It was a record-setting performance for the Badger offense Saturday, as Wisconsin walloped Bowling Green, 68-17, behind a career day from Melvin Gordon.
The Badgers set the school record for rushing yards with 644, surpassing the previous total of 564 against Indiana in 2012. Wisconsin also set a record for total offense with 756 yards. The previous high was 705 against Indiana in 1999.
At the forefront of it all was Gordon. The redshirt junior finished with a career-high 253 yards on just 13 carries, an average of nearly 20 yards per rush. He also tied a school record by scoring five touchdowns.
The performance came two weeks after the gifted tailback was held to just 38 rushing yards on 17 carries against FCS Western Illinois. That dreadful stat line created all sorts of speculation in the media that Gordon would be unable to live up to preseason expectations.
“It’s not easy having a bad game and then having a bye week right after. It’s a good two weeks for people to talk crazy and talk this and that,” Gordon said. “It was tough. I won’t sit here and lie to you. It was tougher than I thought it would be.”
It didn’t start out so well for Gordon, however. He fumbled on his first carry, the first of his career. He scored on a two-yard touchdown run on his next attempt to make up for it, and from then on it was smooth sailing.
Gordon ran decisively and effortlessly and showcased his dynamic talents as a runner. His cuts were quick and precise and he outran defenders in open space. He also threw in a few stiff arms for good measure.
Multiple times, Gordon spun away from tacklers and immediately went into his next move without losing speed. His balance on these runs was perhaps the most impressive aspect of his day, an ability to simultaneously absorb contact and evade defenders.
“I was really motivated today. I just heard a lot of people saying that I can’t do this or that, Melvin is not that and he shouldn’t be considered with this guy,” Gordon said. “I’ve heard it. It definitely motivated me to get out there and do what I needed to do.”
Gordon wasn’t the only runner who had a fantastic game. Sophomore Corey Clement finished with 111 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Dare Ogunbowale, a recently converted cornerback, finished with 94 yards on 14 carries after entering the game at the end of the third quarter.
Redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy racked up 158 yards and a touchdown on the ground. It was the most rushing yards by a quarterback in Wisconsin history. McEvoy looked comfortable running the option and his decision-making outside the pocket has improved since the beginning of the season.
However, his passing was again shaky. He was 9-16 for 112 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He missed several open receivers, including tight end Austin Traylor several times.
McEvoy needs to hit those open throws with consistency. As shown against LSU, there will be times when the Badgers need to throw the ball late in close games. If losing in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin cannot afford to give away potential big gains.
“I definitely think there’s a higher ceiling,” McEvoy said. “We know we can rush the ball. We know we can pass the ball. We gotta put it all together and keep working on it and just sharpen our sword.”
Not to be forgotten amid the offensive explosion, the Wisconsin defense had an outstanding game as well. Entering Saturday, Bowling Green had been averaging 520 yards of offense and 41 points per game.
After a field goal cut the Badgers’ lead to 14-10, the Falcons proceeded to punt six times and turn the ball over twice on their next eight drives, not including a kneel down to end the first half. During that span, the Wisconsin offense did its job, scoring 51 straight points to blow the game open and make it 65-10.
Bowling Green managed just 271 total yards. The Falcons collectively averaged a mere 3.2 yards per carry and completed less than 50 percent of their passes.
“We played a pretty good game. Nothing’s ever perfect,” said senior linebacker Derek Landisch. “We didn’t play a perfect game but as far as going out there and playing together for the most part we did that and the coaches had a great game plan.”
Wisconsin’s defense dominated up front. The Badgers made 11 tackles for loss, racked up four sacks and forced two turnovers. Landisch was a major part of that, with 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks himself.
The Badgers remained at No. 19 in the AP poll and have one final nonconference game before Big Ten play begins. Wisconsin hosts South Florida this Saturday. The Bulls are 2-2 after defeating Connecticut over the weekend.