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MADISON - After a third straight 100-yard rushing performance, sophomore Melvin Gordon has emerged as one of the top offensive weapons in the conference. And yet, Wisconsin fans want more.
The fastest player in UW history to reach 1,000 career rushing yards (doing so on just 104 carries), Gordon is averaging an astounding 10.0 yards per carry for his career. One of the lone offensive bright spots of Saturday’s 32-30 loss at Arizona State, Gordon rushed for a career-high 193 yards on 15 carries at Arizona State (12.9 yards per carry) and scored a pair of touchdowns.
Those numbers have called for fans to think Gordon deserves more carries in the offense despite the fact that senior James White has also been productive in the offensive, albeit to a lesser extent.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen recognizes the stats favor Gordon, who is averaging 12.9 yards per carry while White is at 6.6 per attempt, but also says those achievements are partially due to the type of play Gordon is asked to run.
"Melvin's production - and we've all got to remember this - Melvin is the fly sweep guy," Andersen said following Thursday's practice. "That's been his play. His yards-per-carry in that play if you want to go back to the Nebraska game and pop this year onto that, I have no idea what it is, but it might be 30 yards. I don't know. It's a lot. I think when you look at his production outside the tackle box, it's great. We want it. We'll take all we can get obviously.
"But when you put him in the tackle box with him and James, they've both played very, very well. And so has Corey (Clement). You want to get Melvin more reps. You want to keep him fresh, want to keep him clean. James is the same way. We want him to get those reps. So right now we have two starting tailbacks and we have Corey as a quality second or third depending on how you're looking at it."
The fly, or jet, sweeps have been a huge weapon in the offense, especially in Wisconsin’s 32-30 loss at Arizona State last Saturday. Of Gordon’s 193 rushing yards, 99 came on two fly sweeps with Gordon in motion, including an 80-yard touchdown run on Wisconsin’s first play from scrimmage in the second half, extending its lead to 21-13.
With that run, Gordon has five runs of 50-plus yards in his last five games.
"On the board, it looks really good," Andersen said. "But it takes a special player obviously to make those plays, and he is being used. If he gets in space, he's very difficult to deal with. He's proven that time and time again."
From the Infirmary
After missing the last two games with an ankle injury, Andersen said inside linebacker Derek Landisch was expected to play Saturday. He'll likely share playing time with Conor O'Neill, who ranks fourth on the team with 13 tackles.
“Tremendous progress the last 48 hours,” said Andersen. “We were hopeful on Tuesday we’d starting moving in that direction and it appears that it has. Right now I would say he’s very likely to play.”
Andersen said he expected sophomore defensive end Jake Keefer to be back for spring practices after he suffered a lateral meniscus tear during an Aug. 12 practice.
"As tough as he is, he'll battle like crazy to get back," Andersen said. "I hope he's back with us. He could
use those reps."
Needing to Be Special
With two punts that have bounced off a downfield blocker and another that was bobbled by a return man, Andersen acknowledged Wisconsin needed to do a better job of handling punts, calling the issue concerning.
“I think we're making good decisions, but we're just too close to traffic,” Andersen said. “That's a concern. I think the kickoff returns have been real close a couple times. A couple of those got up to the 25-, 26-yard line. We need one more block. If we're going to be as potent as we want to be on special teams, I'd like to see the return game take a step up."
“Hopefully we’ll walk in here confidence beginning Big Ten play. I am sure all Badgers fans have a little bit of an edge to them.” – Gary Andersen
Extra Points: Andersen called this past week a “solid week” of practice despite the obvious distractions caused from the finish of the Arizona State game … Andersen said he expected Purdue to work on the back-shoulder throw this past week after watching tape of UW’s game at Arizona State, especially since the Sun Devils has success with the throw and drew five penalties against Uw’s starting cornerbacks … For never being a defender in high school, Andersen said redshirt freshman Nate Hammon did “unbelievable well” during his reps during Saturday, especially since he’s worked hard on tackling, understands concepts and cover the tight ends well.