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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa thought it had Melvin Gordon in its grasp back when he was in high school.
The Hawkeyes will likely find themselves chasing Gordon all over again on Saturday.
Last weekend, Gordon gave Iowa yet another tantalizing glimpse into what could have been if he had stuck to his verbal commitment and played for coach Kirk Ferentz. Gordon rushed for an Bowl Subdivision-record 408 yards on just 25 carries — in three quarters, no less — as No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) routed Nebraska 59-24.
Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards (1,909) and touchdowns (25) and is on the short list of Heisman Trophy front runners heading into this weekend's pivotal Big Ten West game at Iowa.
"It's going to take a really — I don't want to say perfect because that puts probably an unreal pressure on you — but it's going to take our best football. We're going to have to play really well at all 11 positions," Ferentz about stopping Gordon.
What has to be concerning for Iowa (7-3, 4-2) is that Nebraska's run defense had been playing well — right before it ran into Gordon, of course.
Iowa's rush defense has been up and down since August. The Hawkeyes are very strong up front, with tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat and end Drew Ott in consideration for All-Big Ten honors. But they've been forced to lean on young linebackers behind them, and the results have been predictably spotty.
Iowa did look much better stopping the run in last week's win at Illinois.
Granted, the Fighting Illini were more focused on throwing than running since they finally got quarterback Wes Lunt back. But Iowa's defense wouldn't let Illinois do either, holding them to just 235 yards — and just 88 on the ground — of a 30-14 win.
The key for the Hawkeyes could be to simply keep the ball out of Gordon's hands as much as possible.
Iowa's offense finally showed it could control the clock against Illinois. The Hawkeyes held the ball for nearly 36 minutes and gained a season-high 587 yards, and senior running back Mark Weisman cracked 100 yards for the first time in 2014.
But Wisconsin will be the toughest defense the Hawkeyes have faced this season.
"They pose a lot of challenges," Ferentz said. "They play with great enthusiasm, toughness. They're where they should be all the time."
Iowa actually did a nice job stopping Gordon in Kinnick Stadium a year ago. Gordon ran for just 62 yards on 17 carries, but James White had 132 on 19 tries as Wisconsin pulled away for a 28-9 win.
If the Hawkeyes can slow the nation's top running back, they might head into the season finale against the Huskers with a shot at the division title.
"He's strong, powerful and fast. He has breakaway speed and he's got moves," Iowa defensive end Drew Ott said. "He's the total package."
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