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MADISON - Fresh off a 24-point road win Saturday and preparing to play its eighth straight game to begin the season, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema made the decision to give his starters a rest Sunday, turning a normal light workday into a developmental period for the second and third string … and redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon.
“We got probably 30, 35 reps of guys that are like our third stringers, and I walked in and told coach (Thomas) Hammock that if we can get (Gordon) to play the way he did Sunday afternoon, he's pretty special,” Bielema said during his Monday news conference. “He was running aggressively, had the high tuck on the ball. Melvin's going to be a good player.
When one of his players makes a critical mistake in a game or a practice, whether it be a turnover, penalty or missed assignment, Bielema is quick to make a personnel change, having little tolerance for mental mistakes.
So when Gordon fumbled on his only carry in the first half at Purdue, resulting in center Travis Frederick pouncing on the football to retain possession, the tailback trotted to the sidelines and found himself stuck on the sidelines.
But with Wisconsin’s running attack having enough success to open up a 24-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Hammock urged Bielema to put Gordon back in the game to get his confidence pointed in the right direction.
Gordon responded with six fourth-quarter carries for 82 yards to finish with 80 yards and 11.4 yards per carry. In seven games this season, Gordon is averaging 9.6 yards per carry, best on the team among players with at least 20 carries.
According to Bielema, part of the reason the staff wanted to run Gordon yesterday was to get him accustomed to practicing aggressive, something the two tailbacks ahead of him have learned to master.
“Montee (Ball) and James (White) perform the way they do in the game because of the way they practice,” Bielema said. “Melvin, I think he realizes he has as much ability as those two, but he doesn't practice like those two. That's the point we've been trying to drive home with him. It's been pointed out to him, and he'll be the first to admit it. He's young. He's a redshirt freshman, and he's going to get better.
“I was kind of leery about (Melvin) practicing with the developmental. Thomas said, ‘I want him to
know there's a difference between his preparation and what James and Montee do.’ So it was a great coaching point by Thomas yesterday, where a head coach learned from his assistant, and hopefully we'll all benefit.”
From the Infirmary
Even with junior linebacker Ethan Armstrong on crutches following Saturday’s victory, Chris Borland knew that the junior linebacker would somehow find a way to play this weekend.
“He’s probably the toughest player on the team,” said Borland.
With no surgery required, Bielema is expected Armstrong to practice midweek, no surprise from a guy that has overcome surgeries on each shoulder, a broken hip and a broken finger earlier in the season.
“He's incredibly resilient,” said Bielema. “He's a very, very gifted football player. Chris and Mike (Taylor) take away a lot of the limelight. Ethan is as good of athlete as those two guys and probably plays as fast. Plays in a position where he can't get involved in too many tackles. A lot of times he's detached just by nature, the way we line him up, and he doesn't get involved as much.
“He's a former walk-on, so I've always had a special interest in his well-being.”
After not making the trip Saturday, Bielema said he would be shocked if defensive end Tyler Dippel (shoulder) did not play against Minnesota. He also said Robby Burge should be available midweek and sophomore guard Dallas Lewallen could be involved this weekend, as well.
The only player Wisconsin might miss on Saturday is senior left tackle Ricky Wagner. Getting his right knee rolled on late in the first half by right guard Kyle Costigan, Bielema said Wagner’s status is questionable.
Bielema n if the team’s rebound the last two weeks is as rewarding as last season when his team blew out opponents
“I think any time the truly successful men in life are defined more by their failures than they are by their successes. If you have any bit of sense of pride in making sure you do things right and you have some setbacks and other people begin to question you or doubt you. We have a tendency to stick to what we do best, and it ends up being triumphant. We're not where we need to be, but to see the rewards of some changes we made and to see the way our kids are playing is very, very rewarding.”
Extra Points: Wisconsin named Ryan Groy and Montee Ball co-offensive MVPs and Beau Allen and Dezmen Southward co-defensive MVPs for their performances against Purdue. UW did not award a special teams MVP … Former UW fullback and current Atlanta Falcons rookie Bradie Ewing is expected to be in Madison this weekend … Wisconsin will look for its ninth straight win over Minnesota Saturday, which can match the longest win streak by either team in the series.