I know everyone is getting excited for the Rose Bowl Game next Tuesday, but I thought it would be interesting to break down a bit of the Big Ten Championship Game before we all forget about it.
I was going to post this in the day or two following the game, but some kind of coaching news came up and I had to put this on the backburner. But with Gary Andersen firmly in place as Wisconsin's next head coach, I think now would be a good time to break down why Melvin Gordon was my choice for the game's MVP award.
Fellow running back Montee Ball eventually took home that honor, and while his 202 yards and three touchdowns were certainly impressive, I was more impressed with Gordon, who gave the Badgers a big boost in the early stages of the game and finished with 216 yards on nine carries and one touchdown.
Let's take a look at that first play, shall we? Here's the set-up- it's early in the game, and the Badgers are in the midst of their first series after taking the opening kickoff. Curt Phillips just completed a 9-yard pass to Jacob Pedersen on the previous play, who was lined up just ahead of James White in the backfield to start the play. In addition, Gordon was lined up as a receiver to Phillips' right, and did something Badgers fans should have been pretty familiar with: the play had him motion to the other side on a fake jet sweep.
Gordon has been doing this all season, but hasn't gotten a ton of carries out of it. The Badgers gave him a few carries out of that motion late in games during blowouts, but not enough where the Nebraska Cornhuskers paid a lot of attention to him. After Wisconsin's fourth play of the game, they would make sure they didn't get lulled into sleep on his jet sweep again.
But anyway, back to the original play. The Badgers are in a 12 personnel package, with one back and two tight ends. White is lined up as the halfback, and the Badgers have two wide receivers on the field: Jared Abbrederis and Gordon, who we'll count since he's split wide here.
Just like the previous play, Gordon goes in motion from right to left. But this time, Gordon takes the handoff from Phillips. If you remember, this is the first of a few big plays from Gordon on the day. The three linebackers are keying in on White, since it's a running down and he's a pretty important piece to cover.
The free safety on the bottom of the image backs off into coverage, while the strong safety creeps up a little bit into the box to try and help stop the run. The Cornhuskers are looking like they're going to try and press Abbrederis up top, while their second corner is giving more of a cushion since they're not really expecting Gordon to run a route up field.
Now, look at the field a few seconds after the snap. Gordon has the ball and is rushing to the sideline, but by the time we get to this image, only the strong safety and potentially the free safety know who actually has the ball. All three linebackers and the corner who was originally lined up over Gordon rush up to stop White at the line of scrimmage, but Gordon uses his elusiveness to shake off the strong safety and is already set up for a big gain. Abbrederis has his man in a great block, leaving Gordon with just the free safety to beat for the touchdown.
In all Gordon takes the ball 56 yards in for the score, and only had to beat two defenders to do it since the vast majority of them bit on White taking the ball up the middle.
But it took the Cornhuskers a little bit to really try and account for Gordon on the jet sweep. Gordon gets a few more big hits on essentially the same play throughout the game, which started to set up other options for the Badgers up the middle.
Flash forward two and a half quarters. The Badgers are up 49-17, and the game is pretty well in hand by now. With about nine minutes left in the third quarter, the Badgers trot out essentially the same personnel grouping that they did before on Gordon's touchdown run. It's 12 personnel, with Gordon lined up as a receiver on the weak side. The only differences are that Ball is in at tailback now instead of White, and Jeff Duckworth is the wide receiver up top.
Now take a look at Nebraska's defensive alignment. Both safeties (circled in yellow) are in the box near the line of scrimmage, and after the ball is snapped neither drops into coverage. Two corners are lined up opposite the two wideouts, and the linebackers are playing pretty balanced over the top of the defensive line. The safeties are up in case the Badgers give Gordon the ball again on the jet sweep again, where they could hold him to minimal gain or even drop him for a loss.
But the jet sweeps have started to open things up over the middle. The Badgers run what Nebraska thinks is the same play, but the handoff goes right to Ball instead who runs up the middle between the tackles.
Both safeties are now facing away from the play, which means there's a whole lot of running room behind the two cornerbacks who are unblocked at the moment. The Sam linebacker is also out in the flat to try and stop Gordon, while the Will and the Mike are caught up in the line of scrimmage with the defensive line.
If Ball gets up through the line, which he does, he should have just the weakside cornerback to beat, which he does. But Duckworth doesn't finish off his cornerback, and the corner releases to try and catch up to Ball. Ball then shows off his stiff-arm and rushes in to complete a 56-yard touchdown run.
Every play relies on someone beating their man, as well as 10 other players doing their jobs to set up the rest of their team. But after watching the game, I think Gordon did more to help the Badgers than any other player.
Images are thanks to Fox Sports and Big Ten Network 2Go.