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Where art thou, Jalen Berger?

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The talented redshirt freshman running back had his second game of the season where he was healthy and didn’t play.

Eastern Michigan v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

“You know I liked the way, uh, that Braelon and Chez were going and uh kind of, Schip served a role for us that I thought was right for Schip this week.”

After Wisconsin’s 24-0 victory over Illinois on Saturday, head coach Paul Chryst was asked the usual stuff about “did it feel good to get a win?” and “were you pleased with the running game?” and he gave his usual answers that barely tell us anything at all. However, there was one question that made the usually genial Chryst kind of clam up a bit. Take a look.

“You know I liked the way, uh, that Braelon and Chez were going and uh kind of, Schip served a role for us that I thought was right for Schip this week.”

After the game on Saturday, Chryst was asked about the lack of snaps for sophomore running back Jalen Berger and, without mentioning Berger’s name, brushed aside the question by mentioning how well Chez Mellusi (145 yards, one TD) and Braelon Allen (131 yards, one TD) played. Chryst went on to say that Brady Schipper “served a role for us” that was “right for [him] this week.”

To be fair, Mellusi and Allen DID play well on Saturday but the fact that Schipper, who had 12 carries for 30 yards in his career coming into this season, was playing ahead of Berger, especially with RB Isaac Guerendo missing the game due to injury, seemed a touch off.

Over the summer, it was assumed that Berger would be the starting running back for the Badgers this season. He was the leading returning rusher for the team and had flashed in limited action as a freshman during the shortened COVID season. However, when the first game came around Berger was listed as the backup, behind Mellusi. Then, during the actual game against Penn State, Berger received zero carries.

When asked about not taking a snap in Week 1 after the second game of the season, in which he did play, Berger said he couldn’t really talk about it and that he was “just waiting for [his] number to be called.”

So far in 2021, Berger has played in three (Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan) of UW’s five games and has compiled 24 carries for 88 yards (3.7 ypc) and one touchdown. He has also caught two passes for 17 yards. 15 of those carries, 62 of those yards and the score all came against EMU, where basically everyone got to play since the Badgers were winning by so much.

Not exactly stats that set the world on fire if we’re being honest, but he also hasn’t gotten as many opportunities as Mellusi or Allen, although Berger does still have the third most rushing attempts on the team this season.

“You know I liked the way, uh, that Braelon and Chez were going and uh kind of, Schip served a role for us that I thought was right for Schip this week.”

Why did Chryst decline to give a straight answer about the former 4-star recruit out of New Jersey? Is Berger in the dog house? Is Schipper really the better option? Is Berger banged up but not listed on the injury report? Is he going to enter the transfer portal?

If you search Berger’s name on Twitter you’ll see a bunch of discussion about how he didn’t play against Illinois and then you’ll find speculation about whether or not he’ll even be on the team at the end of the season or that he has poor practice habits or any other number of claims that no one can actually confirm.

Jesse Temple of The Athletic, who asked Chryst the question about Berger on Saturday, spoke to the running back on Monday during media availibility. Temple said ($) that Berger “didn’t have an answer as to why he didn’t play more against Notre Dame but remained optimistic that he would take advantage of his opportunities when Brown called his name.” Berger also told Temple that he is frustrated about losing his spot and wants to earn it back.

Both Mellusi and Allen have multiple years of eligibility remaining so, even though Berger is saying the right things, he could test the transfer portal, where he would be a hot commodity. You know Rutgers would like to get a second crack at the in-state guy who got away.

“You know I liked the way, uh, that Braelon and Chez were going and uh kind of, Schip served a role for us that I thought was right for Schip this week.”

It will be interesting to see what the depth chart looks like for the Army game on Monday. Berger was listed, with Guerendo, as co-RB2 heading into the Illinois game. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Chryst does or, more likely, doesn’t say.