There are highlights of Melvin Gordon where it appears he's a cartoon character beep-beeping his way past slow-motion defenders. Gordon is here, and then, zoom, he's there, long gone with football in hand and feet scorching the turf.

There are highlights of Melvin Gordon where it appears he's a cartoon character beep-beeping his way past slow-motion defenders.

Gordon is here, and then, zoom, he's there, long gone with football in hand and feet scorching the turf.

Nebraska's defense looked as if it was trying to lasso a wisp of smoke on Nov. 15 when Gordon, a junior running back for Wisconsin, broke free for runs of 26, 39, 42, 43, 44, 62 and 68 yards.

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More than the Cornhuskers have choked on Gordon's exhaust fumes. This season, he has totaled nine runs of 50 or more yards, 16 runs of 40 or more yards, 20 runs of 30 or more yards and 31 runs of 20 or more yards.

"He's got great breakaway speed," Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein said. "Once he gets out there, he's such a long strider and such a fast guy, it's hard to catch him."

Those long runs are why Gordon, the nation's leading rusher this season with a Big Ten-record 2,260 yards, is considered a prime contender in the Heisman Trophy derby.

Those scrambles, many ending in his nation-leading 29 touchdowns, also are a big reason Wisconsin is playing in its third league championship game in four years, on Saturday against Ohio State in Indianapolis.

Those breathtaking dashes, however, only partly explain why Gordon averages 188.3 rushing yards a game, including an average of 8.0 a carry that's on pace to break the NCAA season record.

"The flashy runs, everybody sees those … time and time again," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "The ones I look at are when he's on the line of scrimmage, you need to get 4 yards, and he's getting 5 or 6 yards."

Gordon, 6 feet 1 and 213 pounds, can be a grinder between the tackles if necessary, as Minnesota discovered in last week's regular-season finale with the West Division title on the line. The Gophers loaded the box and limited Gordon to only two 20-plus-yard runs, the longest going for 24.

Still, Gordon churned out 151 yards and scored twice in Wisconsin's 34-24 victory.

"His performance was very physical," Andersen said. "I thought he was unbelievably tough-minded in some tough sledding."

Tough running wasn't needed when Gordon ran wild against Nebraska last month for four touchdowns and 408 yards to break the Football Bowl Subdivision rushing record of LaDainian Tomlinson. Gordon didn't even play in the fourth quarter of that game, and his record stood for only a week as Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine ran for 427 against Kansas.

The ability to move piles, however, and not just run away from defenses, has been the most noticeable difference in Gordon from a year ago, when he averaged 7.8 yards a carry while totaling 1,609 rushing yards.

"I think he's a little bit stronger than he was last year," OSU cornerback Doran Grant said.

Adding muscle was one of the reasons Gordon returned for his junior season after considering entering last spring's NFL draft, where he was projected as a second-round pick.

"I want to be strong and a more powerful runner," Gordon said in July at the Big Ten media days. "I want to add that to my game and run some people over."

Gordon, a native of Kenosha, Wis., also wanted to improve his blocking and receiving and become more of a vocal leader. Andersen said he has accomplished all of that.

Despite increased defensive attention, Gordon rushed for 1,092 yards in five November games. He ran for at least 120 against all eight of Wisconsin's Big Ten opponents, including four games of more than 200.

"He has very good vision and very good leg drive," OSU defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "I see a lot of the broken tackles he makes are because his legs are very high and he's driving through when you're expecting to take him down."

Once through a crack in the line, Gordon goes into jet-engine mode, as he did in the 2012 Big Ten championship game, when he gashed Nebraska for 216 yards on only nine carries in a 70-31 victory.

"This Melvin Gordon is now a little more experienced," he said about that game. "I'm a lot more confident. Mentally, I feel like I'm stronger than I was before."

And he's stronger at the point of attack, too, which helps create more cartoon moments. Beep-beep.

"We get him 7 yards," Havenstein said of Wisconsin's line, "and he gets the other 40."

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones