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Wisconsin's running game will be a challenge for Terps

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon runs for a gain in a 27-10 win over South Florida.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon runs for a gain in a 27-10 win over South Florida. (Mike De Sisti / MCT)

COLLEGE PARK

— Throughout its history, Wisconsin's offense has been built around a power running game that has featured big, physical offensive lines and talented running backs such as Ron Dayne, Michael Bennett and Montee Ball.

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This year's team is no different.

The Badgers want to run the football. Their goal is to overwhelm opponents at the line of scrimmage and get their running backs — star redshirt junior Melvin Gordon in particular — into space with the capability to do damage.

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To win at Wisconsin on Saturday, Maryland (5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) will likely have to slow down that running game more than other teams have this season.

The Badgers (4-2, 1-1) are running for a Football Bowl Subdivision-best 343 yards per game, are averaging an FBS-best 7.4 yards per carry, and are ranked eighth nationally in time of possession, largely thanks to their success on the ground.

In a 68-17 win over Bowling Green on Sept. 20, Wisconsin ran for 644 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 10.7 yards per carry.

"We've got a tremendous challenge in trying to stop Melvin Gordon, who is an outstanding running back and deserves all the credit that's laid upon him this year," Terps coach Randy Edsall said. "Very veteran offensive line, and they give you a lot of different looks and use a lot of tight ends ... so it's going to be a tremendous challenge for our defense."

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Arguably the best running back in the country, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Gordon is running for an FBS-best 174.3 yards per game while averaging 7.9 yards per carry.

Gordon likely would have been selected in the top two or three rounds of this year's NFL draft had he decided to go pro. He instead chose to return to school and has run for 140 yards or more in five of Wisconsin's first six games.

Analysts have compared Gordon's skill set to that of Kansas City Chiefs star Jamaal Charles.

"He's very special," Edsall said. "He's a very good running back. He's got speed. He's got good vision. He's got good explosiveness. He's got power to him as well. He's an all-around back."

Wisconsin also has a capable backup in 5-foot-11, 210-pound sophomore Corey Clement, who has run for 476 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

First and foremost, Maryland will have to deal with the Badgers' offensive line, an experienced group with five players who had all started games prior to this season.

Four of the five starters are 319 pounds or bigger, including 6-foot-8, 333-pound right tackle Rob Havenstein (Linganore). The one that isn't, center Dan Voltz, is 6-foot-3, 311 pounds.

"They have some big guys that really do some good things in the run game," Terps outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil said. "They want to be physical."

Maryland faced an Iowa team with a similar offensive approach and a similarly big and physical line last week, and fared relatively well. Aside from a 38-yard run during the second half, Hawkeyes running backs averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.

"Just being physical," Cudjoe-Virgil said. "They're a physical team, so you want to match that physicality."

Inside linebacker L.A. Goree said the Terps also needed to make sure they correctly read Wisconsin's shifts and motions.

"They do a lot of shifting, a lot of motioning and trying to get your eyes in different places where they shouldn't be," Goree said. "And I think sometimes that throws off the defense."

If the Terps can limit Gordon and the ground game, Wisconsin will be forced to depend more on quarterback Joel Stave, who has completed 15 of 33 passes for 187 yards with only one touchdown and three interceptions in two games since replacing Tanner McEvoy.

"What they try to do is gain leverage on you and outnumber you," Edsall said. "You've got to be really good in terms of making sure you protect the edges, and then you've got to make sure you get everyone to fit [their gaps] properly vs. the run that you're going to see because, if you don't, [Gordon] has got all those qualities that I mentioned to be able to hurt you if you make a mistake."

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