Wisconsin Football: Badgers Running Backs Looking Strong in Spring


The Wisconsin football team could have a special backfield in 2016

Following a disappointing season running the ball by Wisconsin football standards, the Badgers could be in for a resurgence and a big year running the ball in 2016.

Wisconsin is coming off of a down year at running back, a year that saw Corey Clement struggle with injuries and off the field incidents, and a season that saw the Badgers turn to young players like Taiwan Deal and Alec Ingold to support the more experienced Dare Ogunbowale.

The Badgers had their first season without a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield since 2008, when John Clay rushed 155 times for 884 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season as Wisconsin’s starter.

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Last year was also the first time since 2003 that the Badgers’ top wideout totaled more receiving yards than the top running back earned on the ground.

This past season saw Alex Erickson haul in 77 passes for 978 yards, a top-10 receiving season in Wisconsin history. He outpaced the top running threat for the Badgers, Ogunbowale, who rushed 194 times for 819 yards.

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Back in 2003, Lee Evans grabbed 64 passes for 1,213 yards, battering the 857 yards Dwayne Smith totaled on the ground as part of a rushing trio that included Anthony Davis (682 yards) and Booker Stanley (523).

Behind Ogunbowale’s 819 yards last season, the Badgers got another 503 out of Deal, 221 out of Clement and 131 out of Ingold.

Wide receiver and wildcat quarterback Tanner McEvoy added another 132 yards on the ground, and Erickson took a few end-around carries for 111 yards.

Even in a down year for the running backs playing behind a young offensive line struggling to find consistency, the Badgers managed to average more than 150 yards per game on the ground. That number wasn’t close to the tops of the league, but was in the neighborhood of fellow Big Ten teams Michigan State and Michigan, but only ahead of Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue and Illinois in conference play.

The Badgers look poised to improve dramatically in 2016.

It starts with a healthy Corey Clement back in the lead running back role. He looks strong in practice so far, and appears to be more focused as well.

Behind Clement, Ogunbowale continues to improve and grow into his role after switching from defense to offense a few years ago. Ogunbowale adds a receiving element (he was fourth on the team with 36 catches for 299 yards last season) to the team and has shown promise as a third-down back.

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Deal will have another year of experience as a redshirt sophomore, and adds a physical presence behind the more athletic runners in Clement and Ogunbowale.

A darkhorse candidate to get some decent run this year will be redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw, a 2015 recruit the Badgers plucked out of Alabama. The young runner is similar in stature to Deal (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and has shown some flashes in spring practice so far.

This group has the chance, with a revamped offensive line, to be the foundation of a strong offensive attack for the Badgers in 2016.

Wisconsin will be in the first season under a new quarterback – either Bart Houston or Alex Hornibrook – and will likely need to lean on the running game early.

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These running backs should be able to answer the call and perform early and often this season.