Badgers Running Game Slowly Improves

It wasn't a great performance by any means for Wisconsin's running game, but the Badgers' 188 rushing yards and three touchdowns were a step in the right direction by a youthful group.

MADISON. -- Looking at the final statistics from Wisconsin’s 58-0 win over Miami (OH) on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers rushed for over four times their total the previous week, not to mention double their yards per carry.

It would seem to be a solid rebound from a week prior, but there is quite a bit of difference between facing an elite SEC defense and one from a rebuilding program from the MAC.

After a paltry 40 rushing yards against Alabama, Wisconsin managing 188 yards against an inferior Redhawks defense is a solid building block to press forward, especially considering junior running back Corey Clement sat out with a groin injury.

But after averaging over 340 rushing yards in their four nonconference games a season ago, Wisconsin knows there is work to do in that phase of the offense to complement its passing game.

“I don’t think we ran the ball consistently early,” said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, summing up the story of the season thus far in nine words.

The first two quarters seemed to mirror what happened against the stout Alabama front seven. Going against a Miami defensive front that returned four starters, Wisconsin managed only 58 yards on 21 carries through halftime.

It also go to the point where Wisconsin starting creating different combination on the right side of the line. Practicing different looks earlier in the week, it was determined in warmups that at some point Micah Kapoi would be inserted at right guard and Walker Williams shift to right tackle to replace Hayden Biegel.

Those switches didn’t change much, as the longest run the unit could spring in the first half was just nine yards by redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal.

“Certain guys communicate differently and you just have to adjust to that,” said center Dan Voltz. “Assignment wise, execution wise it’s all the same.”

Despite not performing optimally through the first half, the Badgers did convert on a couple third down rushing attempts, along with scoring its first touchdown of the season late in the second quarter. On that one-yard touchdown run by Deal, Kapoi, Williams and Biegel all were lined up in a jumbo package on the right side of the line.

But with the defense and special teams forcing a combined three turnovers in the first 30 minutes, Wisconsin maintained a 37-0 lead heading into the second half of the game without its traditional running attack fully functional.

“(We) did rebound,” said Chryst. “I thought we ran the ball better in the third quarter.”

In that third quarter, Wisconsin kept its first-team offensive line in the game and continued to wear down the Miami front, helped by the fact the Badgers held the ball for over seven minutes more in the first two quarters. Voltz noted the line went into halftime wanting to reaffirm the mentality of establishing that run game.

“That was our focus coming in,” Voltz said, “At halftime we cleaned some things up in the run game, and we came out in the second half and continued to run the ball and executed better.”

That refocusing appeared to work, as rushes of 14, 16 and 35 yards by redshirt junior running back Dare Ogunbowale -- the longest runs by a running back so far this season -- helped the Badgers extend their lead to 51-0 before giving way to their backups. Ogunbowale’s 35-yard touchdown run off the right side of the line included Kapoi at right guard and Williams at right tackle.

In that quarter alone, the Badgers ran for 98 yards on 11 carries.

“We kind of call (the first half) a ‘softening period,’” said Ogunbowale, who finished with 112 yards and 7.0 yards per carry. .”We try to break down the defense and sure it can get a little frustrating, but we were able to bounce back and things started opening up. When they did it got really fun. You just have to be a little patient and don’t press or try to make things happen on your own.”

Wisconsin also got career-high yardage from a pair of redshirt freshman, as Taiwan Deal (14 for 45) scored his first two touchdowns of his career and Caleb Kinlaw (7 for 30) scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard reception in his first career game.

Williams said after the Alabama game that offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph went back to the basics on technique and fundamentals and “getting back to Wisconsin football.” With the Redhawks not straying from what they showed on film, the Badgers could simply focusing on executing the game plan.

It won’t always be that simple going forward, however, as Williams knows the line, whoever is on it, will have to improve and make the necessary gains to make Wisconsin’s running game a truly potent attack once again.

“We need to get a quicker start next time because we know what we need to do,” Williams said. “We can’t have a warm-up period in regards to our run game.”

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