Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon has carried the ball like a man possessed in the first half of the 2014 season, but his sensational output has done little to guarantee coherent play, let alone victories, for the Badgers.
Gordon's sensational numbers seem to be almost wholly independent of Wisconsin's overall performance thus far in 2014. Of Wisconsin's most visible players this season, Gordon is the one most deserving of immunity from criticism.
|Melvin Gordon Game-by-Game Stats, 2014 Season|
|CAR||RUSH YDS||TD||REC/REC YDS||Opponent||Result|
|17||38||1||4/22||Western Illinois||W, 37-3|
|13||253||5||1/5||Bowling Green||W, 68-17|
|32||181||2||0/0||South Florida||W, 27-10|
Wisconsin's loss to a tough, but perhaps not elite, LSU team and its 14-point effort against Northwestern demonstrate it lacks the all-around skill to complement its star halfback's mighty individual performances.
Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman noted the Badgers' inability to muster a single point in the first half Saturday despite Gordon's heroics:
The Big Ten may have lost some of its luster in recent years, but the Badgers will be hard-pressed to salvage their season after two early losses.
Gordon's averaging 7.8 yards per carry and is one of the best big-play threats in college football despite the fact that nearly all of his yards from scrimmage come on the ground. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald even compared him to the late, great Walter Payton before the game.
"(Payton) had great vision and great balance — and you see that from Melvin," Fitzgerald said, via Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. "There are times guys have clear shots at him, and he has an unbelievable ability to make people miss. He can take the first hit and not break stride. And he gets stronger throughout the game."
Some critics may decry Gordon's inability to get involved in the passing game, but he's not the only potential pass-catcher suffering this season.
The Badgers' depressing quarterback situation is the main culprit for the lack of early success. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy, who played safety last season, has performed well below the expectations of a team looking to rule a power NCAA football conference. Indeed, the team ranks 115th in passing, per ESPN.com.
|Tanner McEvoy, 2014 Stats|
The team turned to quarterback Joel Stave against Northwestern, only to watch him toss three costly interceptions.
Austin Ward of ESPN.com feels the quarterback play takes away the joy of watching Gordon play:
Outside of wide receiver Alex Erickson, there are no reliable receiving options on the squad. Erickson is the only Badger with double-digit receptions after five games.
It forces the Badgers to become one-dimensional on offense, turning to Gordon, sophomore back Corey Clement and McEvoy himself to move the ball on the ground time and time again. The predictability also prevents them from extending drives; the Badgers have converted just 39.1 percent of third downs through their first four games, per NCAA.com.
Wisconsin's defense has been terrific, giving up just 15.6 points per game thus far. If this unit can be faulted at all, it's that they don't force enough turnovers—seven through five games against largely inferior competition—to give their offense some much-needed extra opportunities with the football.
The team will also run into some formidable defenses in their remaining Big Ten schedule, which could prove to be disastrous if the Badgers want to keep a run at the conference title intact. Nebraska and Minnesota are giving up just 19 points per game, good for 22nd in the nation, while Iowa ranks 18th in the nation.
Iowa could indeed be the toughest matchup, as they are giving up just 2.93 yards per rush, via NCAA.com. If they bottle up Gordon, the Badgers offense has very little in the way of a plan B.
Two losses at this point in the season are a killer for team looking to stay afloat in the top 25, even with the litany of early upsets. The Badgers still have an outside shot to emerge as the top team in the Big Ten West, but they will have to overcome the aforementioned defensive-minded teams in order to escape the remainder of the season unscathed.
The Michigan State Spartans could very well join the Badgers with two marks in the loss column at some point, but their first loss came against Oregon and shouldn't reflect poorly on their status by the end of the season, regardless if the Seminoles slip up at any point in 2014.
Wisconsin will have a difficult run to finish out the season, and Gordon could very well be the only player garnering any high-profile hardware when all is said and done.