Melvin Gordon is better than Montee Ball, better than James White. He’s going to be a better pro than Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner.
I was stunned by Gordon's greatness in watching the Gophers and Wisconsin from Camp Randall on Saturday. I also was beyond impressed with the Gophers’ defensive effort against him.
There had to be a half-dozen times when Gordon made a bounce at the line of scrimmage, saw some daylight and was a half-step away from going 40, 50, 60 yards, as he did continually against Nebraska, and a Gopher – Damien Wilson, Cedric Thompson, someone – would corral him with a certain tackle.
The Gophers finally relented, and Gordon shook open for 24 yards to trigger the fourth-quarter drive that put the Badgers in front 27-17.
Tracy Claeys’ defense was so Gordon conscious that the Gophers did seem to be catching their collective breath a couple of times when Melvin was on the sideline, and Corey Clement gashed them with blasts up the middle.
In the end, Gordon wound up with 151 yards, but he’s so dangerous, it could have been double that if Minnesota didn’t tackle like mad men late into the afternoon in Madison.
Coach Jerry Kill lied all week about the prospects for his star running back, David Cobb, to play because of a hamstring problem. Cobb came out and ran with the same ferocity that he has displayed for two wonderful seasons, and the Gophers had the Badgers in retreat for most of the first half.
Ten quick points at the end of the half cut the Minnesota lead to 17-13, and then the Gophers’ offense put way too much pressure on the defense in failing to move the ball in the second half.
The Gophers had only two first downs in the second half by the time Wisconsin had its second touchdown (to make it 27-17), right?
The only real play the Gophers made in the second half was the one moment when the Badgers lost track of Maxx Williams, and the outstanding tight end turned a two-yard pass into a 53-yard gain.
No matter what we hear between now and the Gophers’ bowl game, I’m betting that Williams – a third-year sophomore – gets enough positive reinforcement about his draft potential to enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
Maxx’s numbers aren’t dazzling, for two reasons: the Gophers run the ball on an incredibly high percentage of plays, and quarterback Mitch Leidner is a very erratic thrower. The scouts won’t care about his numbers. They have seen the wheels, the hands, the willingness to block. Maxx is a montster.
As for Leidner, It would have been interesting, if Phil Nelson hadn’t decided to transfer and then allowed his life to be ruined with a moment of violent stupidity, who would have been the quarterback down the stretch for the Gophers this season?
Kill and his coaches like Leidner for his running ability and toughness, and Nelson was only an average thrower, but there were times (such as Saturday) that Leidner’s duck ratio was so high that the Gophers could have used an experienced alternative.
Following every disappointment, the last two being Ohio State at home and Wisconsin on the road, Gopher zealots still have the need to emphasize the improvement in the “program’’ since Kill took over … as though that’s new information.
Yeah, the Gophers are better than they were with Tim Brewster. Let’s get on with life.
Here’s what does impress me: The attitude that has been infused into Gophers football – whether it comes from Kill, his staff or the competitive nature of the lead horses on this roster.
Cameron Botticelli, the Wisconsin boy … how disruptive was he on Saturday until the Badgers started giving him extra attention?
And Cobb. And Zac Epping and Tommy Olson, in the middle of the offensive line. And as I said, Cedric Thompson, with his magnificent, hard-nosed approach to playing safety.
Anyway, here’s what truly impresses:
In 2013, the Gophers stunk it out in the Big Ten opener at home vs. Iowa, stunk it out at Michigan, and you looked at the schedule and wondered if 0-8 in the conference was an actual possibility. And then the Gophers came out of a bye week and put together a four-game conference winning streak that included a historic victory over Nebraska.
This season, the Gophers started 2-0 in the Big Ten, then needed a big rally to edge an awful Purdue team 39-38 at TCF Bank Stadium, and then lost to an awful Illinois team on the road.
You saw those two games of putridity in October, and looked at the finish – Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin – and figured it was a 50-50 shot to lose all four.
