ESPN Wisconsin

#FreeMelvinGordon

Sep 19, 2012 -- 1:04pm

By GABE NEITZEL
gneitzel@espnwisconsin.com

In case you haven't noticed (and judging by my number of Twitter followers you haven't) during Badger games this fall, I have been using the phrase “#freemelvingordon.” Over the three games so far, it seems that it is starting to gain a little momentum, as we've been picking up people on the bandwagon along the way. Now, I just want to take some time in this space, and explain what I mean by #freemelvingordon.

During fall camp, Bret Bielema called Gordon the “best running back on the roster” and insisted that even Montee Ball and James White would agree with him. That is pretty high praise before a game is played and even more so when you have a Big Ten freshman of the year (James White), and Heisman finalist (Montee Ball) on your roster.

When Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network visited Madison, he said he would have thought No. 25 (Gordon) was the Heisman candidate if he didn’t know any better. We all knew that Gordon was talented. And I've been on the bandwagon since he arrived on campus since he was so successful at Kenosha Bradford High School.

But then something happened in the season opening game. Melvin Gordon didn't get any carries. He never saw the field for an offensive play.

Same thing at Oregon State.

He finally did play, and get a couple of carries this past week against Utah State. So I decided to take a look at some different numbers looking back at the Utah State game. And what I found, I didn't like.

The Badgers snapped the ball 65 times this past Saturday, including the kneel down at the end of the game. So there were 64 snaps where UW intended to run a play. Some were negated by penalties, but I'm using those 64 snaps as the basis of my brief study. Of those 64 plays, Montee Ball lined up at running back for 60 of them, including the first 16. He had 37 carries on those 60 plays.

Melvin Gordon participated in 14 plays on Saturday, none where he lined up as a running back. He came in motion on 10 of those 14 plays, and was given the ball twice on those handoffs. On every one of those 14 plays, he either faked or was given the ball on an end around. He finished with two carries for 18 yards.

James White was only involved in eight plays against the Aggies. He was the running back four times, including a run at the end of the first half. He lined up at wide receiver four times, and was brought in motion each time. In total, White had five touches (three rushes, two receptions) for a total of 28 yards.

There are a number of things that I take away from those numbers.

One, it seems that Montee Ball is on the field too much. If he continues to get 30-plus touches a game, you wonder if he'll still be standing at the end of the season. Two, James White needs to be involved in more plays. He does, after all, have the teams longest run from scrimmage this season at 20 yards. The fact he was only on the field for eight plays seems unrealistic.

And finally, Melvin Gordon needs more touches. He showed a burst on his 15-yard run, that, to me at least, shows he could be an explosive player in what has been a stagnant offense through three games. And maybe he can line up at running back, instead of coming in and running one of three plays.

Look, I'm not saying that Montee Ball should be benched. He is one of the best backs in the history of the University of Wisconsin, which is saying something. He has my respect. But he can't be given the ball 37 times a game, especially when he is averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Don't you think a few less touches could make him fresher at the end of the game when you are trying to run out the clock?

If you keep Montee Ball around 20-25 carries per game, that opens up 12-17 plays that could be used for your other productive weapons in White and Gordon. They have shown that they are capable of helping out the offense. And with only five offensive touchdowns in three games, isn't it time to start switching up some of the offensive strategies?

Bielema has said the offense needs to be able to throw the ball better to open up running lanes for Ball. What about mixing in a screen to White or Gordon? Or maybe even a draw? All three running backs have shown the ability to make plays in space, so why not try to get them in space? And White has shown he can catch the ball, so why not continue to line him up at receiver to try and make some plays?

My whole #freemelvingordon thing isn't about Gordon becoming a starter, its about him getting more opportunities in what has been a tough offense to watch. Why not give him and White a few more opportunities? Its not like it can get any worse.

Return to: Gabe Neitzel Blog

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