The running back position at Wisconsin has a high bar set by players such as Jonathan Taylor, Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball and Ron Dayne who have smashed records during their time on campus.
Entering 2020 though, the Badgers appear to be set to slightly switch up their style to carry on that tradition.
According to head coach Paul Chryst, Wisconsin will likely use a committee approach to making up for the over 2,250 yards from scrimmage that running back Jonathan Taylor put together last season.
Two returning running backs that figure to be part of that committee are Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek. Watson and Groshek each saw extended playing time last year, and on Thursday local media had the opportunity to speak with both players.
Nakia Watson highlighted the need for all the running backs to focus on being their best, saying “we know we can’t be someone we’re not. We have to be Nakia, be Garrett, be Isaac [Guerendo]. We can’t be JT, be Ron Dayne. We have to play the football that got us here.”
For Watson last season was the first real opportunity to carry the ball at the collegiate level. He was a solid change of pace reserve for Taylor, racking up 331 rushing yards and two touchdowns at a clip of 4.5 yards per carry. The 5-foot-11, 229 pound sophomore brings a heavy dose of power to the backfield that differentiate him from the other backs in John Settle’s room.
Even though last year only garnered him 74 carries, Watson said biggest lesson he learned from the sidelines under Jonathan Taylor is to be decisive the moment he gets the ball. But make no mistake, with a higher workload potentially looming, Watson feels ready.
His running mate, Garrett Groshek has primarily been used as a third-down back for the majority of his career. Now entering his senior season, Groshek is primed to possibly see an expanded role as the leader of the backfield. A three year contributor already, Groshek is a great blocker and pass catching threat out of the backfield, and has demonstrated an ability to elude tacklers with over 900 yards rushing and nearly 500 yards receiving over the course of his career.
Groshek dismissed the idea that the Badgers will be reloading without Taylor and some of the other weapons on offense from a year ago, saying “we have a lot more experience than people give us credit for. We have a lot of guys with game experience.”
Groshek was particularly complimentary of the third back highlighted by Paul Chryst as a key member of the running back room, Isaac Guerendo. The “first thing you see is his speed he has” and acknowledging that the rising sophomore has “come a long way.” Groshek went on to say that Guerendo appears more comfortable with the position and the playbook, which should help him make an impact this season.
Another young running back has also caught the attention of Nakia Watson. Four-star freshman Jalen Berger appears to already look the part. Watson noted the athleticism and speed that the 210 pound ball carrier possesses. According to Watson, Berger has also been working as a kickoff returner, a role that was vacated with the transfer of Aron Cruickshank.
Regardless of which combination of running backs carry on the torch, Paul Chryst appears confident in the group. Nakia Watson is already looking forward to the first game in particular, stating that in the opener “Illinois definitely deserves a butt whooping from last year.”
I like the confidence and the attitude.
Local media will have the opportunity to meet with offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard on Friday, as fall camp rolls on in anticipation of the upcoming season.