INDIANAPOLIS — Melvin Gordon was a breakout performer for the University of Wisconsin football team in 2013, but the standout tailback had a couple outings that stuck in his craw.
He rushed for 1,609 yards, ranking 10th nationally, and accounted for 12 touchdowns, but had less-than-stellar performances against three Big Ten Conference opponents.
He ran for a combined 211 yards (70.3 per game) and zero TDs against Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State.
As such, Gordon had spent the past two weeks of his junior season on a personal redemption tour. He had 200 yards rushing vs. Iowa and 151 vs. Minnesota after being limited to 62 and 69 last year, respectively.
Most important is his work figured prominently in two wins that enabled the 11th-ranked Badgers to clinch the West Division crown.
The last, most important, leg of Gordon’s project came to life in the Big Ten title game Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It turned out to be an immense disappointment, one that cost Gordon any chance he might have had for winning the Heisman Trophy.
Gordon came into the game as the nation’s leading rusher and scorer and left it humbled.
Not only was Gordon held to 76 yards on 26 carries, he had a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and his outing came in the midst of a one-sided debacle that’s difficult to fathom.
UW was thoroughly outclassed during a 59-0 loss to the sixth-ranked Buckeyes, a shockingly one-sided decision given UW came into the game favored by 41/2 points.
During a 31-24 loss to Ohio State last season, Gordon managed 74 yards on 15 carries, so he did move the performance bar ever so slightly. But it wasn’t nearly enough on one of the most forgettable nights in program history.
“It’s an embarrassment,” he said.
In order for Gordon to have any chance at the Heisman — ballots are due Monday — he needed to have another signature outing and the Badgers (10-3 overall) needed to win.
But Gordon, who had five performances of 200 yards or more and a Big Ten single-season-record 2,260 coming into the night, never got on track.
His two longest runs of the game — 10 and 13 yards — came on consecutive plays late in the first quarter. He wound up with nine attempts that went for no gain or less.
“We couldn’t make any explosive plays,” Gordon said. “They really got after us with blitzes and with everything. Our offense as a whole couldn’t get things rolling.”
Gordon will likely get an invitation to New York City for the Heisman presentation ceremonies, but Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota remains the heavy favorite to win it and it could well be that Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper will move past Gordon in the eyes of some voters.
What about those Heisman chances?
“They’re probably gone,” Gordon said. “It is what it is. You take the good with the bad.”
Ohio State (12-1) started a third-string quarterback, but coach Urban Meyer said Friday his biggest concern was slowing Gordon.
“He made plays where there weren’t a lot of plays,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said of Gordon. “I have a lot of respect for him.”
The Buckeyes had allowed four backs to rush for 100 yards — including a 228-yard outing to Tevin Coleman of Indiana — but they smothered Gordon by suffocating the UW offense to the tune of 258 yards.
Gordon contributed to the onslaught with time winding down in the first half. He took a handoff from junior quarterback Joel Stave and tried to jackknife through a seam off left tackle.
But Gordon fumbled when he was hit by Bennett and end Joey Bosa picked up the ball at the 4 and rumbled into the end zone to make it 38-0 with 36 seconds left in the second quarter.
“Honestly, I was desperate to make a big play,” Gordon said. “Lost focus on the ball and that’s how it came out.
“That fumble’s on me 100 percent. They scored right off it. That didn’t help us at all.”