Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon Could Have a Big Day Versus Auburn in the Outback Bowl

Bob FoxContributor IDecember 31, 2014

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon runs against Minnesota during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Andy Manis/Associated Press

When the 10-3 Wisconsin Badgers take on the 8-4 Auburn Tigers on New Year's Day at the Outback Bowl, expect to see a high-scoring game. The game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Also expect to see a very productive day from running back Melvin Gordon of the Badgers. Why? Because of No. 25's performance for the bulk of the 2014 season and the fact that the Auburn defense has many shortcomings.

For the season, Gordon has rushed for 2,339 yards on 309 carries, which leads the country. That equates to a 7.6 yards-per-carry average. Gordon has also rushed for 26 touchdowns.

No. 25 can hurt you in the passing game, too, as he has 17 receptions for 151 yards and three more scores.

Auburn comes into its matchup against Wisconsin ranked just 57th in the nation in total defense. The Tigers give up an average of 388.7 yards a game. Auburn is also ranked 58th in scoring defense, as it gives up an average of 26.1 points per game.

Against the run, the Tigers are ranked 44th and have given up an average of 149.5 yards per game.

Gordon should be able to exploit that weakness.

But he will be helped if quarterback Joel Stave can have a solid day. Why? The biggest weakness on the defense of the Tigers is their secondary.

Auburn is ranked 80th in pass defense and has given up an average of 239.2 yards per game through the air.

Stave could have a nice afternoon. But No. 2 hasn't exactly had a stellar year throwing the football. Yes, the passing game got better for the Badgers once Stave was installed as the primary quarterback over Tanner McEvoy, but it still needs to improve.

For the 2014 season, Stave has thrown eight touchdown passes versus seven picks for 1,229 yards. His completion percentage is just 53.6 percent.

Stave needs to take advantage of the Auburn secondary. That will help Gordon since Auburn won't be able to stack the box like Ohio State did in the Big Ten Championship Game.

That means the receivers of the Badgers need to come through versus Auburn. Stave looks mostly to wide receiver Alex Erickson when he's passing. Erickson has 51 catches for 734 yards and three touchdowns.

Stave also likes to utilize tight end Sam Arneson, who has 27 catches for 354 yards and four touchdowns.

The key for both Stave and Gordon will be the play of the offensive line for the Badgers. It appears that starting center Dan Voltz will be able to play based on a report by Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That will be key, because Voltz missed most of the Ohio State game due to an ankle sprain he suffered against Minnesota. With Voltz starting at center, the offensive line of the Badgers is more in sync and plays much more effectively.

The Badgers are ranked 22nd in total offense in the country. The running game is ranked third in the nation, while the passing game is ranked a paltry 116th.

The passing game has to improve against the vulnerable Auburn secondary. Otherwise, the Badgers could be in big trouble.

Why? The Tigers have one of the most explosive offenses in the country. They are ranked 16th in total offense and average 35.8 points per game.

Auburn can hurt you in the running game; the Tigers are ranked 12th in that area. The Tigers are ranked just 64th in passing offense, but they do have 21 passing touchdowns.

Quarterback Nick Marshall
Quarterback Nick MarshallButch Dill/Associated Press

The offense is led by quarterback Nick Marshall, who can beat you with his arm and his legs. Marshall has thrown 18 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 2,315 yards.

He has also rushed for 780 yards and 11 touchdowns. The player who totes the rock the most for Auburn is Cameron Artis-Payne, who has rushed for 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Marshall will be missing his top receiver for the Outback Bowl, as D'haquille Williams will not play because he broke team rules, according to head coach Gus Malzahn. Williams finished with 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns.

Without Williams, expect to see receivers like Sammie Coates (30 catches for 717 yards and four touchdowns) and Quan Bray (34 catches for 408 yards and four touchdowns) have larger roles in the Auburn offense against the Badgers.

The Wisconsin defense—which played very well most of the season, only to be exposed in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State—faces a big test versus Auburn.

Going into the game, the Badgers are ranked fourth in the country in total defense, even after the 59-0 beating they took against the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin is ranked 17th versus the run and fourth against the pass. You wouldn't have known that based on the way the defense performed against Ohio State.

But knowing now that then head coach Gary Andersen was about to leave for the same position at Oregon State just a few days later, one has to wonder about the team's preparation prior to that game.

Because of Andersen's departure, athletic director Barry Alvarez will be the interim coach for this game, even with the hiring of Paul Chryst as the new head coach.

The last time Auburn and Wisconsin played in a bowl game was nine years ago in the Capital One Bowl. That was also supposed to be the last game Alvarez would ever coach, as the Badgers dominated the Tigers 24-10.

But Alvarez has now had to coach on an interim basis twice in bowl games. Once for the 2013 Rose Bowl after head coach Bret Bielema left to take the same job at Arkansas and now for the Outback Bowl due to Andersen taking the Oregon State job.

The game between Wisconsin and Auburn could come down to special teams on New Year's Day.

Bray is a dangerous punt returner for the Tigers. He has averaged 18.1 yards per return, which is second in the nation. He has two touchdown returns.

Kenzel Doe of the Badgers is 16th in the country in punt returns, as he averages 11 yards a return.

Both teams have solid kickers. Rafael Gaglianone of the Badgers is ranked 11th in the country in field-goal percentage, having converted 17 of 20 field goals. Daniel Carlson of the Tigers has made 12 of 17 kicks, which has him tied for 27th in the rankings.

John Raoux/Associated Press

Bottom line, the Outback Bowl should be a fun game to watch, as I expect to see plenty of scoring from the Badgers and Tigers. The team that has the fewest turnovers will most likely win this game.

I anticipate to see a lot of firepower in the game and wouldn't be surprised if Gordon, the Doak Walker Award winner, provides a lot of it.

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