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For PSU, Wisconsin provides quite a rush

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Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon breaks through the Minnesota defense in the second half Nov. 23, 2013.

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Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
 

A week after facing the nation's seventh-leading rusher, Penn State moves on to play the one who sits eighth.

But the Nittany Lions also will be tasked with stopping the running back at No. 12.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White are on their way, barring injury, to being the most productive running back duo in NCAA history. With two games (including a bowl) left, they need to combine for 349 yards to break the NCAA season record for a pair of teammates. Nevada's Cody Fajardo and Stefphon Jefferson had 3,004 combined yards last season.

“These are two good running backs,” Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien said, “guys that have each gained a lot of yards.”

“It's going to be a challenge,” linebacker Mike Hull said.

The Badgers (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) carry a six-game winning streak into a 3:30 p.m. Saturday game at Camp Randall Stadium against the Lions (6-5, 3-4). Wisconsin also has a six-game streak in which Gordon or White — sometimes both — has rushed for at least 100 yards.

Counting Corey Clement, a Wisconsin player has rushed for more than 100 yards 18 times over the first 11 games.

Gordon is only a sophomore (White is a senior), but the duo almost assuredly will surpass 6,000 career yards between them Saturday. They need 54 yards.

“They're shifty, but they can also run you over if they have to, especially Gordon. He's a bigger guy,” Hull said. “We're going to have to play responsible defense and shut down the run game.”

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Gordon has been the more prominent big-play threat. His 8.2 yards-per-attempt this season leads the FBS, as does his 8.5-yard career average among active players. He is a finalist for the Maxwell Award, given to college football's top player.

More than a quarter of Gordon's career carries (60 of 238) have gone for at least 10 yards. He has more carries of 20 yards or more yards (21) than carries that have lost yardage (17).

White (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) has been a better scorer (15 touchdowns this season, 48 in his career) and a better receiver (his 628 career receiving yards are 30 shy of the Badgers' record for a running back). He has had at least two rushing touchdowns in a game 13 times.

White is the nation's active leader in career rushing touchdowns with 45.

“We've spent enough time watching film on both running backs, and each back brings something different to table,” Penn State defensive end C.J. Olaniyan said. “But they have it all: vision, quickness, size.”

Wisconsin is eighth in the FBS in rushing (297.8/game) and second in yards-per-carry (6.77), the latter a figure that by far will set a school record should it continue.

The Badgers lead the nation or are tied for the lead in runs of 30-plus yards (21), 40-plus (14), 50-plus (nine), 60-plus (seven), 70-plus (six) and 80-plus (two).

The Lions' defense did an adequate job last week (168 yards) against the Ameer Abdullah-led Nebraska rushing offense that ranks third in the Big Ten. But Penn State was lit up for 408 rushing yards by conference rushing leader Ohio State on Oct. 26.

For the season, the Lions are sixth in the Big Ten in rushing defense (146.2 yards/game).

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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