Erickson opens up the keys to offense

Redshirt sophomore’s big game creates room for Melvin Gordon

Coming into 2014, there was one name associated with the Wisconsin Badgers football team seemingly every college football mind across the country knew: Melvin Gordon, Melvin Gordon and a little bit more Melvin Gordon.


But as big of an exclamation point as Gordon, who came into the year as a frontrunner for the Heisman trophy, was, an even bigger question mark rose on the offensive side of the football: the wide receiving corps.


After Jared Abbrederis went to the NFL this spring, the thought in Madison quickly turned from ‘how many yards will Gordon rack up this fall?’ to who will ‘Tanner McEvoy or Joel Stave throw to when the defense stuffs the box in preparation for Gordon?’


After Saturday’s second-half surge against Western Illinois, a game in which Gordon struggled mightily, it seems as if redshirt sophomore Alex Erickson finally answered that question.


The former walk-on from Darlington erupted for 10 catches, 122 yards and his first career touchdown en route to a 37-3 win over the Leathernecks at Camp Randall Stadium.


Growing up 20 minutes from Darlington and playing him in almost every sport from grade five until senior year of high school, I can assure you one thing: the kid is a phenomenal athlete.


Erickson, who has quickly become the pride of southwest Wisconsin similar to recent Badger greats Bradie Ewing of Richland Center and Louis Nzegwu of Platteville, was an all-state quarterback in high school, so the wide receiver position is still relatively new to him.


But it appears as if he’s gotten the hang of it. He ran all kinds of routes for McEvoy to find Saturday afternoon. The duo was successful on short slants, post patterns and, most efficiently, bubble screens to move the ball up and down the field.


While one might draw a huge circle around Saturday’s opponent and wonder whether or not the McEvoy-Erickson tandem can keep it up and open up the box against Big Ten opponents, I draw my circle at another huge element to the Western Illinois game that says yes.


When Erickson caught those bubble screens, which popped off for around 10 yards a catch, the big and physical wideout Jordan Frederick unleashed some punishing blocks to create space.


In typical Wisconsin fashion, there is nobody in the Big Ten that plays more physical football, and Frederick fits that mold perfectly. I don’t anticipate many corners in the league having the ability to out-strengthen him at the line, so Erickson should have similar space all year.


If Erickson and Frederick can emulate this performance all year long, defenses will finally get rid of the stranglehold at the line of scrimmage to stop Gordon. They will have absolutely no choice.


So while Saturday’s score might not have been the absolute blowout Wisconsin fans were hoping for after a gut-wrenching loss the previous week to LSU, it was one of those baby steps that could lead the cardinal and white back to Pasadena.