Braelon Allen: that’s the article. That is the offensive player preview for Week 4. Because who else could it possibly be? Ron Dayne? Melvin Gordon? Jonathan Taylor? It is, and seemingly always has been, running back or bust for the Wisconsin Badgers — and 2022 is no different.
Their most recent 1,000-yard receiver was Jared Abbrederis in 2013. Last year’s leading receiver, Danny Davis, finished with a paltry 478 yards, which bumped him to 13th all-time in school history (1,642 yards in 41 games played!) Their first and only five-star quarterback has been a letdown. So, unless I missed the second-coming of Joe Thomas, the attention this week was always going to be directed toward the young star runner. As it should be.
Because he is absolutely one of the best running backs in the college football, as well as one of its most explosive and powerful homerun hitters. So yeah, for a variety of reasons, Braelon Allen is this week’s Offensive Player to Watch.
To backtrack just a little bit (and jokes aside) there are plenty of skilled offensive players on the Wisconsin roster. It has been evident in the early-season results. Through three games, the team is averaging 39.3 points per, led by the RB duo of Allen and Chez Mellusi, as well as the experienced offensive line. QB Graham Mertz has been solid, throwing for a total of 697 yards and six touchdowns. And pass catchers have matched their signal caller’s level of play.
All in all, fans of the Badgers must be elated, given the team’s recent struggles. Wisconsin finished No. 89 and No. 85 in PPG for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, respectively — much to the chagrin of Paul Chryst and his staff. It even led to Joe Rudolph, UW’s former offensive coordinator and a colleague of Chryst’s for many years, leaving the program to take a lesser position at Virginia Tech. Rudolph was then replaced by Bobby Engram, who played for the Penn State Nittany Lions and eventually found his way into coaching with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. He brought with him offensive concepts from the 21st century, and it seems to have benefitted all parties. Even Allen, who needed no help at all.
This homegrown force of nature was one of the biggest surprises in college football last year. I was even tempted to say one of the biggest surprises in the world, but... seemed a bit much. Regardless, Allen took the CFB world by storm in 2021, and is already primed to become one of the all-time greats at Wisconsin. Few could have predicted his large, immediate impact, especially given his football history and background.
Allen committed to UW in July of 2020.. as part of their 2022 class. As in, this year! The year of monkeypox’s triumphant return was supposed to be Allen’s introduction to college football. But he had other ideas. He re-classified to the 2021 recruiting class, and was expected to eventually compete for playing time at linebacker. Yes, I said linebacker. While Allen was a two-way player in high school, his highest upside appeared to be on the defensive side of the ball. He was the No. 25 ranked LB in his recruiting class, despite rarely (if ever) playing the position! He played predominantly safety for Fond Du Lac High School (WI), but possessed a frame to grow into. Hence his projection as a LB. And now here we are.
At 6-foot-2, 230 plus pounds, Allen likely would have worked his way into the Badgers’ LB rotation at some point, which would have been impressive enough. However, once on campus, he saw the RB room become depleted. He practiced at that position during his first camp, and began the 2021 season as a special teamer/depth piece. Mellusi and Clemson transfer Jalen Berger sat atop the RB depth chart, before Berger was dismissed from the team in October. As a result, Allen began to pick up a few reps alongside Mellusi, but only as a backup option. It would not be long before he ascended to option 1B, and eventual super stardom.
Allen had his first 100-yard rushing game on the road against Illinois — a game which marked the beginning of a very impressive run (no pun intended). He notched seven 100-yard games in a row, and reached triple digits in eight of the Badgers’ last nine. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he did so with limited volume. The true freshman did not exceed 20 carries in a game until mid-November, when Mellusi was lost to injury.
Allen was regularly averaging six, seven, even eight yards per carry, despite the opposing defense being fully aware of Wisconsin’s gameplan. Frankly, he was a freight train, running over defenders a la Derrick Henry. And in the same mold as the NFL rushing king, Allen also displayed impressive breakaway speed at times.
U-Dub’s workhorse – and only real threat late in the season – took it to another level when force fed. In three games during which Allen was given 22+ carries, he went for at least 159 yards in all of them. In back-to-back contests against Northwestern and Nebraska (which, say what you will) the stud runner ran for a combined 401 yards and 6 TD, on 47 carries! Allen was simply dominant, but he has also proven to be human.
In 2021, Allen barely saw the field against Penn State and Michigan, two teams with impressive defenses. So nothing held against him there, but it should be noted that during his 100-yard streak, Iowa was the only top-tier defense he faced. And finally, when he ran up against Minnesota, a team that finished with a sneaky great defense, Allen was bottled up for 47 yards on 17 carries.
2022 has not given us much new evidence, as Wisconsin faced dreadful teams in the non-conference. Allen has racked up 332 yards on 6.6 YPC, while finding the endzone five times. He appears to be just as big, and strong, and fast as he was last year, which should come as no surprise. But he has also been supported by solid QB play, which is a bit unexpected. The Badgers may have finally found balance, albeit against inferior competition. So Allen could absolutely come into The Shoe and run for 200+, but it has been a while since he dominated an upper-echelon defense (giving Ohio State some credit, based on this season’s results).
That being said, I fully expect Allen to give the Buckeyes all they can handle on Saturday. He is essentially a quick and powerful refrigerator with two legs, which I mean as a giant compliment. Thus far in 2022, his offensive line has been typically great, and he has not been overworked due to the presence of Mellusi, as well as the ease of Wisconsin’s early schedule.
OSU’s defense has been consistent against the run, but the Badgers are literally and figuratively a different beast. This “new” unit still has much to prove as they enter Big Ten play. Braelon Allen and the Badgers will test Ohio State in a big way, with an offense set to take direct aim at Jim Knowles’ guys. Don’t expect a lot of tricks and gadgets; this game should be a street fight up front. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I am hoping the Buckeyes pass this test with flying colors. Go Bucks!