Northwestern looking at 3-headed monster in Wisconsin run game
BY SETH GRUEN Staff Reporter October 8, 2013 8:59PM
Melvin Gordon, Antoine Lewis
Updated: October 8, 2013 11:46PM
Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell has a simple solution for one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country. All the Wildcats need to do Saturday to stop Wisconsin’s trio of dynamic running backs is prevent them from getting to the edge.
That’s easier to say than it is to accomplish.
The Badgers lead the Big Ten with 1,503 rushing yards through five games. Their running attack differs from those of years past. Typically, between-the-tackles running has been used to set up play action and big gains in the passing game. This season, Wisconsin has been able to rely on its rushers when it needs a big play.
The Badgers average 7.4 yards per carry, which leads the nation. Speedy sophomore Melvin Gordon leads the Big Ten with 698 yards and 10.3 yards per carry.
‘‘If he can’t get to the edge, his speed doesn’t really affect us,’’ Campbell said. ‘‘We’re going to try to prevent him from being able to use his speed, really, because you can really only use your speed when you have open space. You can’t really get that when you’re in the backfield or between the tackles.’’
What makes the Badgers’ attack especially strong is that they don’t allow any one player to shoulder the load. Defenses are always facing a relatively fresh rusher.
Gordon hasn’t carried more than 16 times in a game this season and has carried as few as nine times. Senior James White (473 yards, 6.9 yards per carry) and freshman Corey Clement (334, 7.6) are his supporting cast. Both rank in the top 10 in the conference.
Each of the three running backs has a touchdown of at least 70 yards. They have a total of 15 rushing touchdowns.
How are they able to make so many big plays in the run game? NU coach Pat Fitzgerald credits the players but also the offensive staff of new coach Gary Andersen. The Badgers position their blockers in a way that gives them an advantage against any defense, Fitzgerald said.
That could make for a bit of a chess match Saturday.
‘‘We’ve got to fit everything properly,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘They do such a good job schematically of trying to always outnumber you at the point of attack. If you stop them with that stuff, then they are going to come back and bring some counteraction the other way or misdirection.’’