JASON GALLOWAY | email@example.com |608-252-6174
Melvin Gordon claims he was just running to win.
But for a stretch of time late in the University of Wisconsin football team’s 59-24 victory over Nebraska on Saturday, the result was only secondary.
The Camp Randall Stadium crowd yelled Gordon’s name in unison throughout the second half and chanted “Heisman” as he ran off the field afterward.
The Badgers’ three early fumbles, their early deficit, their 56 consecutive points, their now-unmatched advantage in the Big Ten Conference’s Western Division — none of it mattered as much as UW’s star running back.
Gordon broke an NCAA FBS record with 408 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns against the Cornhuskers, vaulting himself to the top of the Heisman Trophy race.
“You never know when a special day is going to come,” Gordon said. “I didn’t even know I was close to a record like that. … I was trying to hold back a little bit, but after they told me, I felt so good.”
It took Gordon only three quarters and 25 carries to go where no other major college football running back has ever ventured.
His final carry of the day came on the final play of the third quarter, when he broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage, cut inside a defender and high-stepped over another tackle attempt to score from 26 yards out.
It put him two yards ahead of the NCAA record set by TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson against UTEP in 1999.
He eclipsed the Badgers’ single-game rushing record set by Ron Dayne, who ran for 339 yards against Hawaii in 1996, on a 68-yard burst in the third quarter. Three carries later, he broke the previous Big Ten record of 377, set by Indiana’s Anthony Thompson in 1989.
“To see a performance like that was amazing,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “I think he’s the best of the best, and I think he proved it today when he was given the opportunity.
“A lot of people have God-given ability, but a lot of people don’t do anything with that God-given ability. He’s taken it to the highest level, in my opinion.”
UW wide receiver Kenzel Doe lost a fumble on the game’s second play and Gordon lost two more in the first 21 minutes of the game as Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) built a 17-3 lead.
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Two possessions after running for a 62-yard touchdown, Gordon broke off a 39-yard gain to set up Corey Clement for a 17-yard score that tied the game at 17 with 7:21 left in the first half.
Gordon began UW’s next drive with a 44-yard run, and quarterback Joel Stave hit tight end Sam Arneson for a go-ahead touchdown five plays later.
Gordon’s 189 yards in the second quarter set another school record, breaking Dayne’s 170 against San Jose State in 1997.
The outburst came after Gordon spoke with strength and conditioning coach Evan Simon following his second lost fumble.
“After the second fumble, I was kind of just out of it,” Gordon said. “(Simon) told me, ‘Keep your mind into it. You worked so hard. Nobody can take this moment from you.’ ”
Gordon ran for 43 yards before his 1-yard score with 8:06 left in the third quarter put UW (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) ahead 31-17.
He began the Badgers’ next possession with a 68-yard run before scoring again from 6 yards out.
“He can turn four inches of hole into 60 yards,” UW offensive lineman Rob Havenstein said.
Two possessions later, Gordon broke the NCAA record with his 26-yard touchdown.
The junior now has 1,909 rushing yards, the fourth-best single-season total in school history, and 23 rushing touchdowns through 10 games.
“This game meant a lot,” Gordon said. “Forget about the statistics. I knew if we lost this game, it’d be tough for us to get into the Big Ten championship.”
With wins the next two weeks against Iowa and Minnesota, that’s where UW would find itself on Dec. 6 in Indianapolis.
The Badgers have won five straight games, all by 10 points or more, and now their focus shifts to finishing off a division title.
“It was a tremendous victory for all of us. Every single person,” Andersen said. “We’ve got to back it up next week. That’s what you do. It’s easy to start, winners can sustain and maintain, but only the great ones can finish.
“That’s where these kids are at right now. This game was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
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