Wisconsin must emulate second-half effort from Saturday to win B1G championship

Graphic by Nick Erickson

Graphic by Nick Erickson

Story by Nick Erickson, Editor in Chief

Last Saturday, Melvin Gordon ran for 151 yards and just one touchdown, both below his season average.

With those numbers, and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Alabama’s Amari Cooper with huge games on the same day, Gordon might have lost his shot at the Heisman Trophy.

But ironically, those numbers also might win the Wisconsin Badgers a Big Ten championship.

That’s because during Gordon’s grind-it-out day against Minnesota, the Wisconsin passing game finally opened up, and, for the first time all season, was the difference maker in the game.

Two days from now in Indianapolis, the Ohio State Buckeyes will square off against Bucky in the Big Ten Championship game. Ohio State will have no choice but to respect quarterback Joel Stave, wide receiver Alex Erickson and tight end Sam Arneson.

This could open up the field for Gordon, and especially on turf and indoors, this could lead to a stat-stuffing day for the most heralded Badger player since 1999 Heisman winner Ron Dayne.

For the first half of last weekend’s battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the Gophers effectively stopped Gordon by putting nine players in the box, allowing their cornerbacks to play one-on-one coverage with the unproven Wisconsin wideouts.

But Stave found Erickson on a 70-yard sideline route late in the second quarter, and from that point on, he punished Minnesota for leaving the middle of the field open by zipping darts that, forgive the pun, killed Jerry Kill’s team.

When Wisconsin and Ohio State played in Columbus, Ohio 14 months ago, Gordon, the all-time FBS leader in yards per carry, only had 79 yards on 15 carries. But it was arguably Stave’s best game as a Badger as he threw for almost 300 yards through the air. Ohio State dared Stave to beat them, and he almost did.

The Buckeyes will have no choice but to free up the box. That’s when Melvin shines, and if you don’t believe me, go find out how Bo Pelini lost his job as Nebraska’s head coach.

Getting Ohio State to respect the passing game will loosen the lock. Stopping the read option on defense will knock the door down.

Mitch Leidner, David Cobb and the rest of the Minnesota backfield were successful early on in fooling the Badgers in that read-option package. It took until the second half when Wisconsin forced Leidner to throw for the Badgers to pull away.

If J.T. Barrett is playing this game at quarterback for Ohio State, I would say the advantage would totally swing to the scarlet and silver. He can run as well as any signal caller in college football, and as the uncle of “Friday Night Light’s” Boobie Miles would say, he can pass.

But he is not playing as a gruesome ankle injury has him out for the season. Instead, Cardale Jones will get his first ever start for Ohio State. He is physical and he can run. But his passing ability is a huge question mark.

Buckeye coach Urban Meyer can develop quarterbacks better than anybody in the business. Look at what he did with Tim Tebow at Florida. He also turned Barrett, who was in his first year at starter, into a potential Heisman candidate. But he doesn’t have a full season to groom Jones. He has had a week.

Look for big plays from Wisconsin’s secondary Saturday night, particularly from safety Michael Caputo and shutdown cornerback Sojourn Shelton.

My prediction: Gordon gets loose for 200 yards and two touchdowns, Stave finds Erickson in the endzone late and the defense withstands a valiant effort from Jones. Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 24.