MADISON, Wis. — Nebraska fans should give heartfelt thanks to the Big Ten Conference for replacing Wisconsin on this season's football schedule with Purdue.
The No. 24 Badgers have a new coach in Gary Andersen, but not a new way of doing things, rushing for 388 yards and gaining 546 overall in Saturday's 41-10 pasting of Purdue.
If the Bo-lievers in Huskerland got the willies watching South Dakota State's Zach Zenner dash for big yardage, another up-close look at UW tailbacks Melvin Gordon and James White might cause a full-blown breakdown.
Gordon, a sophomore from Kenosha, Wis., carried 16 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns (5, 27 and 15 yards). White, a senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., carried 16 times for 145 yards, including a 70-yard TD burst on which he broke the ankles of both Purdue safeties.
Last December, those two helped Wisconsin run for 539 yards in a 70-31 thrashing of Nebraska in the Big Ten title game.
Andersen, when coaching at Utah State two years ago, had two NFL backs. He thinks he has two more now.
“They are dynamic,'' he said. “They can really make you miss. And they complement each other with their running styles. They are special kids. . . And that third guy is not too bad, either.''
That third guy — true freshman Corey Clement from Glassboro, N.J. — zoomed 39 yards on his first carry and finished with 83 yards on 13 carries and a 5-yard touchdown run.
It wasn't like Wisconsin (3-1) ran against air Saturday, either. A week earlier, Purdue had held Notre Dame to 91 yards rushing and just 2.4 yards per carry.
As electric as Gordon, White and Clement are, what was in front of them showed well, too. This isn't a vintage Wisconsin offensive line yet. But it's coming together fast.
Should Nebraska somehow meet the Badgers in the Big Ten title game, the thought of the yet-to-shave NU defensive front seven trying to maneuver against the Badger front boggles the mind.
Here are the heights of the five UW O-line starters: 6-5, 6-5, 6-6, 6-6 and 6-8.
Here are the weights: 315, 320, 321, 322 and 327.
Here are the years of experience: 3, 4, 4, 4 and 5.
Despite the experience, some outside the program wondered how quickly the necessary chemistry would come this season. What did those on the inside think?
“I wouldn't say we were worried,'' said junior guard Kyle Costigan, the runt of the litter at 6-5 and 315 pounds. “We did a lot of work over the summer, and we're really close. Now, with every practice and every game, it's really coming together.''
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With such high-caliber tailbacks, Wisconsin doesn't need perfection up front.
“These guys make us look good,'' Costigan said. “Even if we don't do the assignment, it can still be a huge positive play because they are so talented.''
Last season, Wisconsin was second nationally in running plays of 50 yards or more with nine. After four games this season, UW already has six such runs.
“It's hard in today's age of college football to go 12 plays and 80 yards consistently,'' Andersen said. “You've got to have yards in chunks. It's huge.''
The 31-point romp over Purdue was no shocker. The Boilermakers (1-3) were limited to 180 yards and scored their only touchdown on a broken play after Wisconsin had sniffed out the first two options.
Still, Andersen had some nerves before the first Big Ten game of his career, mostly because of last week's officiating debacle in the desert.
In a 32-30 loss at Arizona State, Wisconsin lost a chance for a game-winning field goal when a kneel-down play with 18 seconds left went awry and the clock ran out. It was an administrative failure on par with Colorado getting five downs to beat Missouri in 1990.
The Badgers left nothing to chance Saturday.
Athletic Director Barry Alvarez was on the field an hour before the game “chatting up'' the officiating crew, including pointed gestures while making his points.
Also, Andersen openly talked about the Arizona State mess in his preparation during the week because he doesn't want his team to forget the pain from that game.
“Did I want them to be mad? Yeah,'' he said. “That should carry them for a long, long time. It should give them a little chip on their shoulder.''
Is Andersen mad?
“I was. I still am,'' he said. “I hope I keep that edge. That will make us practice a little harder, coach a little harder and play a little harder.''
So the Badgers, the three-time defending Big Ten champions, travel to No. 4 Ohio State this Saturday for perhaps the pivotal game of the Leaders Division. And they go as a group that is mad, talented and experienced.
That's a combination this league had better pay attention to.