Is Wisconsin's Rushing Game as Good as Results Suggest?
Two games down, two straight with three running backs getting over 100 yards each. That's the start the Wisconsin backfield is off to, and it's impressive to say the least.
However, the caliber of opponent brings about an interesting question: Just how good is this Badger backfield?
The numbers suggest they are easily the best running back group in the country. As a team, Wisconsin ranks sixth nationally in total offense (first in the Big Ten) and third nationally in rushing offense (first in the Big Ten), racking up 786 yards between the three of them and 780 yards as a team through three games.
As a team, the Badgers are averaging 390 yards a game on the ground, just behind Navy's 444 (one-game total) and Oregon's 425-yard average.
Everyone is seemingly on board the Oregon rushing attack bandwagon, and rightfully so given the results. Yet a lot of national pundits are skeptical of Wisconsin's rushing attack.
So, why the difference considering the closeness between the two?
Perhaps it's the name value Oregon has in De'Anthony Thomas, or that the Ducks have done it against a BCS opponent in Virginia.
Whatever it is, the skepticism of the Badgers' results seem to be a bit unwarranted when you watch how this team has achieved its lofty stats so far this year.
First there is senior James White, whose career average coming into this season was 6.1 yards per carry. So far this season? White has 33 carries for 258 yards and a 7.6 yards-per-carry average. That would seem to suggest he is doing exactly what he's always done.
Wisconsin is 18-1 when James White has a touchdown. #badgers— Dave Heller (@dave_heller) September 8, 2013
Then there is super sophomore Melvin Gordon, who leads the team with 284 yards on just 22 carries for a ridiculous 12.9 yards per carry. Gordon nearly single-handedly dashed the Cornhusker's hopes in the Big Ten title game last year, going off for 216 yards on just nine carries.
His trend of big gains seems to continue regardless of the opponent he's facing. He's had runs of 60, 70 and 65 yards in three of his last four games and was still able to manage 51 yards as a third back against a stingy Stanford defense in the Rose Bowl last year.
Finally, we have the insane start to freshman Corey Clement's career in the Cardinal and White. He's rushed for 250 yards in his first two games as a Badger and currently leads the team with three rushing touchdowns. Most impressively, Clement's 250 yards have all come in just the second half of each game so far this season.
His Week 2 performance of 149 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee Tech earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, if that tells you anything.
Those are all impressive numbers for sure, but it's the story of the offensive line that is equally impressive. They simply look sharp and sure no matter who is in there.
Watching the last two games as a fan, chances are you had no idea which offensive line Wisconsin was throwing out at any given moment. That's exactly how a good offensive line should look.
In fact, the second unit has gone out there and led two games with a 100-yard rusher in the second half alone—that's impressive no matter the opponent.
Sure, this team has overmatched and overpowered each of its first two opponents. But unlike a season ago with the triple threat they had in Montee Ball, White and Gordon, the results have been exactly what you would expect this year—dominant.
A lot of the issues Ball and the running game had to begin last season were because of an offensive line that wasn't in sync. Those issues didn't repeat themselves again this year with their third offensive line coach since January of 2012.
Are Wisconsin's running backs the best in the country?
So, while the opponents haven't been stellar, it's the details behind how Wisconsin has achieved its fast start on the ground that show us this isn't a fluke.
Stop the fast and explosive Gordon? Okay, UW will throw the speedy and smaller White at you. Stop him? Wisconsin has a third back that combines the best of Gordon and White.
It's quickly becoming a pick-your-poison situation for Wisconsin's opponents.
It also helps that Joel Stave is showing an effectiveness downfield with Jared Abbrederis, making opposing defensive coordinators choose between trying to stack the box against the run and give up the big play through the air or backing off and potentially getting pounded down the field by the run game.
Ultimately, the play of the line, the variety of styles the backs have, and the ability of Stave to hit the home run in the passing game make this rushing attack all it has been and can be moving forward.
Now the question is, can the backs get over the century mark this weekend against a stout Arizona State defense? If so, there is real reason to suspect that this is the best trio of backs in the country.
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