Meeting up in the Big Ten Championship game this year will be Ohio State and Wisconsin, which means that the Buckeyes are going to have to stop one of the biggest bulldozers in college football: Melvin Gordon.
Every Big Ten team Gordon has faced this season has given up at least 100 yards rushing and a touchdown to the junior. In fact, the only team to keep Gordon under triple-digits was Western Illinois. At the same time his TD against them was of the receiving variety. So how did the Leathernecks prevent Gordon from denting the end zone in his usual manner?
Like Gordon explained after the game, “It seemed like everybody and their mama was in that box.”
Very few other teams were able to stop Gordon, whether they loaded up the box, or not. That’s why Gordon leads the nation with 2,260 yards, more than 200 yards better than his closest competitor, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.
It’s why he averages 8 yards a carry, and is even stronger against stronger teams. When facing opponent’s from the AP Top 25, he averages 10 yards a carry. As if that isn’t enough, he improves as games go along. In the first half of games, he bites off an average of 6.9 yards every time he touches the ball. In the second half? That number jumps to 9.3.
Not that there aren’t other concerns when it comes to facing the Badgers. When they aren’t handing off to Gordon, the Badgers have the option of running Corey Clement, who has 830 yards of his own, with an average of 6.5 yards a carry. The list of worries doesn’t necessarily include the passing game, however. Wisconsin is ranked 117th nationally in passing yards, throwing for about 148 yards a contest.
Granted Joel Stave has been picking up steam lately and has completed nearly 67 percent of his passes over the course of his last four games; he still is part of an offense that relies on the short game. Wisconsin is 58th in the country in yards per completion, and in half of the eight games he’s played in this season, Stave’s longest pass went no farther than 25 yards. (By comparison, JT Barrett, who is accurate, but not touted for his arm strength only has one game where that is the case.) They’ll also play Tanner McEvoy at the position, but he’ll mostly run it.
Oh, a few passing woes won’t stopping Wisconsin from scoring, though. They’re 14th in points per game.
Running up the score by running over teams might be what the Badgers are known for, but their ability to stop teams cold in their tracks might be just as important to the team’s success. Wisconsin is fourth nationally in scoring defense.
Dave Aranda is the architect of Wisconsin’s 3-4 scheme, with heavy input, of course, from head coach Gary Andersen, who is a defensive guy himself. As a result, even though they lost every member of their front seven from a year ago, Wisconsin is still tough to score on.
On third down, they are especially stingy. They only allow opponents to convert 28.2 percent of the time, good enough to be ranked third in the nation. As for first downs? They’ve given up fewer of those than any other team out there.
Nationally, there are a few teams who will cause more fumbles and record more interceptions. Wisconsin is 68th in turnovers gained. However, they are getting to the quarterback with almost three sacks a game, and a national ranking there of 18th.
Michael Caputo, a redshirt junior safety, leads the team in tackles. Redshirt sophomore and 6’4″ linebacker Vince Biegel leads the list of four Badgers players with double digit tackles-for-loss. Meanwhile, senior linebacker Derek Landisch has the most sacks on the team with 8.
Another area where Wisconsin excels is team discipline. They take fewer penalties than all but 23 other teams. Also, they are 7th nationally in time of possession.
Now it’s finally here! The Big Ten title game. East vs. West. The league’s best offense versus the most stout defense. Hear it this Saturday on 97.1 The Fan.