MADISON - One of the big concerns for Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen entering the season was who was going to be that third safety net behind junior tailback Melvin Gordon and sophomore tailback Corey Clement.
Two weeks into the season, that situation hasn’t gotten any better. Wisconsin’s struggling running game won’t get a boost from either of the Badgers’ two true freshmen tailbacks for at least the next three weeks, if not the entire season.
“We recruited two kids to hopefully get a backup,” said Andersen.
As a result, Wisconsin will move redshirt sophomore defensive back Dare Ogunbowale into the backfield. The former Milwaukee Marquette athlete played in eight games last season and recorded 38 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles as a senior in high school.
“He’s learned the position a little bit this week,” Andersen said of Ogunbowale.
Another possibility is moving safety Leo Musso into the backfield part time for some reps. At Waunakee, Musso rushed for 5,531 yards and 87 touchdowns. As a senior, Musso – a first-team all-state selection – won the Elroy `Crazylegs' Hirsch Running Back of the Year Award after rushing for 2,398 yards and 39 touchdowns. Musso has been battling injuries since the start of camp.
“In a real pinch, he could potentially help out there,” said Andersen. “There’s not a lot of numbers to go around at this point.”
Wisconsin’s running game – its bread and butter for decades – has been one of the surprising disappointments through two weeks of the season despite having a Heisman Trophy caliber tailback and five offensive linemen who started multiple games last season. Ranking 43rd in the country in rushing offense, averaging 217.5 yards per game on the ground, the Badgers have rushed for only 187 yards on their last 16 drives.
“We need to be more successful,” said Andersen. “That's what we need to do to be a successful offense. The returning offensive linemen will take that definitely personal and know that myself and all the offensive coaches want us to be able to run the ball more effectively than that, and I believe we will as we move forward.”
Going forward, Wisconsin would like to have a minimum of seven running backs on scholarship, including a couple players to come in as walk-ons. The Badgers currently have one running back committed for 2015 in three-star prospect Davon Crookshank (Missouri City, TX). Not only does Wisconsin have to be smart with its tailbacks, but the Badgers are without their starting fullback Derek Watt (foot surgery) until November and backup Derek Straus (collarbone) for at least three more weeks.
“We’ve got to be real careful,” said Andersen. “We have to make sure we do all we can to help those numbers as we move through.”