Nebraska week is finally here.
The No. 11 Cornhuskers come to Madison Saturday to battle for first place in the Big Ten West against No. 22 Wisconsin. The game will hold as much weight as everyone predicted it would before the season; both teams are atop the division with a 4-1 conference record, and the victor will likely represent the West Division in the Big Ten Conference Championship Dec. 6 in Indianapolis.
While the winner of the battle between Nebraska’s high-octane offense (40.4 points per game) and Wisconsin’s dominant defense (251.1 yards per game) will likely come away on top, Saturday’s most intriguing matchup is between two players who will never be on the field at the same time.
Fans at Camp Randall Stadium will be treated to a showcase of possibly the two best running backs in college football, as Heisman Trophy candidates Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon will add their chapter to the budding Nebraska-Wisconsin rivalry.
Abdullah left Nebraska’s Nov. 1 game against Purdue in the first quarter with a knee injury, but he was able to rest during the Cornhuskers’ bye week last week and is expected to be ready for Saturday. If he comes back at full strength, the game could very quickly turn in to a track meet.
The Abdullah-Gordon matchup pits opposing running styles against one another.
Listed at 5’9” and 195 pounds, Abdullah’s lightning-quick cuts and uncommon field vision is devastating for opposing defenses. He is especially dangerous when he bounces into a different gap at the line of scrimmage and cuts across the flow of the defense. It is nearly impossible for a defensive lineman or a linebacker to break off their angle of pursuit quickly enough to catch Abdullah before he reaches the second level.
Nebraska runs a litany of sweeps, options, pitches and wheel routes to get Abdullah the ball out in space and put him in position to make defenses look silly.
Gordon is the epitome of a freak athlete. A true combination of size and speed, Gordon’s 6-foot, 1-inch, 213-pound frame affords him both the ability to pound the ball between the tackles and easily outrun opposing teams’ secondaries with his long, effortless strides.
Wisconsin makes little effort to disguise when Gordon is getting the ball; the Badgers often operate out of the I-formation with at least one tight end on the field, daring defenses to stop their north and south running game.
Although Abdullah and Gordon bring different skillsets to the table, the two backs share a common denominator; they are both incredibly efficient scorers.
Gordon has provided 14 points per game for the Badgers, while Abdullah has contributed 12.7 per game for the Cornhuskers.
Only Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin has put up more points than Gordon, and Abdullah’s scoring rate ranks fourth in the nation.
While neither Gordon nor Abdullah have faced many prolific run defenses this season, their ability to get the ball in to the end zone at such an alarming rate is still the truest indication of their game-changing abilities.
Even if neither player ends up being in the running for the Heisman Trophy at the conclusion of the season, both Abdullah and Gordon should take pride in the fact that they have elevated their teams to be the only bright spots in the Big Ten’s weaker division.
Despite the clear power disparity between the two divisions, the West does hold one advantage; the best two running backs in the conference will be on the field in Madison this weekend.