Sconnie Sports Talk

Wisconsin football: Running backs look to re-establish leadership

Running backs put in work at the first Fall practice


While all the focus is currently on the quarterback competition at Camp Randall during fall camp, the success of the team will still rely heavily on what it has counted on for many years – the run game.

Last season, the Badgers did not live up to the traditional running game standard. With Corey Clement sidelined with injuries and off the field issues, Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal struggled to find their groove. The Badgers only ran for 1,954 yards and 27 touchdowns, down from previous seasons.

Compared to years past, the season was abysmal. In 2015, Melvin Gordon alone rushed for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns. In fact, 2015 was the first season since 2006 that the rushing unit as a whole was below 2,500 yards rushing, and the first season since 2007 that they were under 30 touchdowns.

With last season’s poor run game fresh in memory and a question mark still at the quarterback position, some count the Badgers out. But the guys in the backfield think differently.

“A lot of people are counting us out, but we have a lot of confidence in the locker room,” Ogunbowale said.

Ogunbowale, fresh off an inspiring keynote address at Big Ten Media day, is one of the leaders of the team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Although he struggled early on to break through the offensive line, Ogunbowale showed flashes of past Wisconsin running backs towards the end of the season.

Fighting for the Paul Bunyan Axe against Minnesota, he rushed for a career-high 155 yards and also added one touchdown. When Ogunbowale broke free of the front line, he was a hard man to bring down.

Clement, who is on the Maxwell Award preseason watch list, is looking to bring back the traditional Wisconsin run game back, but knows it takes a team to do so.

“I need my guys with me,” Clement said. “I just think everybody needs to work off one another and compete.”

In 2014, Clement proved he was ready to take over for then senior Melvin Gordon, who was headed to the draft the next season. Clement rushed for over 900 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and reached the end zone nine times.

For Clement, 2015 was a year to forget. Injuries and off the field incidents plagued his season. But, forgetting is not on the mind of head coach Paul Chryst or Clement.

“He’s taken what he went through last year and has tried to learn from it,” Chryst said. “He’s taken all that to heart and he wants to be the best player he can be but also the best person he can be.”

He wants to be a good teammate and I also think Corey knows part of being a good teammate is being there,” Chryst added. 

And with 2015 fresh in his mind as a learning experience, Clement is looking forward to being there again, getting onto the field with his team and reliving the moments he had in 2014.

“It’s awesome not being in the sideline jersey once again,” Clement said. “Getting another chance to relive these moments that I’ve dreamed of.”

Although most offenses are lead by the quarterback, the Badgers have been lead by the running back position for years and the duo of Ogunbowale and Clement are looking to re-establish that.

Photo courtesy of Ari Brown/SST, taken at the first day of fall camp 2016 (August 8, 2016).