MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Melvin Gordon rushed for 175 yards and four touchdowns, Corey Clement added 164 yards and a 72-yard score and Wisconsin held off Illinois for a 38-28 victory Saturday.
Gordon padded his resume for a potential Heisman Trophy candidacy with another highlight-reel performance. The junior eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season in just Wisconsin’s sixth game, a school record.
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) started Joel Stave at quarterback, but Gordon did most of the damage against the league’s worst rushing defense.
Illinois (3-4, 0-3) did rally in the fourth quarter with backup Aaron Bailey at quarterback. He led them to two scores to get within 38-28 with about 3 minutes left before Illinois recovered an onside kick.
But Bailey threw an interception with 2 minutes left to seal Wisconsin’s win. His fluttering deep pass was tracked down by safety Peniel Jean at the 2. Wisconsin ran out the clock from there.
Gordon was a one-man hurry-up offense.
His most impressive run may have come with 1:16 left in the second quarter, when Gordon took a first-down handoff from the Wisconsin 22 but got tripped up as he burst through a hole. But the stumbling Gordon regained his balance and ended up with a 46-yard run to the Illinois 32. Rafael Gaglianone hit a 44-yard field goal four plays later for a 24-14 lead going into the half.
Gordon, who finished with 27 carries, is a lethal combination of power and breakaway speed made all the more dangerous when the Badgers’ beefy offensive line opens up running lanes.
It didn’t really matter who was handing off the ball to him. All week, coach Gary Andersen maintained that both Stave and Tanner McEvoy would take snaps behind center.
On Saturday, Stave ended up supplanting McEvoy, who had started the first five weeks. Stave, who reclaimed the starting job he held last season, presents more of a deep-passing threat. McEvoy, a mobile quarterback, played just one series.
The best play call was simple: handoff to Gordon. He had touchdown runs in the first half from 15 and 6 yards before jumping into the end zone from a yard out with 1:08 left in the third quarter for his fourth score and a 31-14 lead.
Illinois’ Reilly O’Toole, starting for the injured Wes Lunt, finished 12 of 19 for 96 yards. He connected with Matt LaCosse for an 8-yard touchdown pass with 6:43 left in the first quarter, then found Geronimo Allison for a 5-yard score on Illinois’ next drive to give the Illini a short-lived 14-7 lead.
The Wisconsin defense picked up steam early in the second half.
Wisconsin held Illinois to a three-and-out on the first series after halftime, thanks to sacks by Konrad Zagzebski and Leon Jacobs.
Derek Landisch had a sack on the Illini’s next drive to force a third-and-17 play that was stopped short of a first down. Gordon followed with his 1-yard scoring run on the ensuing series for the 17-point lead.
Embattled Illinois coach Tim Beckman turned to Bailey at quarterback for the first time this year in the fourth quarter with the team trailing by 24, forfeiting a potential redshirt season for the dual-threat sophomore.
The Illini offense did show life late, with Bailey running for a 29-yard touchdown run before Donovonn Young’s 1-yard scoring run pulled Illinois within 38-28 with 2:53 left.
Bailey finished with 12 carries for 75 yards, and was 2-of-5 passing for 39 yards.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.