MADISON - Heading into Saturday’s prime-time matchup against the fifth top-10 team on Wisconsin’s 2016 schedule, running back Dare Ogunbowale had run the ball only 53 times for 218 yards and one rushing touchdown, a stark change from a year ago when he was the team’s lead back.
Yet, even with the full knowledge that he would likely be the team’s third option at tailback, the senior never wavered, complained or bemoaned his bad luck. It’s the reason his teammates voted him a captain, and perhaps why karma was on his side.
Even with a healthy Corey Clement and the emergence of redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw, Ogunbowale showed once again how valuable he was to the Wisconsin offense with a career-high 120 rushing yards on only 11 carries, jumpstarting and sustaining UW’s rushing attack in its 23-17 overtime win against No. 7 Nebraska.
“Dare, he came up big,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “He hadn’t been doing a ton of running out of our three wides (wide receiver sets). I thought that had a pretty good plan going in. Kids executed and I thought that he ran hard, and I thought he was decisive. I thought it was a huge part of getting us going.”
Eight of Ogunbowale’s 11 carries were out of the three wide receiver set, known as “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end). He rushed for 110 yards in that grouping, mostly on a draw-type play that spread defenders out on the field. That allowed Ogunbowale, who possesses a mean first cut step, to average 13.8 yards per touch from that look.
“Being able to spread those guys out and hit perimeter runs with Dare, who’s so shifty and quick side-to-side, and that’s his skill set,” center Michael Deiter said. “It was just something that was going. We noticed that, and we just kept going back to it because it was there. It was something that was encouraging to see.”
Ogunbowale attributed the success of that formation not just to his play, but to an improving offensive line that now has rushed for 236, 167 and now 223 yards in three consecutive weeks.
“Guys just taking that extra step to contact and running past the whole so the backs can be in those 1-on-1s we want to be in,” Ogunbowale said. “Honestly, that’s the biggest thing. I would say it wasn’t what Nebraska was showing us but what we were doing.”
The redshirt senior found success with the apparent stretch draw starting in the second quarter, rushing for 14 yards on a third-and-10 to move the chains. On Wisconsin’s first offensive series of the second half, he ran out of that 11 personnel grouping twice for a combined 32 yards. The drive was capped off by Alex Hornibrook’s nine-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rob Wheelwright to extend Wisconsin’s lead to 17-7.
On five of Ogunbowale’s 11 carries, he ran for over 10 yards. That included a 39-yard run on second-and-6 from the UW 14-yard line to put Wisconsin in Nebraska territory, though a Bart Houston interception erased any chance of a scoring opportunity with UW up by a field goal.
Ogunbowale’s contributions to the rushing game cannot be overstated. Without his performance, Wisconsin’s offense only gained 103 yards on 27 carries - only a 3.8 yards per carry average.
“You get him in space, you better watch out because he can really move,” tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “They did a good job of stopping the power run game, so we had to spread him out. That’s when we go to Dare, and I think he did a great job of it.”
His last run out of that successful personnel grouping ultimately decided the game in overtime. On second-and-8 from the Nebraska 11, Ogunbowale took the handoff and ran off the left side of the offensive line, cutting inside on pulling guard Jon Dietzen’s kickout block and following left tackle Ryan Ramczyk. After heading back outside off of Ramczyk, he found his way to the left corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
The score, and subsequent defensive stop the ensuing drive by Wisconsin’s defense, secured the program’s third win over a top-10 program this season - the first time it’s been done in school history. “It was big,” Ogunbowale said. “We have guys playing tough all season and coming up short in situations obviously that we don’t want to, and for us to get that, win a close game like that for 60-plus, was awesome.”