Published Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm / Updated at 9:30 pm
Barfknecht: Badger star Melvin Gordon was almost a Hawkeye

For the slow-yet-steady progress that Iowa football has made offensively this season, what remains painfully apparent is the lack of a breakaway threat.

Somebody like Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, the nation's No. 4 rusher who will strut his stuff in front of Iowa fans at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound sophomore from Kenosha, Wis., leads the country in yards per carry at 9.5. And he leads the country in runs of 50-plus yards (four), and 60-plus (four), and 70-plus (three) and 80-plus (one).

Why that matters is for three months in the fall of 2010, Gordon was committed to Iowa.

The collective groan you hear is from Hawkeye fans wondering “what if.”

Gordon told the Wisconsin State Journal that he had a strong relationship at the time with former Iowa running backs coach Lester Erb, who now is at Nevada. But by the end of Gordon's senior year of high school, he had switched to Wisconsin, saying he would rather be two hours from home than five.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday he remembers the day Gordon committed. He also recalls some immediate reservations.

“I never got the feeling everybody was totally on board with it in his entire family,” Ferentz said. “Recruiting is an emotional thing, and it didn't work out.

“It's hard to recruit across state borders. I'm not saying that was the sole deciding factor. But Wisconsin has done a wonderful job recruiting their state.”

Gary Andersen, in his first season as Wisconsin head coach, is delighted Gordon stayed home.

“He's a special player,” Andersen said. “Every single time the young man touches the ball, somebody or some coach somewhere is taking a big deep breath and saying, 'Watch out! Where's this going to stop?' It could go all the way every single time he touches it.”

Nebraska fans don't have to be reminded of that.

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In the Big Ten championship game last season, Gordon bolted 56 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes in. He finished with 216 yards rushing on just nine carries in the 70-31 thrashing.

Gordon, slowed by injury last spring, came into the season No. 2 on the depth chart behind senior James White. Gordon quickly earned shared carries and then more by running for 144 yards in the opener and following with totals of 140, 193, 147, 74, 172 and 142.

The only game with less than 100 yards was against No. 4 Ohio State, when Gordon missed the fourth quarter with a slight knee sprain.

“Melvin's productivity is off the charts,” Andersen said. “But past that, his ability to be unselfish, prepare each week, be Steady Eddie is incredible.”

Because of the Big Ten scheduling rotation, this is Gordon's first game against Iowa. For Ferentz, describing Gordon is tricky because of the player's lanky frame and ability to cut high speed in traffic.

“I'm not very good with the comparison game,” Ferentz said. “But, boy, he's explosive and dangerous.”

Andersen, a lifelong defensive coach paid to stop good running backs, also scratches his head when asked for a Gordon lookalike.

“Nobody is quite as dynamic in the run game as Melvin,” the coach said. “His natural ability is unbelievable, and he's done a great job of developing himself.”

The best running backs don't remind you of others. They have their own style. That's why Gordon already has topped 1,000 yards (1,012), giving Wisconsin a 1,000-yard rusher for a national-best ninth straight year.

Such production also makes Gordon a late-blooming candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Plus, if he wins it, you don't have to worry about him dropping it. He hasn't lost a fumble in his career.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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