviously,” Andersen said. “When you put him in the tackle box with him and James, they both play very, very well.”
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