clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

James White, Melvin Gordon breaking the rules of offensive balance

It may not matter if Wisconsin ever balances out its offense. Running backs James White and Melvin Gordon are finding ways to destroy defenses, even when all the focus is on stopping them.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

MADISON -- They say balance is the key to offensive success. One-dimensional play can be among an offensive coordinator's worst nightmares, and smart, talented defenses often feast on a team's inability to either pass or run the football.

For Wisconsin, those generalizations don't fit, and its uneven run-pass production may not sound the alarm like it would for most teams. The Badgers' passing game has done its job throughout most of the 2013 season, but it's clear the majority of offensive yardage has come from talented running backs James White and Melvin Gordon.

Defenses have adjusted accordingly, and they've failed. Even Iowa, which entered last week's game against the Badgers giving up just 3.7 yards per carry, couldn't hold down the two star runners.

While Gordon has had his share of spectacular games, it was White's turn Saturday in Iowa City. He ran 19 times for 132 yards and two fourth-quarter scores that put the game out of reach.

"In my mind, he's for sure the offensive player of the game for his toughness and his want-to and being able to make the plays when they came late in that game," head coach Gary Andersen said. "Everybody wants to look at yards per carry and everything that was there, but it was tough sledding against a very good defense, and he kept pounding away the whole football game and was very, very consistent and broke the runs at the end of the game to seal the deal for us."

It was higher praise than White gave himself. He described his performance as "pretty good," along with revealing that he "still left some stuff out there."

"I missed about two or three (cuts)," White said. "Those ones could have been touchdowns. Missed cuts, I want to try to eliminate those because you never know which play's going to matter the most."

Wisconsin has eight runs this season of 50-plus yards. That's three more than any other team in the nation.

It's a believable statement. Wisconsin has eight runs this season of 50-plus yards. That's three more than any other team in the nation, and it's a big reason why White and Gordon have combined for a staggering 1,878 yards and 20 touchdowns through just eight games.

A number of big plays have come from the fly sweep look that Gordon has made famous, and Wisconsin has recently been using that set as somewhat of a decoy to open up other aspects of the offense.

"It makes it a lot easier because those 11 players can't just focus on one guy," Gordon said. "It's a really big decoy, opens a lot of things up for me and James in the backfield. It also helps us with the deep ball, getting that out there."

Running backs coach Thomas Hammock added, "We've got a package of plays that we use off of (the fly sweep), and we certainly want to use each and every aspect of it. The defense has to account for both of those guys on the field. That creates plays for our offense. It gives us an opportunity to go out there and make explosive-type plays."

It's also simply a creative way to get Gordon and White on the field together, making it much tougher on opposing defenses to focus attention on just one player.

"It helps a lot," White said. "Just to get those linebackers to pause or move one way for one second while allowing (Gordon) to get around the edge or allow me to get through the hole, it creates a lot of explosive plays."

Although the offense has been clicking recently, the Badgers are still searching for more balance. The passing game is far from a hindrance to Wisconsin's offense, but it hasn't come close to matching the production the Badgers have seen on the ground.

In the end, though, it may not matter. With just four games left in the season, Wisconsin has a top-20 scoring offense at 38.4 points per game, and the Badgers are expected favorites against all their opponents the rest of the way.

That may especially be the case if White and Gordon continue to improve upon what they've already accomplished. White knows his great performance against Iowa wasn't perfect, and Hammock believes there is always room for improvement.

"I just think we've got to be sharper," Hammock said. "We've got one month of the season left, and we've talked early in the season about finishing strong. This is the time where you've got to push your hardest because defenses are playing well. Iowa's a great defense, and we've got a lot of respect for that team and that university. We've just got to be a little sharper."

More from Bucky's 5th Quarter: