Running the ball has always been a hallmark of the Wisconsin Badgers football program. Last season was a transition year for the Badgers backfield. Jonathan Taylor left for the NFL, leaving the carries to be divided among Jalen Berger, Garrett Groshek, Isaac Guerendo, and Nakia Watson. Due to offensive inefficiencies, no offseason, and Coronavirus issues, the Badgers were not able to establish a consistent ground attack. However, the rise of Jalen Berger was a big positive.

Despite only appearing in four games and never getting more than 15 carries, Berger led the Badgers in rushing with 301 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. With Groshek declaring for the draft and Watson transferring, considering Berger appeared in two fewer games than Watson and Groshek, this type of production speaks volumes. Considering that he didn’t have a spring camp and rushed fall practice, it makes the production even more impressive. It’s time for Paul Chryst to trust Berger more now that he’s had a year in the offensive system. Berger has earned that trust after quickly surpassing Grosheck and Watson last year. With Groscheck and Watson now gone, Berger will be the lead back out of the stable and should get most of the carries. Berger is a prime candidate to have a breakout year.

The spots behind Berger are up for grabs now that Groshek and Watson are moving on. There is now far less experience on the depth chart. Isaac Guerendo returns after appearing in one game last season. In his only appearance, Guerendo had 11 carries for 33 yards and no touchdowns. Before the season began, Guerendo was considered the heir apparent to Jonathan Taylor, but he had nagging injury issues, something that has been an issue for him in his career. Despite his experience in Chryst’s offense, he’ll be competing for carries.

Oct 23, 2020; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Isaac Guerendo (20) rushes with the football during the second quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In the offseason, the Badgers recruited three-star backs Jackson Acker, Loyal Crawford, and Antwan Roberts. All three freshman backs bring something different to the Badger backfield. Acker is a powerful running back, although there is talk of him switching positions. Roberts is a taller and more physical player, who glides like a runner. Lastly, Loyal Crawford is a shiftier back in the open field who could become another weapon in the passing game as well. With different skills brought by each player, it will be interesting to see if one of these three backs breaks into the rotation.

Another running back to pay attention to is the former three-star recruit, Julius Davis. Davis was part of the 2019 recruiting class after he initially committed to Wisconsin in 2017. Despite his early commitment, schools like LSU, Notre Dame, USC, and more tried to get him to flip. Yet, the Menomonee Falls graduate stayed committed to the Badgers. Due to a lower-body injury that he suffered his senior year of high school, Davis has had to play catch-up and only received one carry last season. How Davis performs this spring will determine if he can be the main guy getting carries behind Berger.

A big wildcard for the Badgers running game is Brady Schipper. Schipper has been a “swiss army knife” for the Badgers, playing wide receiver and safety. The walk-on from Stoughton possesses the same skills that made Garrett Groshek a great blocker and receiver out of the backfield. Schipper is currently listed as a safety, but his status in the Badger backfield is worth monitoring.

With a full offseason, the sky is the limit for Jalen Berger. I’m expecting that this upcoming season will see him break out and become the next great Wisconsin running back. The Badgers have a lot of hasty decisions on their hands as far as who will take carries with Berger. One thing that is certain despite the lack of experience is that the ground attack will formidable once again.

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