Gordon, Badgers Outlast Auburn in Classic Outback Bowl


Jan 1, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) stiff arms Auburn Tigers defensive back Johnathan Ford (23) during the first half in the 2015 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Melvin Gordon’s final game in a Wisconsin uniform couldn’t have gone much better.

The redshirt junior running back ran for an Outback-Bowl record 251 yards and three touchdowns to cap off his illustrious collegiate career, and the Badgers defeated Auburn 34-31 in an overtime thriller. Gordon finished the 2014 season with 2,587 rushing yards, the second-highest single-season total in FBS history.

After tying the game with a 29-yard field goal at the end of regulation, freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone hit a 25-yard field goal to put Wisconsin ahead in overtime. The UW defense proceeded to stifle the high-powered Auburn offense and Daniel Carlson’s 45-yard field goal try bounced off the upright, clinching the Badgers their first bowl victory since they defeated the Miami Hurricanes in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl.

It also sent interim head coach Barry Alvarez back into retirement with a win, his 119th victory with the Badgers. Alvarez and Wisconsin also beat the Tigers in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, Alvarez’s final game before his first retirement.

The Badgers won despite losing the turnover battle 3-0, each of which came courtesy of a Joel Stave interception. While Stave did struggle throughout the day, he did make a couple of pivotal throws late in the game, including a fourth-down completion in the fourth quarter to keep UW’s game-tying drive alive.

Wisconsin kicked the game off on a strong note, marching down the field and scoring on its first drive of the day on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Stave to Corey Clement. However, Auburn scored touchdowns on a two-yard run by Cameron Artis-Payne and a 66-yard pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis to take a 14-7 lead into halftime.

As he has so many times this season, Gordon took his play to a whole new level in the third quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns on runs of 25 and 53 yards to help give the Badgers a 21-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The final 15 minutes of regulation were a back-and-forth affair, with Auburn retaking the lead with on a perfectly thrown 20-yard touchdown pass from Marshall to C.J. Uzomah with 11:21 to go. But the UW rushing attack, which put up an Outback Bowl-record 400 yards, continued to carve through the Auburn defense and Gordon scored from six yards out to give the Badgers a 28-24 advantage.

Auburn once again had an answer, grabbing a 31-28 lead with 2:55 remaining on a two-yard run by Artis-Payne that was set up by a fourth-down defensive pass interference call on Sojourn Shelton on the previous play.

On the ensuing Wisconsin drive, the Badgers got into Tigers territory thanks to a late hit by Auburn at the end of a 20-yard dash by Gordon. The offense was stalled momentarily, bringing up fourth and five from the Auburn 33-yard line. Alvarez elected to go for it, and Stave rewarded him with a seven-yard strike to tight end Sam Arneson, keeping the drive alive and allowing Gaglianone to send it to overtime.

After Gaglianone made another field goal on the first possession of OT, the Tigers took the field looking to tie or win the game. The Wisconsin defense held strong, especially junior linebacker Joe Schobert, who had a hand in each of the three tackles on the drive. Carlson, who was 1-2 on the day at that point, was brought out to try and force a second overtime from 45 yards, but his kick clanked off the right upright. As his teammates celebrated the dramatic victory on the field, Wisconsin punter Drew Carlson showed a ton of class by putting his arm around and consoling Carlson.

It was a huge win for the Badgers to ring in the New Year, especially after the 59-0 thrashing they received from Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Alvarez was doused with Gatorade during his postgame interview and led the team in the “U-DUB” chant in the locker room, and Gordon and the senior class were sent out on a high note with the first bowl victory of their Wisconsin careers.