3-man backfield seems to be the plan for Wisconsin
Paul Chryst received plenty of questions about Wisconsin’s running back position during last week’s media availability, specifically about the status of Jalen Berger, who did not play a snap in the season-opening loss to Penn State.
The questions were valid as Berger led Wisconsin in rushing last season, but Chryst mostly praised how well Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo had been playing and said there is no “sideshow” going on with Berger.
On Saturday night, Berger made his season debut in Wisconsin’s blowout of Eastern Michigan, splitting carries with Mellusi fairly evenly as Guerendo remained the Badgers’ change-of-pace guy. Mellusi led the trio with 20 carries for 144 yards and a touchdown, while Berger rushed for 62 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown. Guerendo had 92 yards on 4 rush attempts, including an 82-yard score in the second quarter.
This is the rotation many Badgers fans had expected going into the year after Berger shared first-team reps during offseason and preseason practice sessions. Many were flabbergasted when Berger spent all of the season-opener on the sideline.
Not sure why, but RB Jalen Berger is on the sideline near midfield, while the other running backs have been around the 25 near running backs coach Gary Brown. Haven’t seen Berger in the game yet. Chez Mellusi has 12 carries for 48 yards.
— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) September 4, 2021
Following that game, Berger was asked for a reason he did not see a snap. He said he could not give an answer and was ready to move forward. It’s possible we may never know the full story, but it seems likely the Week 2 workload split will become the norm.
Wisconsin has traditionally used one star workhorse back, but that isn’t likely to be the case this season. Berger was capped at 15 carries in his 4 games last season, while Mellusi never saw more than 8 carries in a game when he played at Clemson. Guerendo has struggled to stay healthy throughout his college career.
Mellusi and Berger have very similar skill sets, so the fresher back can enter the game whenever the other is getting tired. Guerendo is the perfect complementary piece as one of the fastest players on the roster. That was on full display against Eastern Michigan when a defender underestimated Guerendo’s speed on a breakaway run that gave the Badgers a 24-0 lead shortly before halftime.
While the 3-man backfield seems set for at least the short-term, one player to keep an eye is true freshman Braelon Allen. The 17-year-old physical freak saw his first snaps in garbage time on Saturday night and found the end zone, finishing with 7 carries for 30 yards. Considering he appeared in the first game of the season on special teams, it doesn’t appear the coaching staff is planning to redshirt him, which is interesting. Maybe we will see more of Allen as he gets acclimated to the college game.
Brady Schipper entered the game late on Saturday night but is unlikely to see much meaningful playing time, while Julius Davis never saw the field. Antwan Roberts was suspended after an altercation with fellow true freshman running back Loyal Crawford, who was dismissed from the team following the incident. Jackson Acker is another true freshman who will likely need to wait his turn.
For now, it’s the 3-headed monster of a backfield with Mellusi, Berger and Guerendo. With Notre Dame and Michigan up next following this weekend’s bye, things should become clearer soon.