MADISON -- On a record-setting day at Camp Randall Stadium, the Wisconsin Badgers had zero trouble rushing the ball coming off their first bye week, and previously, a surprisingly weak showing in that area vs. Western Illinois. The Badgers torched the Bowling Green Falcons 68-17, setting a new Big Ten and school record for team rushing yards in a single game with 646 along the way. The offense as a unit gained 756 yards, and Melvin Gordon was the star of the day in scoring four touchdowns in the first half and five total on the day.
Saturday's rushing performance even surprised quarterback Tanner McEvoy, who rushed for 160 yards on 11 carries himself. Gordon said McEvoy is going to keep him on his toes by putting up rushing numbers like that. Even though Gordon may be watching his back to make sure McEvoy doesn't out-run him each week, he impressed his quarterback. While being interviewed, McEvoy grabbed a stat sheet and looked right to Melvin Gordon's stats.
"Melvin Gordon's rushing numbers [are where my eyes went]," McEvoy said. "I think I might [tease him] every week. If it keeps up like this I am all for it. Melvin came out and showed what he can do, and he's going keep doing that the rest of the year. I'm excited for him."
The Badgers scored just over a minute into the game after a Kenzel Doe 38-yard return led to a 24-yard touchdown run by McEvoy on the second play of the drive.
Doe's performance in the return game gave the offense great field position to work with all day. He had 187 yards of total offense, 165 of which came on punt or kick returns. Doe's longest of the day were a 38-yard kick return and a 40-yard punt return.
"Punters obviously kick so high to where the timing is not right, but this week, we knew the way he punts, we would get opportunities," Doe said, "[Safeties and assistant special teams coach Bill] Busch does a great job with the punt return and he stated all week that he doesn't kick as high."
The senior return man felt that because of the way the special teams unit had performed recently, it was bound to have a big day. After his first lengthy return, Doe felt that it was his time to shine.
"[The first return] made me feel like I'm going to score. Let me get another one. I had so many opportunities to return. It just so happened again that I thought I was going to take it to the house."
While Gordon had a great day on the ground with 13 carries for 253 yards, he did make one mistake. Gordon's first career lost fumble -- after 322 carries without one -- came toward the end of the first quarter. Bowling Green wasted no time answering the Badgers' first touchdown with their own when running back Fred Coppet scored from 35 yards out.
The Badgers then went 70 yards down the field over 11 plays, highlighted by an 11-yard Corey Clement run to start the drive and then a broken read-option that McEvoy took for 24 yards. The drive was capped by a 2-yard Gordon touchdown run.
As the first quarter neared a close, Bowling Green drove 52 yards down the field thanks in part to an incredible one-handed catch by redshirt junior wide receiver Ryan Burbrink for 36 yards. The drive only amounted to a 28-yard field goal, and it was all downhill after that for the Falcons, who struggled to score.
The Badgers opened the second quarter by scoring 33 seconds into the half on a 34-yard touchdown pass from McEvoy to Sam Arneson.
As the Falcons started to drive into the red zone in the second half, Badgers linebacker Derek Landisch -- who had two sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss -- tipped a James Knapke pass headed into the end zone that was intercepted by true freshman safety Lubern Figaro for a 43-yard return. Melvin Gordon then rushed three times on the ensuing drive for 57 yards and a 50-yard touchdown.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen was very impressed by the defense's play overall, but pointed to the success ofLandisch as a key for the Badgers.
"It was the pass-rushing. One thing that jumps up at me, his ability to get inside on those guards and the center a lot of times," Andersen said. "He was highly involved. You got those freshmen defensive linemen sitting out there. Derek does a nice job commanding the defense and making sure we're moving ourselves in the right direction"
The Badgers dominated from there on out. Following a first half that saw 41 points and 401 yards of total offense, the Badgers just keep wearing down the Bowling Green defense.
Gordon saw just two carries the rest of the half, all on the first drive of the second half, which ended with a 69-yard touchdown run for Gordon. As the second-team offense came on in relief with quarterback Bart Houston at the helm and Clement at tailback, the offense scored two more touchdowns (both on rushes by Clement) in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, an unlikely source of offense had a breakout performance. Redshirt sophomore Dare Ogunbowale, who switched two weeks ago from defensive back to running back because of injury at the latter, rushed 14 times for 94 yards.
"It was exciting. It was a good opportunity for me to get on the field. Besides special teams, I don't really get on the field," Ogunbowale said. "Today worked out pretty well for me."
Coming into to the game, Ogunbowale had never rushed the ball in a game. He said that until this year, he had not played running back since he was 7 or 8 years old. His fourth-quarter performance drew high praise from Gordon and Andersen.
"We [asked] him to move to a running back spot, which is really a place that he's never played much," Andersen said. "He looked at me like I had 12 heads when I mentioned it to him. He was all for it. And it's fun to see him. How many yards, 90 something? That's amazing. That's so cool for that kid.
"I've been telling coach that Dare has the ability," Gordon said. "To come in here and do what he did today, with two weeks' preparation, is unbelievable. I really think [running backs coach Thomas] Brown can craft him into a great player."
Andersen mentioned that if Ogunbowale keeps progressing, he'll use the sophomore as the third-string running back. That would allow the injured Taiwan Deal (hand) to use his redshirt this season.
The big win didn't come without some struggles on offense. McEvoy talked about struggling to handle snaps with center Dan Volz. McEvoy fumbled twice and said that the unit must get better. He also overthrew a few receivers badly, missing a wide open Austin Traylor in the end zone and airmailing Arenson on a pass that was intercepted by.
Freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone scored 14 points for the Badgers today, but did miss an extra point, which upset his head coach. Andersen did say that he would reevaluate the way that he has the kick drill in practice to try and help Gaglianone get game-ready.
The Badgers look to follow up their record-setting performance next Saturday at Camp Randall against American Athletic Conference foe South Florida at 11 a.m. CT.