MADISON, Wis. (AP) — On the ground at the end of a run, Melvin Gordon felt the twist.
No. 11 Wisconsin’s star running back hopped back up late in the fourth quarter of last week’s win over Minnesota and started walking gingerly toward the sideline favoring his right ankle.
It didn’t seem to slow Gordon down last week. It doesn’t seem like it will prevent him from playing Saturday against No. 6 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
Coach Gary Andersen, though, will be keeping close tabs after a heavy workload the past few weeks.
“It’s got me on high alert and the only thing I can do is listen to Melvin Gordon, because I know Melvin is going to tell me what his mindset is — and he will be 100 percent ready to roll on Saturday,” Andersen said.
It should help that backup running back Corey Clement, who has been bothered by a right shoulder injury, is getting better. He ran for 89 yards on seven carries in the second half against Minnesota, and Andersen expects Clement to get more touches.
Gordon, though, remains the top option for the Badgers (10-2).
“But how I can help him get to where he is today — so as good as he can possibly be on Saturday — I know I’m going to do everything I can to help him,” Andersen said.
Gordon had 31 carries for 200 yards on Nov. 22 against Iowa, and 29 carries for 151 yards the following week against Minnesota. Both were physical games against opponents also in the Big Ten West division title hunt. Tacklers ganged up trying to bring down the Heisman Trophy candidate.
In the end, it was the Badgers who emerged atop the West.
Ohio State (11-1) knows its first task is stopping the run.
“You stop Melvin Gordon, I think we’ve got a great chance,” Buckeyes linebacker Curtis Grant said.
The teams haven’t met this season, though the Buckeyes can draw confidence from last year’s 31-24 win in Columbus. Back then, Gordon was held to 74 yards on 15 carries but he was splitting time with James White, who is now with the New England Patriots.
Grant described the effort last year as the defense bringing “it to them as much as they brought it to us.”
Sounds like a similar plan is in place for Saturday.
“In order to stop a running game, you’ve got to have great team defense, you’ve got to surround the ball, you’ve got to build a wall at the line of scrimmage, you’ve got to swarm tackles,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said.
And in those occasions when Gordon has one-on-one matchups — well, look out.
“There’s going to be opportunities in the game where one man is going to have to bring him down in open space,” Fickell said. “And that’s the difference between big plays and ones that go 6, 7, 8 yards … What it comes down to is leverage on the ball and tackling.”
It does sound so simple.
Gordon, though, has made opponents pay. He is also getting better as the season wears on — he is averaging 241 yards rushing over his last four games. More than 40 percent of his Big Ten-record 2,260 yards this season have come in that span alone.
He’s breaking tackles, cutting quickly through holes and making defenders look silly in the open.
“He’s a very powerful — he looks like an angry — runner,” Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry said.
Gordon said he twisted his ankle a couple times last week on his own against Minnesota. He was fine, though he hobbled off with about 3 minutes left in the game after suspecting that some Gophers player in the pile took a shot at the ankle.
“He definitely did that on purpose,” Gordon said. “They knew that the game was over, but you don’t have to do that.”
He said he also sprained the ankle several times last season. When it happens, Gordon gets it taped up and heads back out.
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this story.
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