Wisconsin football: Chez Mellusi, Braelon Allen take over at RB after Jalen Berger's dismissal
The mysterious story of running back Jalen Berger’s time at Wisconsin reached a conclusion when the program announced his dismissal Sunday.
The news came one day after Berger watched from the sideline as Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen ran with intensity during the Badgers’ 24-0 victory over Illinois. The run-game seemed revived against the Illini, as the offensive line had its best performance of the year. Mellusi and Allen both gained well over 100 yards as the Badgers cranked out 391 yards on the ground and 30 first downs.
Mellusi and Allen will be the lead running backs the rest of the season barring injuries, and if Saturday’s game was any indication, this could be a solid duo. Mellusi finished with his 3rd 100-yard rushing performance in 5 games, as he totaled 145 yards on 21 attempts and scored a touchdown. Meanwhile, Allen was rewarded for a solid performance in limited work the week before against Michigan and had a breakout game — 18 attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown, though he lost a fumble.
The coaching staff likes how balanced Mellusi is and how he can do many different things to keep himself on the field as a more experienced back. He left Clemson for an opportunity to see a significant workload he may not have seen otherwise given how the Tigers run their offense. Meanwhile, Allen is still raw as a runner but can push the pile forward as a physical freak at nearly 240 pounds, and has the makings of being a future star at the position. You will start to hear this over and over again now that TV broadcasters know Allen will be a part of the offense the rest of this season, but he is only 17 years old.
As for Berger’s dismissal, no real explanation has been given to this point, but it’s still is a stunning development considering expectations heading into the 2021 season just over a month ago. Berger was a surprising late addition to the Badgers’ 2020 class as a 4-star recruit and quickly jumped to the top of the depth chart, leading the team in rushing as a true freshman last year. In the fall practices open to reporters, he split first team reps with Mellusi, which is why his absence in the season opener against Penn State was such a head-scratcher.
Neither Berger or Paul Chryst said much about the reasoning for that, and his usage has been inconsistent since then. In the second game of the season, he finished with 15 carries, then had 1 against Notre Dame and 8 against Michigan before not seeing the field on Saturday against Illinois. Chryst will never talk about exactly what happened, so we’ll see if we ever find out.
Where’s the depth?
This never seemed possible heading into the season, but all of a sudden, running back depth could be tested if Mellusi and/or Allen get hurt. New running backs coach Gary Brown took over a crowded backfield that had Berger and Mellusi likely to split the workload — with Isaac Guerendo, Julius Davis and Brady Schipper behind them. Additionally, Wisconsin brought in 4 running backs in the 2021 recruiting class with Allen, Jackson Acker, Loyal Crawford and Antwan Roberts.
Of those 8 backs who were on the roster at the start of fall camp, 3 are no longer with the program. Berger and Crawford were kicked off the team, and Roberts put his name into the transfer portal.
Guerendo is one of the fastest players on the team. His biggest issue has been health, and he was unavailable on Saturday with another injury. Schipper is a walk-on but operated as the No. 3 option against Illinois (6 carries, 36 yards), as he is clearly ahead on the depth chart over Julius Davis, who hasn’t been able find playing time throughout his Badgers career. It seems unlikely we’ll see any meaningful snaps for Acker as a true freshman.
Running back recruiting
As for the long-term future at the position, I’d have to imagine the coaching staff felt it did not need to be very aggressive in running back recruiting. Why would you when you’ve already brought in 4 in the 2021 class? As it stands now, zero 2022 running backs are committed, but with the new transfer rules, Wisconsin could be in a good position to bring in another body for depth this offseason.
The dismissal of Berger is a bummer as he was one of the lone bright spots of the offense last season and appeared to have plenty of potential, but Wisconsin will move forward with a solid duo who both should see a ton of carries the rest of the way. There is no reason to panic about the future of the running back position, especially considering Allen’s extremely high ceiling.