Wisconsin Badgers Score Hard-Fought Heartland Trophy Win


On a day when the Wisconsin Badgers’ vaunted defense had trouble containing an opponent, Melvin Gordon—again—came to the rescue.

Gordon rushed for 200 yards—his third straight 200-yard game and his fifth of the season—and scored two touchdowns as the Badgers (9-2) held off a gutty Iowa Hawkeyes squad at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, 26-24.

Iowa (7-4) rang up 412 yards of total offense on the Badgers, with quarterback Jake Rudock throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns and running for another, but Gordon got his groove on after a tough first half.

The win sets up the mother of all Battles for Paul Bunyan’s Axe next week at Camp Randall Stadium—Wisconsin and Minnesota playing for not just border bragging rights, but also the Big Ten West Division title and a spot in the conference title game.

Minnesota (8-3) stayed alive for its first-ever appearance in the Big Ten championship game with a 28-24 win at Nebraska on Saturday.

The Badgers improved to 6-1 in conference play with their sixth straight win, clinching no worse than a share of the division title. Iowa fell to 4-3 and out of contention in the West.

With Gordon held mostly in check in the first half—39 yards on 14 carries—Wisconsin still held a 16-3 halftime lead.

After the teams traded first quarter field goals, with freshman Rafael Gaglianone booming a career-best 50-yarder on the Badgers’ first possession and Iowa’s Marshall Koehn countering with a 26-yard kick, Tanner McEvoy came off the bench to give Wisconsin a spark.

Nov 22, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner McEvoy (5) runs for a touchdown against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The junior quarterback rambled for a 45-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, but Gaglianone missed the point after, leading the Badgers with a 9-3 lead.

Wisconsin then put together a huge drive, going 73 yards in 12 plays and burning 6:35 off the clock before Gordon found the end zone on a 6-yard sweep to the left with 1:05 left in the first half.

Nov 22, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) flips the football to the official after scoring against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Gaglianone booted a 22-yard field goal to give the Badgers a 19-3 lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter, but Iowa wasn’t done.

Rudock hit Kevonte Martin-Manley for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 2:45 to go in the third quarter and Jordan Canzeri’s two-point conversion run got the Hawkeyes within a score at 19-11.

With 11:10 left, Rudock capped a six-play, 82-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, but the pass for the two-pointer was incomplete, leaving the Badgers with a 19-17 lead.

Gordon’s second touchdown, a 23-yard burst, with 7:44 left put Wisconsin back up by nine, 26-17.

Iowa answered by going 86 yards in seven plays, capped by a 9-yard pass from Rudock to Jake Duzey.

But the Badgers’ legs made sure the Hawkeyes never got the ball back.

The Hawkeyes had just one timeout to work with after a controversial timeout before the failed two-point conversion that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz insisted that no one asked for. That played a big role on the final drive.

Gordon picked up 11 yards on back-to-back carries to move the chains, but was stopped on the next two plays, leaving the Badgers with a critical third-and-8.

But the legs of Wisconsin’s non-running quarterback saved the day

Joel Stave looked for a receiver, found none, and scrambled, diving head-first to ensure he was past the sticks for the first down that essentially ended the game.

"“Joel made a great read,” coach Gary Andersen said after the game. “I couldn’t even tell you right now if there was three or four of them coming, but Joel saw the crease and he took a good angle and was able to make a very, very good play.”"

Nov 22, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Joel Stave (2) gets tackled by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Sean Draper (7) at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin beat Iowa 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

With 161 yards in the second half—including a career-long 88-yard dash—Gordon became the fastest runner to 2,000 yards in NCAA history, reaching the milestone on his 241st carry of the season.

He finished the day with 2,109 yards on the season—matching Ron Dayne’s school and Big Ten single-season record.

Gordon also had 64 receiving yards, including a key 35-yard catch on third-and-13 that kept their final touchdown drive alive.

The showdown for the Axe and the West title is set for 2:30 p.m. next Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin has won 10 straight—a series record—over the Golden Gophers.

Minnesota’s last win in the series was a 37-34 win at the Metrodome in 2003. The Gophers haven’t won in Madison since 1994. This will be the 124th installment of the rivalry, with Minnesota holding a 59-56-8 edge.

More from Dairyland Express