MADISON, Wis. — By all accounts, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon possesses the physical attributes necessary to make him the next star in the Badgers’ loaded backfield. Of course, there’s more to football than speed, power and being chiseled like Spartacus.
Gordon, a third-stringer behind Montee Ball and James White, is finding out excelling at the highest level of college football isn’t simply handed to anybody.
“We’re trying to get him to get to that level,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Montee and James perform the way they do in a game because of the way they practice. Melvin, I think he realizes he has as much ability as those two, but he doesn’t practice like those two. And that’s the point we’ve been trying to drive home with him.”
Gordon, a redshirt freshman, found himself in Bielema’s doghouse during Wisconsin’s 38-14 victory against Purdue on Saturday when he fumbled on the Badgers’ third play of the second quarter. The second-and-seven play lost two yards but was recovered by Badgers left tackle Ricky Wagner.
It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter, with Wisconsin leading, 38-7, that Gordon reappeared in the game. Bielema also took him off kick return duty because of his inability to maintain control of the football.
Wisconsin’s offense puts a premium on controlling the football and limiting turnovers, perhaps more than any team in the country. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Badgers have lost a combined 28 turnovers, the lowest total in the nation over that span. Alabama has the second-fewest turnovers during that time with 31.
When Gordon returned on Saturday, he gained 82 yards over his next seven carries, including a 51-yarder that nearly went for a touchdown.
Still, running backs coach Thomas Hammock suggested to Bielema that Gordon practice on Sunday with the team’s backups — also known as a developmental practice — in which the second- and third-stringers play 30 to 35 snaps.
“I was kind of leery about practicing him with the developmental, but Thomas said, ‘I want him to know there’s a difference between his preparation and what James and Montee do.’ That was a great coaching point by Thomas yesterday where a head coach learned from his assistant, and hopefully we’ll all benefit.”
Bielema indicated that Gordon thrived during the shortened Sunday practice, perhaps in part to having some extra motivation.
“I walked in and told coach Hammock last night, if we can get (Gordon) to play the way he did Sunday afternoon, we got something really special,” Bielema said. “He was playing with an attitude, running very aggressively, had the high tuck on the ball. Melvin is going to be a good player.”
This season, Gordon has carried the ball 24 times for 230 yards — an average of 9.6 yards per run — with a touchdown. He ranks fourth on the team in all-purpose yards with 357, which combines his kickoff return yardage. Team MVPs awarded: Bielema announced that Badgers left guard Ryan Groy and running back Montee Ball each earned offensive MVP honors for their performance against Purdue on Saturday. Ball also was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
Groy shared the team honor after switching from left guard to left tackle in the middle of the game when starter Ricky Wagner suffered a knee injury. Ball carried 29 times for a career-high 247 yards with three touchdowns.
Defensively, MVPs went to tackle Beau Allen and free safety Dezmen Southward. Allen blocked a punt, and Southward recorded five tackles with his first interception of the season.
Bielema didn’t award a special teams MVP.
Bielema credited Southward’s preparation for his continued improvement.
“He just finally figured out what it meant to lead, to take those corners, make the right calls, understand what a split can mean to a play, understand how his depth is important,” Bielema said. “He’s probably pound for pound our best athlete on the football team.”
Bielema comments on Kill: Bielema was asked for his perspective on dealing with the pressures of being a college football coach in the wake of Minnesota coach Jerry Kill suffering a seizure on Saturday.
Kill, who has a history of seizures, suffered one in the locker room following Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern. He also had a seizure last season during a game against New Mexico State.
Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1 in the Big Ten) plays host to Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) on Saturday at 11 a.m., and Kill’s status for the game isn’t yet known.
“Jerry is extremely dedicated,” Bielema said. “I saw the one quote yesterday, he goes, ‘What do you want me to do? Sit around and wait?’ I think that was from last time. I remember when he was the head coach at Northern Illinois when I was the head coach here when he had an episode. I shot him a text and called his secretary and gave her a little grief because I knew he probably wasn’t the most cooperative patient in the world.
“My guess is he’s doing whatever his wife tells him to do and half of what the doctor tells him to do. We’ll see his best effort on Saturday. I know that. I’ve never been in that situation, that scenario obviously. But I have a lot of respect for what he is.”