Ohio State coaches and players know what they need to do Saturday to stymie Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Actually being able to follow through on it is another matter.
Wisconsin junior tailback Melvin Gordon leads the nation in rushing and has a legitimate shot at setting the FBS record for single-season rushing yards. He is at 2,260 yards with two games left; that already is the fourth-highest total in FBS history. Gordon is averaging 188.3 yards per game, and hitting his average in each of the next two games will leave him with 2,637 yards; the record is 2,628 yards by Barry Sanders in 1988.
"You stop Melvin Gordon, I think we've got a great chance," Buckeyes linebacker Curtis Grant told reporters Monday during a media availability.
Gordon is riding a streak of 10 consecutive 100-yard games; included in that stretch is a 408-yard outing against Nebraska and four 200-yard games, including three against Big Ten foes. That means that in eight conference games, Gordon hit the 200-yard mark four times, and his lowest output was 122 yards in a 52-7 rout of Maryland in which he was pulled early.
"This is as good a running back (as) they have had, and they have had some great ones," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell told The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper. "Montee Ball, James White and, heck, go all the way back to Ron Dayne. I don't know that they've had one as electric as Gordon."
Those former Wisconsin backs that Fickell mentioned haven't exactly run roughshod over NFL defenses. But NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote that "all the NFL people I talk to are in love with (Gordon). Some people question the history of Badgers rushers in the NFL, but I'm not hearing any concerns from league evaluators about how his game will translate at the next level."
Fickell said it was important for the Buckeyes' defense to keep Gordon under wraps: "We have seen you get some of those guys going, it's hard to get them down."
Ohio State has struggled against the run down the stretch, surrendering a combined 677 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns in November games to Michigan State (with Jeremy Langford), Minnesota (with David Cobb) and Indiana (with Tevin Coleman).
Fickell told reporters that Ohio State knows that Wisconsin is "going to rely on him. They are going to run the football. He can be one of those guys that beats you. They are good enough up front to be able to give him the opportunity to do those things. It poses a lot of problems."
One potential problem for Wisconsin is Gordon's heavy workload. In his first two seasons, Gordon had just two games with at least 20 carries; this season, he has had seven games with at least 25 carries, including each of the past four, and two games with at least 30 carries.
During his weekly news conference Monday, Badgers coach Gary Andersen said Gordon's workload "is definitely in my mind and concerning. This last stretch was unbelievably physical. You look at that Iowa game and you look at the Minnesota game -- the amount of yards he ran, the amount of carries he got, the amount of times he was tackled, the amount of times he was gang tackled -- it all takes its toll without question."
Andersen said he talks with Gordon during and after games, and said "the only thing I can do is listen to Melvin Gordon because I know Melvin is going to tell me what his mindset is. He will be 100 percent ready to roll on Saturday, I guarantee that."
Gordon is 83 yards away from passing USC's Marcus Allen, who ran for 2,342 yards in 1981, and moving into third place on the single-season list. UCF's Kevin Smith currently is second, with 2,567 yards in 2007.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.