White, Gordon must shoulder load at Ohio State

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Saturday, September 28, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio--Melvin Gordon and James White were relegated to minor roles when Wisconsin last faced Ohio State.

UW tailbacks ran the ball 48 times in the 21-14 overtime loss to the Buckeyes last season in Madison.

Montee Ball had 39 of those carries for 191 yards and a touchdown. White and Gordon?

White carried eight times for 33 yards but didn’t touch the ball in the final quarter or overtime. Gordon carried once—and lost a yard.

With Ball playing for the Denver Broncos, Gordon and White will be asked to carry the running game when UW (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) faces Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) at 7 p.m. today at Ohio Stadium.

Gordon, who leads the nation in rushing yards per carry and per game, sounded like a wounded competitor when talking about his role last season.

“It was definitely tough for me; I’m not going to lie,” said Gordon, who referred to himself as a decoy in the 2012 game. “It was hard for me, getting one carry and negative yards.

“I just wanted to get out there so bad to get used to how they play. I knew they were a good team last year. I just wanted to get adjusted to how fast they are. I really didn’t get a chance.

“I’m excited to come out Saturday and play these guys.”

Gordon is averaging 11.8 yards per carry and 156.0 per game. Eight of his 53 carries have been for 20 yards or more. The average gain on those is 45.9 yards.

White is averaging 7.2 yards per carry and 110.5 per game, the latter the No. 25 mark nationally. Five of his 61 carries have been for 20 yards or longer. The average gain on those is 42.8 yards.

“It seems like every year they get, if not the same quality back, maybe even a little bit better,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I haven’t seen the whole country but I can’t imagine two better backs on the same team.”

Motivational tactic?

Cynical minds might suggest Meyer is doing little more than attempting to motivate his tailbacks with such lofty praise. After all he called UW the “king” of the Big Ten during his weekly news conference.

That served as a reminder to his players that although the Buckeyes won the Leaders Division title last season with an 8-0 mark they were not allowed to participate in the Big Ten title game because of NCAA sanctions.

Regardless of Meyer’s motivation, White and Gordon are co-leading actors in the UW backfield this season.

“It can be difficult at times,” White said when asked about his small role in the game last season. “But at the same time everybody on the team has to know their role.

“Me and Melvin knew our roles. When the opportunities were presented to us and we got that carry we tried to do what we could with it.

“At the same time, not try to do something out of our nature. Just go out there and move the chains for the team.”

Gordon and White have done that this season.

Gordon has gained 22 first downs on the ground. He has lost yardage on two carries for a total of 5 yards. White has gained 13 first downs on the ground. He has lost yardage on nine carries for a total of 17 yards.

White has more runs between the tackles than Gordon, who is a threat to go the distance on jet sweeps.

Although Gordon is the more explosive runner, White showed tremendous cutting ability on his 70-yard touchdown run against Purdue and is second on the team in receptions with 11 for 115 yards.

“They’re great backs,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “They both have a part in the offense, and a big part in the offense, and will continue to.

“It’s a great balance….You saw them in there a couple of times last week together, and that’s something we’ll continue to do as we move forward.”

Clash of strengths

The Badgers entered the week No. 3 nationally in rushing offense at 349.8 yards per game. Ohio State entered the week No. 9 against the run, allowing only 79.8.

However, the three Football Bowl Subdivision teams the Buckeyes have faced—California, Buffalo and San Diego State—entered the week 97th, 112th and 113th nationally in rushing offense.

Gordon, a more physical runner than when he arrived at UW in 2011, can’t wait to face Ohio State’s defense on Saturday.

“You’ve got to get adjusted to the hits,” he said. “I remember my first scrimmage here. I couldn’t move the next day.”

And now?

“I’ve been hit hard this year,” he said. “That comes with the position. You’ve got to be able to accept that pain and push through it.

“They’re athletic, high-motor guys and they’re going to hit you, especially if they’ve got a clean shot.

“So you’ve got to have your pads down and be ready.”

White and Gordon are ready. They’ve been waiting for this opportunity since last season.

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