MADISON — It was Wisconsin’s fifth play from scrimmage against a top-10 opponent under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium. A 30-yard catch from tight end Troy Fumagalli set up the then-11th ranked Badgers with a first-and-10 from Nebraska’s 21-yard line.
“I remember just being on the sideline ready for the next play,” redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw said on Tuesday when asked what he recollected from that first-quarter run.
Running inside of left guard Jon Dietzen off of a fake jet sweep to true freshman A.J. Taylor, Shaw waited for left tackle Ryan Ramczyk to clear the approaching linebacker then accelerated past the secondary for Wisconsin’s first touchdown in its 23-17 overtime victory over Nebraska.
“When they called that play, I was anxious and ready to run the play,” Shaw said. “I had to do some work in the hole, and once I got past the second level, I just used my speed to get into the end zone.”
Shaw finished the game with only one more carry, but his 21-yard touchdown run showcased the skill set that made him a highly-offered prospect out of Hoover High School in Alabama. A year after redshirting, Shaw’s growth has allowed him to see more opportunities in a crowded Wisconsin backfield.
Through eight games, the offense has called Shaw’s name 28 times to run the ball, gaining 181 yards (6.2 yards per carry) with two touchdowns. In five of UW’s eight games this season, he has been given the chance to run the ball.
“He’s a guy with talent and a work ethic and was learning the game,” head coach Paul Chryst said on Thursday when asked about Shaw’s development. “He’s had opportunities to play in practice and then earn the right through that to play in games and has done some good things.”
Shaw’s season highs have come against non-conference opponents (nine carries for 74 yards vs. Akron, 15 for 62 vs. Georgia State). Injuries to senior Corey Clement and redshirt sophomore Taiwan Deal allowed for more opportunities earlier in the season, but he’s found a way to see snaps on the field now during conference play.
“He’s definitely making an impact early, especially making an impact when we need him coming in on various downs,” Clement said on Tuesday. “Just contributing as to what we want—he’s not making any negative plays. As [running backs coach John] Settle is always preaching, if you can make a positive play, he always wants you playing. I think Bradrick is really paying attention and really honing in on his craft and really just focusing and gaining more reps.”
Shaw acknowledged it was tough to redshirt in his first season in Madison, especially with Clement injured for most of the season with a sports hernia injury and a rushing attack that didn’t live up to the precedent it set in years past (94th in the FBS in 2015). After not initially knowing how to handle it, he admitted it was a great decision that has allowed him to currently feel more comfortable.
Clement also has seen improvement from Shaw in one particular category: his IQ of the game.
“He’s very attentive, especially in meetings, so now he’s asking a lot more questions and being more vocal,” Clement said. “He was very quiet when he first came in, so now Bradrick is really coming out of his shell and becoming the player he needs to be.”
The 6’1, 211-pound Shaw said it was during the spring that he started taking notice of Clement and redshirt Dare Ogunbowale’s habits.
“I felt more comfortable asking more questions, seeing how Corey and Dare go through their film study,” Shaw said, noting he feels he’s also improved his strength and speed in the past year. “I’ve been taking what they do and applying it to my game.”
The results are paying off. Against the Zips and Panthers earlier in the sesaon, he ran for 136 of the 182 rushing yards. Shaw displayed his breakaway speed in his 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter during mop-up time in the 54-10 win against Akron.
There was a blip in that third game of the season against Georgia State, however, where Shaw, gaining more snaps with both Clement and Deal out due to injury, fumbled at the goal line in the second quarter. The Panthers recovered the ball instead of a Wisconsin touchdown that would have extended UW’s lead in what eventually was a close 23-17 win.
He also injured his shoulder during that game and was did not play against Michigan State and Michigan.
“It’s one of the neat joys of coaching—seeing kids develop and earn enough confidence and trust that they can go play the game and then have their moments,” Chryst said. “Bradrick’s had some good moments, and he’s had ones that have been tough, but he’s rebounded from. That’s what’s fun to see, and what I like about coaching.”
Shaw may have only carried the ball four times in the past three games, but he’s seeing the field where Clement, Ogunbowale and Deal were slated as the top backs in the rotation of a rebuilding run game.
If he continues to make those positive plays as Clement noted, his number may be called upon more in a season where, originally, he might have watched from the sidelines yet again.
“Bradrick’s a beast. He’s fun to see play,” redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook said on Tuesday. “It’s been good for him this season to get on the field and get some big time runs like he has. He’s a guy that came in one of the strongest on the team. He’s only going to get stronger, faster and smarter. He’ll get better the more he plays.”