Wisconsin football: Clearly ready, 17-year-old Braelon Allen bursts onto center stage as Badgers' next great running back
True freshman running back Braelon Allen is one of the most important pieces to Wisconsin’s mid-season turnaround and a significant reason why the Badgers find themselves in the driver’s seat for another B1G West title. Allen quickly developed into a playmaker on an offense that needed one and is set to see a massive workload the rest of the season, though his route to stardom has been unusual.
Originally a member of Wisconsin’s 2022 recruiting class, Allen was physically ready to play at 6-2 and 238 pounds; he was one of the strongest high school athletes you’ll ever see. He graduated a full year early to get his college career going, which is why — as you’ll be reminded roughly 17 times over the course of a 3-hour TV broadcast — he will finish this season at 17 years old despite playing a huge role on a team in contention for a conference championship.
Allen reclassified and joined the 2021 recruiting class, which is the highest ranked group the program has ever brought in during the online rankings era. A popular topic surrounding the class was where to put Allen, who was recruited to play defense, and the question was whether his body type and ability would be best suited for linebacker or safety.
Over the summer, news broke that he would begin his college career at running back, and with how he has played, it’s very clear that’s a permanent transition. He was buried on the depth chart to start the season as the Badgers had a clear top three in a running back room that included Chez Mellusi, Jalen Berger and Isaac Guerendo. Despite this, Allen appeared in the season opener against Penn State in a special teams role, so it was evident early on the coaching staff had no intentions of redshirting him.
Allen earned his first carries late in the second game of the season in a blowout against Eastern Michigan, missed the matchup against Notre Dame and operated as the team’s short-yardage back against Michigan before officially becoming a significant part of the offense.
In a breakout game against Illinois, Allen pounded out 131 yards on 18 carries and reached the end zone, as he and Mellusi both rushed for more than 100 yards. Allen has rushed for more than 100 yards in 6 consecutive games despite splitting carries with Mellusi in 5 of those.
It’s possible Allen would’ve overtaken the running back room at some point this season anyways, but his usage has certainly been aided by injuries and departures at the position. Mellusi and Guerendo suffered season-ending injuries, while Berger and Loyal Crawford were dismissed from the program and Antwan Roberts left the team after being suspended.
A once crowded backfield group has dwindled, and it appears to be a one-man show going forward assuming Allen stays healthy. Fans, coaches and players have to be incredibly thankful Allen was open to a position switch and decided to end his high school football career early.
The running back rotation was a popular topic heading into last weekend’s 35-7 win over Northwestern in the first game without Mellusi, but it was basically Allen seeing a ton of carries with a mix of third-down running back Brady Schipper, who is a walk-on. Allen played 3 quarters and was pulled after the Badgers built a big lead, finishing with 25 carries for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns – all career highs. He also caught a 16-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage.
Schipper carried the ball 7 times for 38 yards and caught 2 passes for 30 yards. Julius Davis, who appeared to be in line for more snaps, did not receive a carry till the fourth quarter. He finished with 47 yards on 9 carries, but his fumble was the reason Northwestern scored as it was returned for a touchdown. Jackson Acker entered on the following drive before he lost a fumble. He finished with 10 yards on 3 carries.
With the injuries and departures plus a lack of other proven options, it will likely continue to be the Braelon Allen Show the remainder of the season as long as he stays healthy. He has limped off the field a few times over the past 2 weeks, and the Badgers cannot afford to lose him. His ceiling is extremely high for this season and beyond.
After receiving just 12 carries over the first 4 games, Allen has 834 rushing yards and is averaging 7.1 yards per carry with 9 touchdowns. He is the first Wisconsin running back to run for more than 100 yards in 6 consecutive games as a freshman since Anthony Davis in 2001. Allen has the potential to be in the conversation along with names such as Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball and Jonathan Taylor as extremely high-level running backs to come out of Madison over the past decade.
Since Allen became a bigger part of the offense, Wisconsin has won 6 games in a row to improve from its 1-3 start to 7-3 with just 2 games remaining — against Nebraska and Minnesota. An 8-game winning streak would result in the Badgers guaranteeing themselves a spot in the conference championship game, and they will have Wisconsin’s next great running back to thank for a lot of it.