MADISON - Redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal roomed with fellow running back Dare Ogunbowale this weekend heading into Saturday night’s match-up against Hawaii. With news of junior Corey Clement sidelined for up to six weeks due to sports hernia surgery, the duo reinforced their commitment to improving the running game heading into Wisconsin’s nonconference finale.
“He just looked at me and was like, ‘we got to go out here and do this,’” Deal said after Wisconsin’s 28-0 victory over Hawaii at Camp Randall Stadium. “Big Ten’s coming up, things like that, so we got to go out here and run the ball -- because we don’t have Corey.”
The message was well received by Deal, who with an improving offensive line and a game plan with a few new wrinkles, wore down a Rainbow Warriors’ defense to the tune of 147 rushing yards and two touchdown runs in the win. His progression - along with Ogunbowale and the running game’s in general - provided more firepower to complement a passing game that’s carried the Badgers’ offense so far during the 2015 season.
“He's been working,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “That's what I love about this game is it takes everyone. I thought that he's been growing with his opportunities. I think he's been a patient back and trusting himself, and that's good to see.”
Deal’s evening started early on Wisconsin’s first offensive series. A new look in personnel and formation - with the Badgers in “31” personnel (three running backs and one tight end) out of an inverted wishbone - overwhelmed the Hawaii defense with fullbacks Derek Watt and Austin Ramesh knocking defenders into the second level. In that 16-play, 97-yard drive, six were out of that personnel grouping. Deal carried the ball nine times for 56 yards on that first series, ending with a two-yard touchdown run to put the Badgers ahead 7-0 early.
The 6-1, 220-pound back continued barrel his way seemingly at will against the Hawaii defense. His found the end zone from two yards out a second time after another long Badgers drive at the end of the first half to put Wisconsin up 14-0.
It was a consistently positive night for Deal, whose longest run of the game was 17 yards and finished the night averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Along with Ogunbowale, a converted cornerback who rushed for 85 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown, the past two weeks have shown the Wisconsin running game are showing signs of the form seen in years’ past.
“I appreciate Coach Chryst pushing us so hard on those ‘Grinder Tuesdays” and things like that,” Deal said, “Because when you get to the game, you can kind of be confident in yourself that you put in the work through the week.”
Deal’s development has been noticed by his teammates. The Capitol Heights, Md. native has matured more in both the physical and mental aspects of the game since arriving in Madison last summer.
“Just kind of battling everyday and just going in there with the mindset that he’s trying to get better,” Watt said of Deal’s progression. “Just running hard, running physical, playing within himself and not trying to do anything out of body, out of mind.
“So, he’s just being Taiwan and doing his thing - running hard.”
Deal’s physicality is point of pride. The bruiser admits he wants to run through those defenders who want to knock him down, but that trait also carries the notion of the back not taking a read to the outside - along with keeping his head down.
Learning to better read the holes opened for bigger gains will come with more film study and experience under the tutelage of running backs coach John Settle. For now, carrying the rock in a consistent manner and the positive results shown over the past two games are more building blocks for Deal, Ogunbowale and the running game heading into conference play next week.
"Just a lot of confidence and getting the carries built our confidence,” Ogunbowale said of the duo’s development. “You saw that was evident with Taiwan, and there's still some things that he can work on from that. Same with myself. That's the biggest thing is building confidence and getting the amount of carries that we have."