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Melvin Gordon putting up big stats despite no passing attack

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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is averaging 174.2 rushing yards per game.

Wisconsin junior tailback Melvin Gordon leads the nation in rushing. Just think how productive he could be if the Badgers had any kind of passing attack.

Gordon (6-foot-1, 213 pounds) is averaging 174.2 yards per game and is coming off a career-high 259-yard performance against Northwestern. But as dominant as Gordon was against the Wildcats (he averaged 9.6 yards per carry and scored a TD), the Badgers scored just 14 points and lost by six. The passing attack -- and by extrapolation, poor quarterback play -- was the reason.

Wisconsin quarterbacks Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave combined to go 12-of-29 (41.4 percent) for 138 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. That type of day through the air will get you beat even when you have a tailback who rambles for 259 yards.


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Unfortunately for Wisconsin, while Gordon and the rushing attack have been a well-oiled machine, the passing attack is sputtering and leaking oil. The Badgers are 13th in the Big Ten and 116th nationally in pass offense, at 148.0 yards per game. The quarterbacks are completing 54.2 percent of their passes, but that figure is skewed because of a 24-of-29 performance (82.8 percent) in an easy win over FCS foe Western Illinois (the Leathernecks are 2-4, with their wins coming over two non-scholarship FCS programs).

The performance against Northwestern wasn't even the worst game of the season for Badgers quarterbacks: They combined to go 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) for just 50 yards and two picks in a season-opening loss to LSU. Thus, in Wisconsin's two games against Power Five conference foes this season, the quarterbacks are 20-of-53 (37.7 percent) for 188 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions.

In the two games against Power Five foes, Gordon ran for 399 yards and two touchdowns. Thus, even with a hugely productive tailback that other defenses must account for on every snap, the Badgers' quarterbacks struggled.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said during his weekly Monday news conference that he plans to play both quarterbacks against Illinois.

"That's the direction that we potentially can move, I hope, as we go forward, to play within the strengths of Joel, play within the strengths of Tanner," Andersen said. "And then, quite frankly, if one of them turns around and runs away with it and is more productive, then that's the direction that you go."

Gordon, called "a big-play runner with outstanding speed and quickness" by NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks in August, professed not to be worried when he talked with the media Monday.

"We've got to keep moving forward. It's still a long season," Gordon said. "We've got to hope some things go in our favor. ... We just have to win out."

Beating Illinois should not be difficult. Gordon rushed 142 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-32 win over the Illini last season, and Illinois' defense statistically is the worst in the Big Ten (482.3 yards per game, 35.5 points per game). While Gordon should run wild -- again -- of more concern for Badgers coaches will be the quarterback play: Quite simply, if McEvoy and/or Stave struggle against the Illini -- who surrendered 551 yards last week to a Purdue team with a new starting quarterback -- there might be no hope for either one of them.

And that would be a shame considering the guy those quarterbacks have lined up behind them.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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