TAMPA, Fla. » Once Wisconsin turned Melvin Gordon loose on Auburn, there was no stopping the nation’s leading rusher.
Gordon ran for an Outback Bowl-record 251 yards and three touchdowns, and Rafael Gaglianone kicked a 25-yard field goal in overtime to give the 17th-ranked Badgers a 34-31 victory over the No. 19 Tigers on Thursday.
Gordon scored on runs of 25, 53 and 6 yards, bouncing back from a subpar performance in the Big Ten championship game to threaten Barry Sanders’ FBS single-season rushing record.
The Wisconsin star, who has already declared he’ll skip his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, finished with 2,587 yards in 14 games — second most in FBS history. Sanders gained 2,628 in 11 games in 1988, when the NCAA did not include bowl results in a player’s season or career statistic totals.
Nick Marshall threw for two touchdowns for Auburn, which also got a pair of TDs on the ground from Cameron Artis-Payne. The Tigers (8-5) were unable to move the ball in overtime, though, and lost when Daniel Carlson’s 45-yard field goal hit the right upright and bounced away.
Joel Stave threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Corey Clement for an early Wisconsin lead. The Badgers’ offense, however, didn’t really take off until it started feeding Auburn’s defense a steady diet of Gordon, who finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting.
Gordon went over 100 yards for the day with a 17-yard gain of the first play of the second half. His 27th rushing TD finished a six-play, 75-yard march Stave led without putting the ball in the air. His 28th, on a carry up the middle on fourth-and-1, put the Badgers ahead 21-17 late in the third quarter.
Stave completed 14 of 27 passes for 121 yards. He threw two of his three interceptions in the first half, but that didn’t stop him from making a couple of big completions on a 64-yard drive the Badgers put together to send the game into overtime.
With help from a 20-yard run by Gordon and an accompanying 15-yard penalty on Auburn for a late hit on the running back out of bounds, Wisconsin marched to the Auburn 11 before settling for Gaglianone’s 29-yard field goal.
Marshall threw TD passes of 66 yards Ricardo Louis and 20 yards to C.J. Uzomah. Artis-Payne, who rushed for 126 yards, scored on a pair of 2-yard runs — the second giving Auburn a 31-28 lead.
Both teams were coming off disappointing losses, Wisconsin falling 59-0 to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game and Auburn rolling up 630 yards total offense in coming up short 55-44 against Alabama in the Tigers’ regular season finale.
The Badgers and Tigers also went through some upheaval between those games and Thursday, with Gary Andersen’s abrupt decision to leave Wisconsin to coach Oregon State and Auburn firing defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson after yielding 539 yards to Alabama and finishing ninth in the SEC in total defense.
Andersen’s departure brought Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez back to the sideline on an interim basis to coach in a bowl for the second time in three seasons.
Auburn wasted no time in hiring former Florida coach Will Muschamp to lead the Tigers defense next season. He was on the field before the game, but not working while interim defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison led the unit against Wisconsin.