Backup backs shouldering load for Badgers

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By Genaro C. Armas
AP Sports Writer
October 2, 2015

Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle is giving his players a tutorial on Big Ten play.

The backs for the 19th-ranked Badgers will need to make sure that they have enough ice packs to use after Saturday’s conference opener against Iowa.

“Be prepared to be sore on Sunday,” Settle said in recounting a recent conversation with his position group. “It’s going to be a physical matchup.”

A successful running game at Camp Randall Stadium is about as common in autumn as falling leaves. There is seemingly always an experienced holdover waiting to take over as the next backfield star.

This year, though, coach Paul Chryst had to change the plan on the fly with Corey Clement out at least another month after sports hernia surgery. Clement hasn’t played since getting limited snaps in the opener against Alabama.

That has left the running game in the hands of junior and converted defensive back Dare Ogunbowale, and redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal. The 5-foot-11 Ogunbowale is the shiftier of the two runners. The 6-foot-1 Deal sports a 220-pound frame that Settle thinks is ideal for the Big Ten.

They have complementary styles, though neither player has much experience in conference play.

Clement has been there to help Deal, especially, get acclimated.

“He said it gets tougher, but at the end of the day, as running backs, we’re going to run the ball,” Deal said. “Stick with what you know, run the ball, expect competition.”

Ogunbowale moved to offense early in the 2014 season. His most extensive action in the Big Ten came when he rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in a 59-24 rout of Nebraska on Nov. 15. Otherwise, Ogunbowale was the third stringer last year behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon and Clement.

Deal made his first career start last week against Hawaii when the Badgers were backed up on their own 3. Wisconsin opened with Deal as the ball carrier, accompanied by two fullbacks and a tight end, in committing to a power rushing attack.

Deal, who is still picking up the nuances of playing the position, gave the Badgers an early glimpse of his potential after running for 147 yards and two scores on 26 carries against the Rainbow Warriors.

“The fact that he realizes he’s 220 pounds and that he’s not a little back,” Settle said about how Deal has improved the most over nonconference play. “The thing I like to see is him going forward with his pads down, with his shoulders square.

“The confidence that he’s been building over the last few weeks is going to help him down the road,” Settle added.

An improving Badgers offensive line is helping too. Beset by injuries, the line features two redshirt freshmen at the guard positions and a sophomore in his first year as starter at right tackle.

The line is starting to get some familiarity and consistency in the running game, just in time for the Big Ten.

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