When it comes to Wisconsin’s spring game, the bigger stories involved players who weren’t there than the ones who strapped it up for the Badgers’ spring finale.
A coaching decision, which weighed the risk of injury versus the promise of very little reward, put the nation’s leading rusher in 2011, All-American Montee Ball, on the sidelines in street clothes. Danny O’Brien, the transfer from Maryland widely expected to claim UW’s starting quarterback job, still has to graduate from his former school before joining his new football program.
The spring show still went on, though, and one of Ball’s backups took advantage of not only the starter’s absence but his backup’s absence as well — James White did not play because of a knee issue. Melvin Gordon was the star of Saturday evening, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries in leading the Cardinal team to a 21-0 win over the White squad.
Head coach Bret Bielema was pleased that the redshirt freshman, who rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown last season, was able to carry the running game load in Ball’s absence.
“I will say that [running backs coach] Thomas [Hammock] and myself wanted to see if Melvin could grind it out,” Bielema said. “That’s something I was happy to see. I almost think he got stronger as the day went on.
“I was really excited to see him handle the whole game.”
Bielema was also pleased with the play of at least one of his signal callers. In what will likely be the most on-field action he sees in 2012, quarterback Joel Stave completed 14-of-25 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.
“Joel just continues to impress me,” Bielema said. “Just his maturity, the way he handles it.”
Again, O’Brien is widely expected to claim the starting job at some point early on in summer camp, but Stave’s performance throughout the spring has to give the offensive coaching staff hope that, if something were to happen to the incoming transfer, the position will be in somewhat solid hands.