Oct. 21, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- With fireworks lighting up the sky over Memorial Stadium -- Illinois leads the Big Ten in pyrotechnics if little else -- Wisconsin tailbacks James White and Melvin Gordon busted off some dances moves on the field. White and Gordon were waiting to be interviewed by the Big Ten Network following Saturday night’s 56-32 win over the Illini, losers of 16 straight league games.
White burst into laughter trying to explain his spontaneous dance with Gordon, not to be confused with the one the duo have made their trademark touchdown celebration this season.
“We were just happy we won; it was our first win on the road for the season, so we had some fun with it,” said White, who was still painfully conscious of two previous late-night losses at Arizona State and Ohio State. “Coach (Gary) Andersen talks about it all the time. We’re a good team. But in order to be great, we have to win on the road. It was definitely something we stressed the whole week.”
The Badgers have always been well-stocked in Ballers (tailbacks) and Maulers (O-linemen). This season is no exception with White, Gordon and freshman Corey Clement.
Against Illinois, the trio had 44 carries, 294 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Gordon led the way with 142 yards, the sixth time in seven games that he has run for 140 or more. He also went over 1,000 yards for the season; the ninth straight year (and the 19th in the last 21) that a UW running back has reached that plateau.
Entering the Wisconsin game off its second bye of the season, Illinois coach Tim Beckman expressed understandable concern over Gordon running the jet sweep against his defense. Reading between the lines, you can reasonably assume the Illini drilled the last two weeks on stopping that one play. Outside linebacker Mike Svetina was lined up perfectly to make a tackle -- save for one thing.
|“November is a big month in college football,” White said. “That’s when a lot of teams fall off. We don’t want to be one of those teams.”
“It was one-on-one and I just outran him,” said Gordon, who scooted 26 yards. “I knew the way we had drawn it up, it would be me and him (Svetina) and I just had to outrun him. Once I got around the corner, the receivers got some good blocks and they really helped me out.”
The last time the Badgers beat Illinois in Champaign -- a hard-fought win in 2011 -- Montee Ball overshadowed White by rushing 38 times for 224 yards. White, by contrast, had one carry for minus-1. He was far more productive and a bigger part of the offense Saturday. He rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, a Big Ten high for him this year. He also caught three passes for 29 yards and a TD.
White has scored in six of seven games and continues to be the team’s second-leading receiver.
“I felt good both ways (running and receiving),” White said. “I’m more involved in the passing game this year, so when the ball comes my way I have to catch it and try to make a play for the team.”
The Badgers have obviously gotten big-play results from the tandem of White and Gordon.
“It’s unbelievable,” UW quarterback Joel Stave said of their impact. “It makes it so much easier for the offense, so much easier for the quarterback. And with the way we move people up front those guys get holes to run through and they can really make something happen.”
The same can be said of wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who was making it “happen” by repeatedly getting open against the Illini. “He’s just that kind of player,” Stave said. “You have a lot of confidence that he will get open and he’ll run the right route. He does it time and time again.”
Abbrederis had eight catches for 106 yards; the longest was for 28. He could have easily had more catches and yards. He should have had a long touchdown, too, a 75-yarder, but Stave’s throw into the stiff wind came up well short of Abbrederis, who was unimpeded sprinting past the deep coverage.
“I’ve got to recognize that (the wind) and put it a little bit more on a line,” Stave said. “When he’s that wide open, you just don’t want to miss him. I was trying to get it out in front of him and I threw it too high and it got caught up in the wind.”
Stave completed 16 of 21 throws for 189 yards. He wasn’t aware of his numbers immediately afterward but conceded that they could have been better. “I would have liked to have been a lot better than that,” he said. “There are a few you’d like to get back, that’s how the game goes.”
• • • •
Getting off to a fast start was part of the game plan for Wisconsin, especially after the players spent Saturday afternoon watching slow-starting teams get upset.
“Earlier in the day,” said linebacker-safety Michael Caputo, “we saw a lot of teams asleep and Coach (Gary Andersen) said, ‘Don’t let that be us, we’ve got to strike first.”’
Chris Borland felt like Andersen set the perfect tone prior to the team meal. “He talked about how a lot of teams looked like they were drowsy out there,” he said, “and how important it was to start fast. We really wanted to win that first half, especially the first quarter. It went according to plan.”
|“We really wanted to win that first half, especially the first quarter,” Borland said. “It went according to plan.”
The Badgers scored touchdowns on their first three possession and threatened to turn the “Orange Out” into a first-round knockout when they got the ball back on the Illinois 44. But the momentum swung in the opposite direction on a three-and-out and a Drew Meyer punt into the end zone on which Borland injured his hamstring attempting to down the kick.
With Borland riding a stationary bike or just pacing the sidelines like a caged tiger, Marcus Trotter, a redshirt junior from Racine, Wis., took over for him at linebacker.
On what was said to Trotter as he took the field with the defense, Caputo noted, “There were some encouraging little things and some generic things like, ‘Let’s go, it’s your time to shine now.”’
Borland had this to say about Trotter, “He does a great job. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He didn’t need much coaching from a (fellow) player. But I tried to do what I could.”
Trotter, whose twin brother Michael is a UW safety, appreciated Borland’s instruction. “The whole time he was very supportive,” Trotter said. “I’d go up to him and ask him what he was seeing, particularly on their offense, and if I was doing something wrong that he could help me with.”
Trotter admitted that he was wrong for a late hit on Illinois’ Josh Ferguson, which drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty. “It was a selfish play and it won’t happen again,” he promised.
On the same drive, Trotter redeemed himself with some stellar play in Wisconsin’s goal line defense. Illinois had a first-and-goal on UW 3 and Trotter was credited with a tackle on the three running plays, including a fourth-down stop on freshman quarterback Aaron Bailey (the nephew of former UW basketball guard Trent Jackson, the sixth-leading scorer in school history).
“It feels really good when your teammates come up to you afterward and thank you,” said Trotter, who had nine tackles to lead the Badgers. That included a TFL and a fumble recovery.
“It’s good for me knowing that all my hard work is for something,” he continued. “You just have to have the mentality that sooner or later your chance is going to come.”
Trotter has dealt with injuries throughout his career; injuries which have prevented him from drawing consistent playing time, even as a reserve; injuries which have raised some other questions.
“Being a walk-on,” he said, “there were those people telling me that I should have gone somewhere else (to play football), somewhere smaller and so forth.
“But I always had the faith that I could prove myself to my team in a game like this, so I’m very happy. I still have a lot of things to work on. But that’s the beauty of it. We’re still hungry.”
“We” would be singular and collective. The Badgers have to stay hungry through their bye.
“November is a big month in college football,” White said. “That’s when a lot of teams fall off. We don’t want to be one of those teams.”