It has become the norm that at least one Wisconsin running back tops 1,000 yards rushing in a season. That wasn’t the case in 2015. With the Badgers unable to stay healthy in the backfield or along the offensive line, Wisconsin didn’t have a player rush for at least 1,000 yards for the first time since 2004. One of the few options that could be counted on weekly was tailback Dare Ogunbowale. Playing in all 13 games in his first full season as a tailback, including 10 starts, Ogunbowale led the team in rushing and enters his redshirt senior season eager to help contribute in multiple offensive areas.
Stats: 194 carries for 819 yards (4.2 average) seven touchdowns, long of 35 yards, 36 catches for 299 yards (8.31 average), one touchdown, long of 35, in 2015.
Strengths: As Ogunbowale continues to develop as a running back, he has shown the ability to make people miss when he gets to the outside. That ability has proven to be important for him, especially when he’s targeted out of the flat in the passing game. One of Ogunbowale’s biggest contributions last season was being a reliable target on third down. With Corey Clement expected to be back and healthy, the passing game will likely be where Ogunbowale’s big presence will be felt, as him catching the ball in stride and using his speed to accelerate up field is a huge bonus for the offense.
Weaknesses: Ogunbowale needs to continue to get comfort running up the middle between the tackles, easily his biggest weakness. It got to the point last year when Ogunbowale had the ball taken out of his hands in short-yardage situations in favor of either Alec Ingold or Taiwan Deal. Playing tailback for less than two years, Ogunbowale needs to continue developing his vision as a runner, consistently read his blockers and hit the hole hard in order to break though contact and pick up extra yards. A combination of factors (suspect blocking up front, runs to the outside, etc.) limited the amount of explosive runs or long-distance runs by Ogunbowale. If Ogunbowale can continue to improve his strength it should help him be able to have more explosive runs.
Why he’s #14: Ogunbowale averaged 14.9 per carries last season, a number that will likely decrease if Clement stays healthy and younger players continue to develop. Over the last five seasons, the number two tailback on the depth chart has received an average of 155 carries during a season (roughly 11.9 per game). As fans saw last year, however, depth at the tailback position is paramount, so Ogunbowale will need to make the most of his carries to be able to give Clement a breather. As a third-down back, Ogunbowale’s ability to catch the football makes him an attractive option, as his 36 receptions ranked second on the team (there were at least seven games where he registered at least three catches). Having another year learning the running back position from position coach John Settle will be beneficial as Ogunbowale will be able to continue to expand his game as a runner.
Overall: Ogunbowale did everything the coaches asked him to do last season but it wasn’t a role that his skill set matches. But with Clement making it through spring football healthy, it should allow Ogunbowale to fill a role this year that should allow him to thrive. If Clement can wear defenses down, it should allow Ogunbowale to have more success running the football and potentially allow him to have a few more explosive runs than he did last season. Although Ogunbowale’s role will be different, his ability to catch the football and be a productive No.2 back will help him provide an important role for Wisconsin’s success on offense.