IOWA CITY — Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon initially committed to Iowa before switching to the Badgers late in the 2010 season.
Shortly before he flipped sides, Gordon took a visit to Iowa for the Hawkeyes’ home finale against Ohio State. It turned into another of several late-game collapses for Iowa that year, and the Buckeyes scored late to win 20-17.
It was legend that Gordon, now a junior, told people he changed to Wisconsin because he saw a post-game locker room fight. Monday, Gordon refuted that.
“I never saw a fight,” Gordon said. “I saw guys who were like upset. But no one fought. I don’t know where that came from. It definitely didn’t play a factor in my decision at all.”
Gordon, a Kenosha, Wis. native, will play his first game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, a place he visited multiple times. He built a connection with former Iowa running backs coach Lester Erb when he made his initial commitment. In mid-2010, Iowa dropped an epic 31-30 game to the Badgers in late October. The Hawkeyes lost three of their final four regular-season games that year, while Wisconsin surged to claim a Rose Bowl spot. Gordon said the stretch run didn’t impact his decision.
“I don’t really think that played a factor, the wins and the losses,” he said. “Just the atmosphere. I liked Wisconsin’s atmosphere a little bit more better than I liked Iowa’s, and my family was closer to Wisconsin. Just little things like that that played a factor toward the end with me making my decision.”
Gordon did think about Iowa when he played sparingly as a true freshman in 2011, competing in three games and scoring one touchdown behind Montee Ball and James White. Gordon admits he looked at Iowa’s chaos at running back that year and wondered if he could have played.
“You see running backs going out from Iowa and leaving and whatnot,” Gordon said. “I did think that maybe if I did go there I probably would have gotten on the field a lot earlier. But I’m feeling completely happy with the decision that I made. Iowa is a great school. I don’t take anything from them. Their running backs are producing but probably if I did go there, I probably would have played a lot sooner.”
Wisconsin is thrilled he stayed in-state. Gordon, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 206 pounds, made his mark last year by competing in all 14 games with four starts. He ran for 621 yards at 10.0 yards per carry and produced a breakout performance in the Big Ten championship game. He rushed for 216 yards on nine carries to propel the Badgers to a 70-31 victory against Nebraska.
This year he’s proven it’s not a one-game fluke. Gordon ranks fourth nationally in rushing average per game at 144.6 and is third in yards per attempt at 9.46. He’s tied for the Big Ten high with 11 touchdowns.
“He’s a unique football player. He’s a special football player,” Wisconsin first-year head coach Gary Andersen said. “He is what college football has really turned into, in my opinion, in a lot of ways, and that’s every single time the young man touches the ball, somebody or some coach somewhere is taking a big deep breath and saying, ‘Watch out. Where’s this going to stop?’ It could go all the way every single time he touches it, and we’ve seen that.”
Iowa fans know about Gordon’s prowess, and he anticipates to hear choice language along Kinnick Stadium’s tight sidelines. Although he hasn’t faced the Hawkeyes in his Wisconsin career — the teams rotated off one another’s schedules for the last two years — teammates have told him what to expect.
“It wasn’t that loud when I was there, but it could have been where I was sitting,” Gordon said. “From what I hear from different players, that was the loudest stadium that they’ve been to. Being on the field, you can’t really hear. I know (running back) James (White) was telling me it was one of the loudest stadiums he’d ever been to. So I’m excited. I’m really excited to play Iowa and feel the atmosphere.”