Badgers knock off Hawkeyes as Gordon reaches another milestone
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Melvin Gordon’s single-game rushing record barely lasted a week.
His Heisman Trophy hopes — and Wisconsin’s Big Ten title chances — are stronger than ever after another brilliant performance from the nation’s top running back.
Gordon surpassed 2,000 yards rushing with 200 yards and two touchdowns, and 14th-ranked Wisconsin held off Iowa 26-24 on Saturday for its sixth straight win.
Gordon became the 17th FBS player with a 2,000-yard rushing season to lead the Badgers (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten), who nearly blew a 16-point lead before hanging on behind Gordon in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin still has to win at home against Minnesota — which got past Nebraska on the road 28-24 earlier Saturday — to earn a shot at East champion Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
“It feels good because everything is on the line next week. Minnesota is going to give us their all and we’re going to give them ours. We have to,” Gordon said.
His latest big game came only hours after Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine broke Gordon’s week-old FBS record with 427 yards rushing in a win over Kansas.
But Gordon was sensational in his own right, cracking the 2,000-yard plateau on an 88-yard run midway through the third quarter.
“That’s disappointing, to have that. But congrats to that guy; that’s really not easy to do,” Gordon said of Perine.
Jake Rudock had 311 yards passing and two TDs for the Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3), who rallied from 16 down to get to 26-24 with just more than 5 minutes left.
Iowa and Nebraska wrap up the regular season in Iowa City on Friday in a matchup of two teams knocked out of the West race with crushing home losses.
“They made a couple plays that we couldn’t execute. That’s what winning teams do,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Wisconsin watched its 16-point lead dwindle to 19-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Gordon made sure the Badgers didn’t blow it.
He caught a 35-yard pass on third-and-13 and followed his blockers for the 23-yard TD run that put Wisconsin ahead 26-17.
Rudock’s 9-yard TD pass to Jake Duzey with 5:01 left made it 26-24. But Joel Stave’s 12-yard run with 1:55 left clinched it for the Badgers.
Stave was 11 of 14 passing for 139 yards, including 64 to Gordon, for Wisconsin.
Gordon “made a big-time play at the end there. Caught a couple of balls that were big difference makers for us,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.
Gordon had a sluggish first half, running for just 39 yards against an Iowa defense that was intent on stopping him. But he broke left and bolted for a career-high 88 yards before cornerback Greg Mabin caught him from behind in the third quarter.
Iowa held the Badgers to a field goal that put them up 19-3.
Gordon reached 2,000 yards on 241 carries — faster than anyone in NCAA history — and tied Ron Dayne’s single-season Big Ten mark of 2,109.
But Rudock rallied the reeling Hawkeyes with an impressive 20-yard TD strike to Kevonte Martin-Manley. Rudock then pulled Iowa to 19-17 on a 3-yard TD run with 11:10 left, but his two-point conversion throw was incomplete.
“We had to change the menu a little bit in that second half,” Ferentz said.
The attention that Iowa paid to Gordon cost them dearly early in the second quarter.
Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy faked a handoff to Gordon, and while many Hawkeyes fans were cheering a hit on Gordon in the backfield, McEvoy sneaked through the defense for a 45-yard TD run to put Wisconsin ahead 9-3.
Gordon went untouched for his 26th touchdown of the season, from 6 yards out, to give Wisconsin a 16-3 halftime lead.
Iowa pushed the Badgers to the brink in the second half. But thanks to Gordon, Wisconsin is just one step from setting up a title game showdown with the Buckeyes in Indianapolis.
“This team hung in there and they fought. Adversity struck again and they battled through it,” Andersen said.