MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Melvin Gordon rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 19 Wisconsin overcame a sluggish start to hold off South Florida 27-10 on Saturday.
Gordon scored on carries of seven and 43 yards on the Badgers’ first two drives of the second half after running room finally opened up for the star tailback.
The Bulls (2-3) put up an admirable effort in their first road contest of the year, getting to within 17-10 midway through the third quarter on Rodney Adams’ 26-yard touchdown run off a reverse. South Florida’s defense had held Gordon to 50 yards in the first half.
But Wisconsin (3-1) inched away in the final 20 minutes to extend their nonconference winning streak at home to 32 games.
The Badgers pounced on a South Florida turnover to start the fourth quarter with a clock-eating drive that put the game away.
The Bulls thought they had a big gain into the red zone after Mike White connected with Kennard Swanson for a 52-yard completion. But Swanson fumbled following a lunging hit by safety Lubern Figaro. Linebacker Vince Biegel recovered at the 10.
From there, Wisconsin marched 90 yards in 18 plays on a series that ended with Tanner McEvoy’s 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Sam Arneson with 5:17 left for a 17-point lead with 5:17 left.
Still, the offense remains a work in progress with Big Ten play beginning next week at Northwestern.
A week after compiling a league-record 644 yards rushing, Wisconsin had to overcome a very slow start.
South Florida won the matchup in the trenches in the first half, even with starting defensive tackle Todd Chandler missing the game with an eye injury.
When Wisconsin ball carriers did slip through, they were met by a gaggle of Bulls flying to the ball. Gordon had just 50 yards on 17 carries in the first half; the previous week Gordon had amassed 179 yards and four touchdowns by halftime alone.
The blockers looked rejuvenated in the second half. Gordon, who finished with 32 carries on the day, found more room to run after halftime.
A 43-yard touchdown run with 8:04 in the third quarter was vintage Gordon. He broke two tackles before shuffling his feet to freeze safety Lamar Robbins for a second, a move that allowed the junior to dart left untouched the rest of the way into the end zone.
Backup running back Corey Clement finished with 77 yards on 16 carries. He seemed to get just as much enjoyment throwing an open-field block on the edge that leveled an unsuspecting Robbins that allowed Gordon to pick up a first down.
McEvoy, making his fourth career start at Wisconsin at quarterback, finished 11 of 18 for 160 yards. He missed on a couple throws to open receivers for potentially big gains.
But McEvoy shook off the mistakes. After overthrowing Arneson on one long pass, McEvoy found tight end Troy Fumagalli for a 14-yard gain on third-and-5 to get to the Bulls 25.
Five plays later, McEvoy found Arneson for the TD pass to put the game away.
White was 8 of 19 for 173 yards. South Florida running back Marlon Mack, who was averaging 125 yards a game coming into the afternoon, was held to 34 yards on 10 carries.