Coming into the 2021-22 season, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Wisconsin Badgers football program was, “Who is going to back up Jalen Berger at running back and take some of the load off of the feature back?”
Well, there were a few guys to pick from, but not necessarily a ton of experience or standout talent: Brady Schipper, Isaac Guerendo and Julius Davis were all on the roster. A name that wasn’t on most radars? 4-star 2021 LB/S recruit Braelon Allen.
Everything changed in early June when Chez Mellusi took a visit to Madison. The Clemson Tigers transfer committed to UW on the day of his visit and was a huge grab for the Badgers. Mellusi was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school and provided Wisconsin with another strong running back to pair with Berger.
On the depth chart heading into the opener versus Penn State, Mellusi was listed as the starter, Berger as the backup. Most people, including myself, didn’t read too much into this and assumed they would be splitting carries, one just had to be listed ahead of the other on the depth chart.
We were wrong.
Mellusi led the Badgers with 31 carries, Guerendo received 13 and Berger didn’t touch the field. What??? The next big RB in Madison doesn’t receive a single carry in the season opener against a ranked opponent? First red flag.
Berger received 15 carries and found the end zone in Week 2… that’s more like it, Berger’s back baby! Nope. One carry versus Notre Dame, eight carries versus Michigan, and that’s it. Berger was dismissed from the program for undisclosed reasons on October 10th, one day after he didn’t receive a carry versus Illinois despite being dressed for the game. It was the second time that had happened this season (Penn State). This answered a lot of questions surrounding his lack of playing time.
Combine Berger’s dismissal with Guerendo’s season ending injury and the running back room was looking incredibly thin. Now the question became, “Who is going to back up Mellusi?” Someone had to step up.
Meet Braelon Allen, a 6-foot-2, 238 pound, 17-year old freshman from Fond du Lac. He was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school and reclassified to join the Badgers this fall, meaning he should currently be a senior in high school. HE IS SEVENTEEN.
Allen has truly saved this season for the Badgers. His first game as a lead back came against Illinois and he didn’t disappoint, carrying the ball 18 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. Not too shabby. Since then, he has not slowed down, eclipsing the 100 yard marker in each of the last five games. 108 yards vs. Army, 140 vs. Purdue, 104 vs. Iowa and 129 vs. Rutgers. He has been named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice (Army, Rutgers) and currently ranks No. 16 in the country averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
It’s really, really hard to explain just how valuable Allen has been to this Badger offense. With Mellusi as the lead back, Allen provided a much different look for defenses in the UW backfield. While Mellusi is incredibly elusive, making cuts and jukes, Allen is just going to put his head down, run you over and stiff arm you into the ground. He’s a power back.
Let me tell you, I’m a UW student and I may or may not have rushed the field following the Iowa win. Do I think that we should have done it? No, we were favored to win the game. That being said, I wasn’t going to watch everyone else do it and not partake. There was a moment down on the field where I found myself standing next to Allen. He is HUGE.
He has stepped right into every role that Paul Chyrst has put him into all year and flourished. First, Allen was a true freshman that was just gaining experience in practice. Then, he was part of a committee that backed up Mellusi and Guerendo at the end of games. When Guerendo went down, Allen was thrown right into the mix as a 1-2 combo with Mellusi. This is when he began to find his footing and become the running back we’ve seen rush for 100 yards in five straight games.
However, Allen is about to be thrown into yet another new role. Starting running back.
It was announced Thursday morning that Chez Mellusi is going to miss the remainder of the season with a leg injury. It is now Allen’s show. He is almost certainly going to receive upwards of 20 carries for the first time this season versus Northwestern. In about two months, Allen has gone from essentially a practice squad running back to the starting running back on the first place team in the Big Ten West.
Can you imagine if Allen was still playing on Friday nights in Fond du Lac? Or if the Badgers decided he would be better suited on the defensive side of the ball (Allen was a standout on both sides of the ball in high school)?
Who would be the starting running back for the Badgers? Julius Davis??? No disrespect to Julius Davis, but considering the ground game is the pride of this offense, I’m not sure how confident we’d be with him as the lead back.
Somehow, someway, the Mellusi loss doesn’t feel nearly as gut wrenching as I thought it would, knowing that Allen can slide right in as the lead back moving forward. Braelon Allen is what everyone thought Jalen Berger would be, the next stud running back to come through Madison.
And let me reiterate…HE’S SEVENTEEN.