Melvin Gordon rushed 16 times for 147 yards on Saturday, opening Big Ten play against Purdue with an outing most running backs aspire to. But in this case, it was less than even ho-hum.
It actually brought down Gordon's rushing average.
Since the beginning of 2012—Gordon's first full season in Madison—the speedy running back has gained 1,245 yards on 115 carries, good for an average of 10.83 yards per rush.
He led the nation with an average of 10.02 last season and currently leads all running backs again in 2013. He also leads the nation in rushing yards, despite splitting time with James White and seeing just 53 total carries:
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (624 yards) leads the FBS in rushing by 51 yards despite tying for 57th nationally in carries.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) September 23, 2013
As Gordon's touches go up and up, and his sample size continues to increase, it's harder to brush off his lofty average as an outlier. It's starting to look more like a trend than a fluke.
Can Gordon really be this good?
As a Recruit
Score one for 247Sports scouting, which publishes its own rankings in conjunction with its composite (which aggregates rankings from recruiting services across the web).
Coming out of Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wis., Gordon was not a consensus blue-chipper. He was just the No. 18 running back on the Class of 2011 composite, behind future stars like Bishop Sankey and Devonta Freeman, but also behind a flock of future no-names.
Here are nine of the backs ranked higher than Gordon on the composite:
|Name||Original School||FBS Career to Date|
|2. Brandon Williams||Oklahoma*||63 car, 287 yds, 0 TD|
|4. Savon Huggins||Rutgers||215 car, 694 yds, 8 TD|
|5. Aaron Green||Nebraska*||34 car, 127 yds, 2 TD|
|6. Mike Blakely||Florida*||33 car, 153 yds, 0 TD|
|9. Rodney Coe||Iowa*||n/a**|
|10. Lafayette Pitts||Pittsburgh||n/a**|
|12. Kelsey Young||Stanford||17 car, 192 yds, 2 TD|
|15. Clifton Richardson||Virginia*||96 car, 424 yds, 2 TD|
|16. Remound Wright||Stanford||31 car, 99 yds, 1 TD|
|18. Melvin Gordon||Wisconsin||135 car, 1,343 yds, 11 TD|
Still, 247Sports had faith in Gordon, ranking him not just the No. 6 running back in America, but the No. 54 overall player (and No. 1 in Wisconsin). It saw the seedlings of a potential game-changer and ranked him accordingly.
It's hard to say what the other services weren't seeing. Perhaps is was just his slight frame? Everything you need to know is jumping off that tape.
Gordon, as plainly evident from his yards-per-carry numbers, has top-end speed that allows him to break away from the pack and score huge gains.
But there's a little more to him than that. The speed is there, but next to quickness and agility, it might not even be his premier attribute.
And yes, speed and agility sound like the same thing, but they aren't. Speed is how fast a player can run in a straight line or pick up steam. Agility is how fast he can move his feet and change directions.
Watch him display both on this 80-yard jet-sweep touchdown against Arizona State:
The play-call gets him to the outside, but it's Gordon's quick feet and ability to set up blockers that get him into open space.
He splits two defenders with a quick cut around the line of scrimmage, runs 15 yards downfield, sets up a block by Jared Abbrederis, then makes one more cut to the outside.
And from there, no one has a chance of catching him.
Need further proof? Check out this 56-yard touchdown run from the 2012 Big Ten Championship. At no point does he turn on the burners; he just used his foot speed to make defenders miss, then waltzes into the end zone.
The likeness isn't exact, but because of his quick feet, ability change direction and innate propensity for making tacklers miss, it's hard not to compare Gordon's running style to LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Shattering the Wisconsin Mold
There's a definite archetype for Wisconsin running backs.
They're big. They're ugly. They'd rather bowl you over and make you eat grass than beat you wide and make you eat dust.
They're basically the opposite of Melvin Gordon.
Take a look at the best Badgers running backs of the last 15 years, starting with Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne:
|1. Ron Dayne||1996-1999||5'10'', 252 lbs.||1,220 car, 7,125 yds, 71 TD|
|2. Anthony Davis||2001-2004||5'7'', 205 lbs.||908 car, 4,676 yds, 42 TD|
|3. P.J. Hill||2006-2008||5'10'', 222 lbs.||770 car, 3,942 yds, 42 TD|
|4. John Clay||2008-2010||6'1'', 248 lbs.||629 car, 3,413 yds, 41 TD|
|5. Montee Ball||2009-2012||5'10'', 214 lbs.||924 car, 5,140 yds, 77 TD|
|6. James White||2010-2013||5'10'', 195 lbs.||483 car, 3,013 yds, 35 TD|
That success has made "running back at Wisconsin" a hallowed title—a far-less-hyped version of shortstop for the New York Yankees. Playing the position connotes power and size and the ability to control the clock.
Gordon (and to a lesser extent, partner-in-crime James White) doesn't fit the physical mold, but he's managed every bit the success of his predecessors. Despite standing 6'1'', 207 pounds and running straight up, he has posted huge numbers.
The Badgers current duo is proof that a Wisconsin running back can, in fact, come in all shapes and sizes. It's not a physical requirement that makes one, but a mental commitment to toughness and being great.
Gordon has that to spare.