Wisconsin’s potential three-headed monster

Last season was a rough season, in comparison, for the Wisconsin Badgers’ backfield.

With fans used to seeing a running backs score 20-plus touchdowns or rushing for over 1500 yards, last season was tough to watch for some. With John Clay, Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon all carrying the ball, it seemed the endless train of top-caliber running backs would never end. Last year was supposed to be Corey Clement’s year, and after almost rushing for 1,000 yards as a backup in 2014, there was no reason to think it wasn’t.

Obviously injuries hampered Clement’s season, but in his one healthy game against Rutgers last season, he rushed for 115 yards on 10 carries and reached the end zone three times. But a silver lining that came out of Clement’s injury riddled season was the chance it gave Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal to gain crucial experience that will benefit the team this year.

Last year, especially towards the end of the season, Ogunbowale showed signs of becoming a versatile runner and receiver. In 2015, Ogunbowale rushed for 819 yards on 194 carries. In 2014, he only touched the ball 34 times. That is a huge increase in workload and Ogunbowale responded well. He was at his best, last season, when he could run in open space.

But with an young offensive line that struggled last season, Ogunbowale could rarely find open space. After an offseason of adding line depth, there is no reason to think the offensive line isn’t going to be better. New left tackle Ryan Ramczyk should solidify the left side, and the rest of the underclassmen will come back bigger and better.

The other back gaining time due to Clement’s injury was Taiwan Deal. As a freshman, Deal rushed for 503 yards, but proved his worth in short yardage situations. On 3rd or 4th down with only one or two yards to go, Deal carried the ball 12 times for 62 yards. Rounding out to a 5.2 yards per carry in short yardage situation, the Badgers now have someone to trust when they are on the goal line or in need of a yard for a first down. Some of those carries will still go to Clement, but having Deal in the arsenal can only help.

So what does this mean for 2016? We can’t underestimate the loss of future NFL fullback Derek Watt, but Wisconsin should still be better on the ground. The Badgers have a lot of options and barring any significant injuries, and they could have a three-headed monster running over the Big Ten’s defenses. Adding Clement back into the mix with Ogunbowale’s versatility and Deal’s power could prove to be a winning recipe.  

Either way, with an uncertain quarterback situation, Wisconsin’s rush attack will need to be back in 2016.

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