Melvin Gordon felt a surge of excitement go through his body when he lined up at tailback for the first time on Saturday for the Wisconsin football team.
While Gordon has appreciated his snaps lined up in the slot, he is, after all, a running back. So, it felt good to line up at tailback on the Badgers’ touchdown drive in the third quarter of last week’s 37-26 victory over UTEP.
“When I got in there, my adrenaline started rushing,” Gordon said. “It felt good. I walked off (to) the sideline and I told Montee (Ball), ‘Man, I’m feeling this, I like this.’ It was fun. I’m looking forward to getting more.”
Gordon, who played in three games last season as a true freshman before redshirting due to a groin injury, needed only eight carries to record his first 100-yard game at UW. With the majority of his snaps coming out of the slot, he finished with 112 yards and a robust 14-yard average per carry.
It’s the kind of performance fans have been expecting from Gordon, who was tabbed as UW’s next great back almost from the time he set foot on campus. Some of those expectations came after rushing for 2,009 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior at Kenosha Bradford.
“He was the kind of guy who was expected to have three or four touchdowns every game and a couple hundred yards,” said Jed Kennedy, who coached Gordon at Bradford and is now the coach at Pulaski. “The great thing about Melvin — this is when I knew he was really, really special — his best games were against the best people we played.”
Kennedy will never forget the game Gordon had at Stevens Point as a senior in 2010, pitting No. 1 Bradford against the No. 2 Panthers. Gordon finished with 12 carries for 291 yards and four touchdowns on runs of 71, 56, 59 and 44 yards.
But sometimes even prep phenoms have to wait their turn in college, which has happened to Gordon, who has been stuck behind two outstanding backs in Ball, a senior, and junior James White.
Gordon has publicly demonstrated such patience he couldn’t even be drawn into saying his performance last week warranted more carries.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done enough yet,” Gordon said. “I still feel like I can do better. I feel like I have more to prove as a player. I’m looking forward to playing better.”
Privately, Gordon’s frustration might have seeped out on occasion. He didn’t get a carry in the first two games, then played about 15 snaps out of the slot in the third game against Utah State with two carries for 18 yards.
Running backs coach Thomas Hammock acknowledged Gordon was “a little discouraged” last week after mostly going in motion as a decoy.
“What I tried to explain to him ... you do your job every play, everybody can have success, whether you’re getting the ball or not,” Hammock said.
Gordon understands the situation and devoted himself to getting better in practice while soaking up all he can from Ball and White.
“I tried to stay motivated,” Gordon said of his lack of early carries. “Montee and James kept telling me, ‘They’re going to use all three of us.’ ”
Gordon’s breakaway speed, which he flashed last week, had a major impact on the offense. After lining up at tailback, he came close to busting a 33-yard touchdown run on the fourth-quarter drive after UW’s lead was cut to 23-19. He barely stepped out of bounds at the UTEP 13-yard line after a 20-yard gain.
After White’s 2-yard touchdown plunge, UW got the ball back after recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Gordon scored his second career touchdown — he had one last season — on a 26-yard run around left end, taking the handoff after coming in motion from the slot.
No one was happier for Gordon than Ball, who left the game early in the second quarter with an apparent concussion.
“We all know what he’s capable of doing,” Ball said. “He just had to go out and show it and I think he did.”
The question now is what Gordon can do between the tackles since almost all of his yardage came outside. Hammock doesn’t think that’s an issue.
“I don’t think he’ll have the type of average he had (Saturday), but I’m confident he can do whatever is asked of him to do,” Hammock said.
Gordon, 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, smiled when asked if some people might doubt his ability to run inside.
“I didn’t get that many runs up the middle,” he said. “But in due time I will. Anybody who thinks otherwise, I’ll show ’em.”
When that “due time” comes is open to question. Gordon figured to have a significant role at Nebraska on Saturday night, but it now looks like Ball will likely play.
“I definitely think it’s good for any young player, when they’re given an opportunity, to perform, that they show up,” Hammock said. “You have to perform well in practice to perform well in games. He’s certainly been doing that.”