As in 2013, the Gophers rallied from two weeks of lousiness. They overwhelmed Iowa, provided a challenge for Ohio State, beat up Nebraska in the second half, and hung with Wisconsin for most of the game (by hanging on for dear life vs. Melvin).
What’s different about these Gophers the last two seasons than their predecessors can be summarized succinctly:
When knocked to the deck, they have refused to stay there.
I’m saying they win a bowl game this time, mostly because Botticelli, Thompson and Wilson, Cobb, Epping and Olson, and a few other senior warriors, will refuse to leave without having done so
A gigantic share of both the sports media and the sporting public is fixated on the NFL. These folks had a good time late last week, demeaning the efforts of Major League Baseball to put some hype in the early stages of its draft.
They did this by repeating the opinion that nothing comes close to the three-day spectacle of the NFL Draft; and by asking, "How can you make a big deal out of something when the fans don't know the names of these pitchers, catchers, infielders and outfielders?''
We all were aware of this, folks. We don't have to repeat this thousands of times -- or, I guess we do, because that's how some of us fill hours of argument shows on television, sports talk radio and podcasts.
There is a certain puzzlement to the MLB Draft, more in the format of the early portion of the draft than in the backgrounds of the top players. Anyone who wants to can get more information on the top draft choices than ever before, through the herculean efforts of ESPN.com, MLB.com and the pioneer of draft coverage, Baseball America.
Now that there's a limit for total signing bonuses leveled on each team, the Jonathan Mayos of the baseball world are producing mock drafts for the first 40, 50 players that are similar in accuracy to those offered by the Todd McShay-types for the NFL Draft. Among Commissioner Bud Selig's triumphs, making signability less of a factor in where top prospects wind up in the drafft ranks high.
I'm not denying there's a desperate quality to the MLB Draft, although it's not so much in Selig trying to mimick Roger Goodell's announcement of the first rounders. The desperation surfaced in 2012, when the domos of MLB decided what was needed to spice things up was a lottery and the ability to trade draft choices.
The MLB Draft started in 1965. Even then, league presidents Joe Cronin [AL] and Warren Giles [NL] were astute enough to understand that if trades of draft choices were permitted, the low-revenue teams would be unloading first-rounders to the Yankees and the Dodgers, and the other titans of the sport.
For sure, Calvin Griffith and the Twins would have been trading first-rounders in the '70s and into the '80s, when the franchise had hit hard times. Famously, the Twins took pitcher Tim Belcher as the first overall pick in 1983, followed by outfielder Oddibe McDowell and pitcher Billy Swift, and signed none.
Short-term, the Twins would have been better off if such choices could have been traded. Long-term, the game's attempt to have some form of balance (which it does with today's revenue sharing) would have been destroyed, if the Yankees were trading to get in position for the highest-priced, most-covered draft prospects.
All these years later, Bud's brainiacs sought to have a lottery and trades involved in their draft, so they came up with this: "competitive balance'' picks after the first and second rounds that could be traded.
There were 13 teams in the lottery, based either on being in the bottom 10 in market size or in revenues. There were six comp picks available after last week's first round and five after the second round.
The lottery took place last July and was based on 2011, meaning no one paid attention. Comically, defending AL champion Detroit wound up with a competitive balance selection (which the Tigers traded to Miami in the Anibal Sanchez deal) for this year's draft.
This was ridiculous, but tell me you don't know anything about the players selected in the first round of the MLB Draft, and that's your problem.
You're like like me with college football recruiting. I don't pay attention other than where a few Minnesota seniors might be going ... but I don't rip the sport for being unaware of the backgrounds of the top 30, 40 recruits in the country.
I take an interest in the MLB Draft. I even watch it. I enjoy the crap shoot aspect of it -- the gamble of taking a high school pitcher No. 4 overall in the hope that some day he can turn out to be another Roy Halladay.
ALSO: The Twins draft choices included Tanner Vavra, Valparaiso infielder and the son of coach Joe Vavra, in the 30th round. Here's a column I wrote on Tanner and his long-shot baseball quest in August 2011:
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