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2021 Breakout Badgers: Jalen Berger

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After getting a taste of Big Ten football last year, what does Berger have in store for us this season?

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last football offseason we went through every single player on the Wisconsin Badgers roster. While it was certainly interesting to dig into some of the lesser known players, there were a lot of players where, well to put it politely there just wasn’t a lot to say about every player on the team.

This offseason we decided to go in a bit of a different direction and now each writer (who wanted to participate) has picked one player that they think is going to breakout this year in Madison. We are using “breakout” in the broadest sense so that this isn’t all guys buried on the depth chart. To us, “breakout” means taking the next step in your career and reaching the next level.

You’ll find many names you are already familiar with, and so without further ado, let’s get started!

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Player name: Jalen Berger

Position: running back

Year: redshirt freshman (we use the official listing from UWBadgers.com’s roster which doesn’t take into account the COVID year until the player takes it)

2020 stats: 60 carries, 301 yards, two rushing touchdowns

2021 breakout reasons: Berger, who was a 4-star recruit, played in four games during the shortened 2020 season, and wound up leading the Badgers in rushing, even after seeing limited time on the field.

As a true freshman, you wouldn’t have guessed that Berger missed out on the usual pre-season practice schedule that typically gets incoming freshman acclimated to the college game.

Berger debuted with a 15-carry, 87-yard game at Michigan and added a touchdown. From the second he stepped on the field, it was clear that Berger was Wisconsin’s most explosive back during the 2020 season.

Berger followed up his collegiate debut with two impressive showings – one on the road at Northwestern and a second at home against Indiana. Berger rushed 15 times in both games and rushed for 93 yards against the Wildcats and 87 yards against the Hoosiers.

Just as Berger was getting hot, he suffered a setback, testing positive for COVID on December 11, a day before Wisconsin played Iowa, causing him to miss the final two games of the season, before he returned for the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Against Wake Forest, Berger once again rushed 15 times, for 34 yards and a score.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Whether Wisconsin had Berger on a pitch-count in 2020 and limited him to 15 carries a game, or if it was just a coincidence, Berger made the most of it, rushing for five yards per carry, which is an impressive number for someone that is coming in as a true freshman, given the circumstances.

With the departures of Garrett Groshek and Nakia Watson, Berger enters 2021 as Wisconsin’s most experienced back, apart from transfer Chez Mellusi, who is coming over from Clemson.

Even with the addition of Mellusi, and four incoming freshmen, who will all be gunning for carries in 2021, I think Berger showed how explosive and talented a runner he is in 2020 and he will edge both out as the starting back for the Badgers.

From what we saw in 2020 and the fact that Berger will now have a normal offseason on campus, if he can get more than 15 carries in a game, over a full season, he should be a dangerous bellwether back for Wisconsin.

2021 season prediction: I predict that Berger will eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for Wisconsin in 2021, which is something he very-well could have done in 2020 had the season not been shortened. A double-digit touchdown total is also a real possibility. I think Berger will be added to the Doak Walker watchlist during the season but will come up a bit short of winning the award to a more experienced back. However, I certainly think that a B1G Freshman of the Year award is very likely.