Badger Backfield: Through the Decade
Throughout the last decade the Wisconsin football program has sprinted, trucked, juked and spin cycled through the record books and over the whole NCAA. The NFL is riddled with former Wisconsin badgers running backs who continue to tear up the turf like they did in college. From Montee Ball to Melvin Gordon and Jonathan Taylor, badger fans have been spoiled with the most electric college running backs in the history of the NCAA to entertain them in the last decade.
There is no way to describe Montee Ball other than a complete touchdown machine. Ball served as a running back at Wisconsin from 2009-2012. Ball started his career as the second string running back to starter John Clay but after Clay suffered an injury in Ball’s sophomore year it gave Ball the opportunity to show what he can do for the badgers with the majority of the teams carries. Montee “Money” “Monster” Ball led the badgers to three straight rose bowl appearances and racked up insane yardage and touchdown totals on his way. With 1,923 yards and 39 touchdowns in 2011 Ball led the nation and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. In 2012 Ball won the Doak Walker award recognizing him as the nation’s greatest running back. Finishing college with 5,140 yards and 83 total touchdowns, Ball held the record for most career touchdowns. It’s easy to say that Ball was one of the greatest running backs in college football history, and he kicked off a decade of elite Wisconsin rushers.
James White had a modest career at Wisconsin as an extremely efficient ball carrier who was able to produce impressive numbers while sharing the backfield with elites like Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon through his career. He accomplished over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman while taking carries from Montee Ball and John Clay. Although not the flashiest running back, White put up some impressive numbers throughout his college career and proved to be a model back at Wisconsin. Like Montee Ball, White was a part of three rose bowl teams. White finished his college career with 4,015 yards and 45 touchdowns. He was drafted by the New England Patriots and scored the game winning touchdown in Super Bowl 51.
Quite possibly the best ever running back in Wisconsin history Melvin Gordon had a very impressive resume at the UW, setting records and winning awards along the way. Gordon played his first year with Wisconsin in 2011 as a backup under Montee Ball and James White. Gordon played the first three games of the season racking up 98 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries before suffering a groin injury and sitting out the rest of the season. In 2012 he played in 14 games with four starts including an outstanding performance in the Big ten championship game against Nebraska with 216 yards and a touchdown. Throughout the season Gordon carried the ball 62 times for 621 yards and three touchdowns. Gordon had a breakout season in 2013 putting on a show with his explosive long running plays. He was the only player in the league with four runs over 60 yards and three runs over 70 yards. Gordon had a memorable senior year with Wisconsin as he ran headfirst through the NCAA rushing for an impressive 2587 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was recognized as the best running back in the nation by earning the Doak Walker award and finished second in the Heisman award voting to finish off his college career. Gordon was taken by the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL draft and has acted as the starting running back since.
Corey Clement’s career at wisconsin was relatively unimpressive compared to the elite running back success surrounding his era but while being buried in the depth chart after Gordon and suffering injuries, Clement proved his worth in 2016 rushing for over 1000 yards and 15 TDs on the ground, leading the Badgers to a Big Ten West Championship.
Current Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is possibly one of the best to run the backfield for the badgers. He has been producing incredible numbers and aided on an impressive badgers squad. Taylor had a remarkable freshman season almost cracking the 2000 yard mark and scoring 13 touchdowns, leading the badgers to a Big Ten West championship and setting himself up for a successful sophomore season. Coming in as one of the highest ranked running backs in the NCAA Taylor lived up to the hype carrying the badgers with an unstoppable run game. Taylor’s ability to break off game changing runs and tear up some of the best defenses in the league helped the badgers open up a pass game as well and led them to a tightly contested matchup with number one Ohio state in the big ten championship punching their ticket to the Rose Bowl against the Oregon Ducks. Taylor received the Doak Walker award with 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns finishing third in both categories overall in the NCAA. After a crushing one point loss to the Oregon Ducks Jonathan Taylor publicly declared for the NFL draft and will most likely not be returning to Wisconsin for another season.
The 2010s were a very successful decade for Wisconsin Badger running backs to leave their mark with stats and records that will be tough to beat for decades to come.