MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin's offense is a work in progress with a first-year starting quarterback throwing to receivers placed in more prominent roles this season.
Regardless of the quality of opponent, Saturday's victory was just the kind of morale-building performance that Wisconsin needed following an uneven start.
''Melvin and I told each other that we were behind the eight ball a little bit as a team in the Big Ten and in the nation, so we looked at it like this is the game we have to catch up to everybody else,'' said receiver and return specialist Kenzel Doe. ''We had to go out there and prove to ourselves and prove to everybody that we aren't going anywhere.''
They stayed put in the AP Top 25 poll released Sunday at No. 19.
Gordon had a career-best 253 yards rushing and five touchdowns against Bowling Green, and Wisconsin had a Big Ten-record 644 yards rushing as a team.
But this wasn't just old-school Wisconsin bulldozing over opponents with a massive offensive line.
They still do that, by the way, under coach Gary Andersen. But the Badgers also threw often on first downs when the game was unexpectedly tight early into the second quarter. Tanner McEvoy, learning on the job in his third career start at quarterback, settled down after a few misfires.
''We had trouble running the ball and then all of a sudden we started passing the ball. You have to adjust to what the defense is giving you and whatever starts working,'' McEvoy said.
Wisconsin used more formations in which both Gordon and backup Corey Clement were on the field at the same time, forcing the defense to account for both talented running backs and the dual-threat McEvoy. The Badgers ran the jet sweep with more frequency, or play-faked showing sweep. The sweep is Gordon's signature play.
These are just the kind of problems that Andersen wanted to present to defenses in choosing McEvoy as his starter.
''I definitely think there's a higher ceiling. We know we can rush the ball like that. We know we can pass the ball like that. We've just got to put it all together and keep working at it,'' McEvoy said. He ran for 158 yards, a school record for a quarterback, while throwing a touchdown pass and an interception.
The Badgers showed positive signs all across the team.
That big play turned out to be the turning point with about 12 minutes left in the second quarter and Wisconsin leading by four.
Creating more big plays was another goal this year for Andersen, and the defense added a fumble recovery forced by sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel.
Andersen loved the complementary play. Defenders spoke proudly about playing harder as the game wore on to get the ball back for the offense with Gordon having such a good day.
''It was some good team effort. We still have a lot we can work on,'' Andersen said. ''But we'll work on those starting tomorrow.''
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