ORLANDO, Fla. - The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers were no more than an hour removed from a disappointing 34-24 loss to No. 9 South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, but Melvin Gordon didn't shy away from talking about next season.
The sophomore running back said he will take a few days off to rest after rushing for 1,612 yards in his first season as a key piece of Wisconsin's offense, but after that Gordon said he's going to get back in to the weight room to make sure the Badgers don't have to send out a fifth-straight senior class with a bowl game loss next year.
"This loss is going to sit with me for a long time," Gordon said as his senior teammates gave their final post-game interviews with the Badgers. "I was really close with these seniors. I wanted to send these guys off right. This is my motivation … I'm going to train, and I'm going to train hard."
Gordon rushed for 143 yards on 25 carries against the Gamecocks, just a few weeks after announcing that he had decided to forgo the NFL draft and will return to Wisconsin for his junior season. Gordon's decision should give the Badgers a big boost in 2014; in no small part because of how shaky their passing game was in 2013.
Quarterback Joel Stave is set to return, but he won't be guaranteed the starting job after a few highs and almost more downs in his first full season under center. The Badgers will also be looking for a new crop of wide receivers to step up, with seniors Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen also on their way out the door.
Gordon said Wisconsin's loss to South Carolina hurts more than their 31-24 loss to Penn State at the end of the regular season, in no small part because of his own missed opportunities against the Gamecocks.
Gordon slipped on what looked like a touchdown run early in the third quarter, ultimately forcing the Badgers to settle for a field goal from Jack Russell. He also wasn't able to convert on consecutive third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 plays in the fourth quarter, wasting one of Wisconsin's few remaining chances to keep themselves in the game against the Gamecocks.
"It hurts. It hurts more," Gordon said. "Knowing that I was really involved in the game plan this time and I had a chance to make plays to turn this game around and I fell short, it hurts me a lot."
But even though Wisconsin's first game of the 2014 season is a long way off, Gordon said he's ready to take on more responsibility in Gary Andersen's second year in Madison. The Badgers will be looking for some new leadership with a big senior class on their way to the next chapters in their lives, and Gordon seemed to think that he can help fill that void sooner rather than later.
"I'm excited to lead this team, with my actions [and] vocally. I'm ready," Gordon said. "Guys have got to step up, and they will. I'm one hundred percent sure about that."
News and notes:
-- The Badgers called for a fake field goal on their first drive of the game after a false start stalled what looked like a promising drive, but holder Drew Meyer overthrew tight end Brock DeCicco and the Badgers turned the ball over on downs. Meyer suggested that the Badgers had a slightly different formation for the fake field goal than they do for a normal attempt, and said that's probably what tipped the Gamecocks off and helped them defend the pass.
-- Sophomore safety Michael Caputo said he was trying to make a play on the ball on the deep ball that South Carolina wide receiver Shaq Roland pulled in for a 49-yard reception, but ultimately neither Caputo or Sojourn Shelton were able to come up with the ball.
"That's a play … really anybody should make it," Caputo said. "It's a play that we've repped in practice. They just happened to come up with it."
It'll be interesting to see how Caputo, Shelton and the other defensive backs respond after two relatively poor performances to end the season. The Badgers will have most of their defensive experience in the backfield in 2014, so they might have to lean on Caputo and others to keep those big plays from happening while the front seven gets settled.
-- Stave said he would have tried to come back into the game if he had taken the big hit from Victor Hampton on his left shoulder instead of his right. Ultimately Stave said he felt a little numb and couldn't move his arm over his shoulder, which forced Curt Phillips to come into the game. Stave said the hit was more to his shoulder than to his collarbone, and said he didn't think the injury was anything too serious. With a few months off until spring football starts, Stave has plenty of time to heal even if the injury is more serious than he suspects.
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