Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 4/28/12
MADISON, Wis. One Heisman Trophy finalist and a second former 1,000-yard rusher stand in the way of Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon's path to immediate stardom.But given Gordon's performance during Wisconsin's annual spring football game Saturday afternoon, the distinction between All-American starter and third-string tailback might not be as cavernous as the depth chart suggests. Gordon carried 30 times for 159 yards with a touchdown for the first-team offense, helping Team Cardinal defeat Team White 21-10 at Camp Randall Stadium. Though senior Montee Ball (the Heisman Trophy finalist) and junior James White (the former 1,000-yard rusher) didn't play during the spring game, Gordon made it clear that he's every bit as capable of shouldering a considerable workload for the run-heavy Badgers."I didn't expect to go that much," Gordon said. "But I did and I tried to make the best of every carry I got."Granted, the format of Wisconsin's spring game is a far cry from a more meaningful, regular-season affair. Quarterbacks can't be hit, kickoffs are nonexistent and second-half running clocks are entirely acceptable. Healthy players such as Ball don't play to avoid injury. And a banged-up White, who suffered a leg contusion in practice, certainly won't risk further pain without reason.But there is something to be said for a player taking advantage of his opportunity, even if some suggest he's the best player on the field by default. And Gordon seized his moment."I think that Montee and James wear off on him," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "He sees those guys compete the way that they do every day in practice and realizes you don't just become good by chance. You become good by what you do."Saturday's success didn't come as a surprise to Bielema, who has seen consistent improvement from Gordon, a Kenosha, Wis., native, dating back to his first days on campus.A year ago before Ball officially vaulted himself into the college football stratosphere Gordon appeared in three games as a true freshman, carrying 20 times for 98 yards with a touchdown. But when he suffered a groin injury early in the season, the coaching staff shut him down, allowing Gordon to redshirt and maintain four years of playing eligibility.Ball went on to rush for 1,923 yards and score 39 total touchdowns to tie the FBS single-season record. White added 713 yards one year after gaining 1,052 as a freshman. Meanwhile, Gordon stood on the sideline biding his time, waiting for an opportunity that might begin to materialize next season.There is a reason new offensive coordinator Matt Canada began implementing two-back offensive sets this spring. The Badgers are especially strong in the backfield, and any chance to get Ball, White and Gordon involved more often is deemed a good thing.In fact, with Ball turning down the NFL to return for his senior season, Wisconsin might possess one of the deepest backfields in the entire country. Maybe it's not quite "Running Back U," but the Badgers certainly are getting there. And Gordon is part of that movement."Having a Heisman finalist in front of you, it helps a lot," Gordon said. "Any time Montee sees me messing up or anything I need help on, I just go to him or James. They know what to do. Montee gave me some tips before I got out here and it helped me out here today."Gordon wouldn't say whether there were enough carries to go around next season, opting to leave that decision for the coaches. But the more he continues to perform at a high level, the harder it will be to keep him off the field."I feel like I can help the team," Gordon said. "I don't know in what way, but I'm sure the coaches will go over that. But I do feel like I can help the team out this year."On Saturday, Gordon scored a touchdown from two yards out, and his longest gain was 27 yards. A 32-yard run was called back because of a holding penalty, otherwise, he would have pushed the 200-yard barrier."I thought he played well," Badgers first-team quarterback Joel Stave said. "He's really played well throughout the spring, especially with James going down and Montee, limiting his reps to be smart with him. I think Melvin has really done a good job stepping into that role."Bielema said he and running backs coach Thomas Hammock wanted to see Gordon perform when taking the brunt of the carries. Because of Ball's absence, White's injury and another injury to running back Kyle Zulegar, only two running backs competed Saturday. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Gordon more than pulled his weight."That's one of the things he hasn't had to do," Bielema said. "That's something I was happy to see today. He almost got stronger as the day went on. I was really excited to see him handle this whole game."Yes, Gordon might technically be a third-string running back at Wisconsin right now, but he clearly possesses first-string talent. It's only a matter of time before folks around the country see the same thing. Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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