Wisconsin vs. Purdue: Melvin Gordon Furthers Case to Be Badgers Featured Back
James White came into 2013 having never started a game in his collegiate career yet was the second-leading returning running back nationally. That's how deep the Wisconsin backfield has been in the past.
White has now started four games and he is finding it harder and harder to keep his job in anything but name only—and it has nothing to do with him.
Instead, it has everything to do with super sophomore Melvin Gordon and his continued exceptional play on a week-in and week-out basis.
Gordon ran for a team-best 147 yards and added three touchdowns in the Badgers' 41-10 victory over Purdue to open Big Ten play on Saturday afternoon.
James White wasn't a slouch either, adding 145 yards and touchdown of his own.
Both Gordon and White accomplished their totals on just 16 carries apiece and averaged 9.2 and 9.1 yards a carry, respectively, this week.
However, it was how Gordon and White got there that made all the difference.
White had a 70-yard scamper for his lone touchdown, and outside of that play he would've had all of 75 yards and "just" a five-yard-a-carry average to his name.
Gordon, on the other hand, was busting nine- and 10-yard runs at almost every touch of the ball for him. His longest run of the day was "just" 27 yards.
What those that saw the game witnessed was a running back equally capable of pounding the ball and hitting the home run.
In fact, this was the first game of the season Gordon failed to have a run of longer than 45 yards to his name and, strangely, that was a good thing.
What was witnessed on the field against Purdue was a guy who looked like a featured back.
Gordon has 624 yards in five games this season, averaging a healthy 11.8 yards a carry on just 53 attempts.
His counterpart, White, has begun to look like the guy whose best role comes as a change-of-pace back.
Who Should Be Starting at Running Back for Wisconsin?
That's how the 70-yard touchdown run happened; previous to that possession the Badgers had given the Boilermakers a heavy dose of Gordon.
White came in and busted one up the middle for the touchdown, catching a few Purdue defenders off guard with his speed.
So far in 2013, White has rushed for 441 yards on 61 carries for an average of 7.2 yards a carry and has gotten better results following a spell of carries by Melvin Gordon in both the Arizona State and Purdue games.
Despite the numbers, don't expect a spell of jealousy to rear its ugly head between these backs because they are all-in for the common goal.
At the end of the day, though, Wisconsin can do far worse than splitting carries between these two beasts of backs, but it is increasingly clear that the Badgers' best chances for success come when Melvin Gordon has the ball in his hand.
So, as Wisconsin looks ahead to a date with Ohio State this coming week, perhaps it is time for Wisconsin to give the ball to Gordon in a featured roll and see what he can do when the game is in his hands for the majority of a game.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. Follow him on Twitter for more of the Big Ten discussion.
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