IOWA CITY - Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon nearly went to Iowa.
The Hawkeyes will soon get to see what they missed out on.
Gordon, a sophomore who verbally committed to Iowa before joining the 22nd-ranked Badgers (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten), has emerged as the nation's most productive running back heading into Saturday's game in Iowa City.
Gordon has run for 1,012 yards on 9.5 yards per carry - or roughly double what most coaches would be thrilled to get out of their No. 1 back - and has at least 140 yards six times in seven games.
The Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) are now charged with stopping the player they once hoped would help lead them to the Rose Bowl.
They know it won't be easy.
No. 22 Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) at Iowa (5-3, 2-2)
Today, 11:06 a.m.
At Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
"You talk about all the things you'd want out of a running back. Speed, balance, power, strength, vision. All those things, he's got them," Iowa linebacker James Morris said.
Gordon also has 11 touchdowns rushing for the Badgers, good for a tie for second in the country.
He and fellow star James White will face one of their biggest tests against the Hawkeyes.
Iowa is first in the country with just two TDs rushing allowed and 12th in scoring defense with 18.1 points a game. It's a much-improved unit led by Morris, who has put himself into the discussion of the league's top linebackers by winning his second defensive player of the week award in a month on Monday.
"They're in command of the defense, they do a nice job of directing traffic and you can see that on tape. Their knowledge of the game is very good," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.
Here are five keys to consider as Iowa and Wisconsin resume a rivalry that dates back 119 years and is tied at 42-42-2:
Wisconsin star linebacker Chris Borland might not play against Iowa after straining a hamstring in a 56-32 win at Illinois on Oct. 19. Borland has racked up 10 or more tackles three times this season and has 13 career forced fumbles, the most of any active player. "Obviously it's not an injury that's foreign to him. He's been through this before," Andersen said. "But I'm very optimistic that he'll play in the game."
The good news for Iowa is that it has led at halftime in each of its eight games. The bad news is that the Hawkeyes lost three of them - and needed an OT touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Rudock to C.J. Fiedorowicz to beat Northwestern last week. "I think it's just a matter of you've got to concentrate your way through things. I know it's a fact we've been leading every game at halftime. It's obviously a fact that we haven't won every game. Somehow, some way you just have to concentrate better," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Iowa knows it will need a big game out of top cornerback B.J. Lowery. The Hawkeyes can't afford to drop too many players into coverage given how well Wisconsin runs the ball, and receiver Jared Abbrederis is averaging 107.4 yards receiving per game with five TDs. "He just runs around, makes plays. He is non-stop," Ferentz said. "Watching other people on film, they match up against Wisconsin, you can't help but notice No. 4. Doesn't matter who the opponent is, he has really played well."
HELLO MR. ANDERSEN
The first-year Wisconsin coach will get his first view of this rivalry from the sidelines at Kinnick, where the fans are mere inches away from the visiting players and aren't afraid to let them know they're there. The rivalry, which took a two-year hiatus because of realignment, has been extremely competitive in recent years. The Badgers beat Iowa in 2010 when Montee Ball scored a TD with 1:06 left to give the Badgers a 31-30 win and possession of the Heartland Trophy - which features a bull. "I think it means a lot. And you sit there and you look at that trophy, it's either a trophy case with a trophy in it or it's a trophy case that's empty. And you either hope to hold onto it or you're hoping to get it back," Andersen said.
One of the many reasons that Gordon's presence at Kinnick Stadium might be painful for the Hawkeyes is that their own run game has slipped in recent weeks. Neither Mark Weisman nor Damon Bullock has rushed for more than 60 yards in the last three games as Iowa has slipped to 47th nationally in rushing yards. That's why bruising freshman Leshun Daniels Jr. might get a crack at significant carries for the first time in Big Ten play.