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Bowling Green vs. Wisconsin: Dare Ogunbowale impresses in first game time as running back

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"In front of the fans at Camp Randall, it was unreal. It was just a great time, and the offensive line, they make it so easy."

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON -- It's slightly over a week since the transition began for sophomore Dare Ogunbowale, but the move to running back from cornerback has already allowed him an opportunity to contribute to a record-setting performance.

Seeing time late in Saturday's game after fellow running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement tore up an overwhelmed Bowling Green defense for 253 and 111 yards, respectively, the walk-on from Milwaukee himself gained 94 yards on 14 carries. As a whole, the Wisconsin Badgers ran for a school-record 644 yards rushing in a 68-17 victory Saturday afternoon.

But did Ogunbowale (pronounced oh-goon-boh-WALL-ay) know he was going to be the third tailback in the rotation and get some time in the offensive backfield?

"I didn't really know," he said. "That was, Melvin and Corey, they kept on joking about it. They would say, 'we're about to bust out, we're gonna have a big game for you so you can get some carries, and the fourth quarter's going to be yours.'

"I didn't actually think the whole fourth quarter was going to be mine with 94 yards, but it was fun. It was fun."

Discussions about Ogunbowale's transition to the other side of the line of scrimmage came about a couple weeks ago during preparation for Western Illinois. The offensive coaches were impressed with his toughness in a drill that's primarily used to evaluate talent for special teams called "Speed and Space."

Ogunbowale was tough to tackle during those drills, and with injuries to two true freshman running backs in Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw -- along with injuries to junior fullbacks Derek Watt and Derek Straus -- that depleted a once-deep pool of talent, head coach Gary Andersen and the coaching staff approached him about the switch.

But what was his initial reaction to the proposition?

"He looked at me like I had 12 heads when I mentioned it to him," Andersen said after the game. "But he didn't bat an eye. And it's a great thing, too."

"I'm here to help the team as much as I can," Ogunbowale added.

"Being a walk-on and all that, I just want to get on the field, so when he told me that, I found that as an opportunity to get on the field."

It's not the first time the Marquette High School graduate has played running back, thought it is the first since a very early age in youth football that he's played it consistently. Ogunbowale mentioned how his father, Gregory, was happy with the change back to offense. After the 5'11, 188-pound athlete came back to the sport from playing soccer, his footwork allowed him to become an all-conference defensive back for the Hilltoppers.

Ogunbowale made his return to offense count, as he averaged 6.7 yards in his 11th career game played -- the first as a running back. He was primarily playing special teams and in a reserve role as a defensive back prior, wearing No. 18 for his first two seasons as a Badger.

Now on offense, he had to switch numbers as two offensive players cannot hold the same number. Senior wide receiver Lance Baretz wears No. 18, and on Saturday Ogunbowale mentioned he worked out something with true freshman safety Austin Hudson, who was originally No. 23 until he switched to No. 27 recently. Ogunbowale plans on wearing No. 23 for the remainder of his college career.

With his impressive performance that included four runs of 10-plus yards -- including making a Falcon defender miss and reversed field for a 21-yard gain in the fourth quarter -- Andersen mentioned Ogunbowale's emergence could provide a comfortability in redshirting Deal, who's recovering from an arm injury, though there's still a long ways ago to supplant the two incumbents.

"He's not going to take out Melvin or Corey (Clement) at this point for sure," Andersen said, "but the ability for him to get into a game, have ball security, handle the offense with a very, very young offensive line in there and have the production that he had, it cannot go unnoticed."

Gordon's seen how fast Ogunbowale is picking up the offense, as he's taking notes and talking to Gordon during film study. With a little seasoning, the second-team All-Big Ten running back sees big things for his newest position teammate.

"He's got great feet, smart player, he learns fast. He's got great instincts," Gordon said.

"To come in here and do what he did today after just one week of preparation is unbelievable. With a year of work or whatever, an offseason of work at running back, I really feel think [running backs] coach [Thomas] Brown can craft him into a great player."

Luke Mueller contributed reporting to this story.