While witnessing a blowout of Michigan for the second consecutive season, University of Wisconsin football fans got a glimpse of the future.
Or, better yet, they got a showing of what they have right now, earlier than it once appeared possible.
The performances of true freshman running back Jalen Berger and true freshman wide receiver Chimere Dike against the Wolverines were not only impressive, they showed the No. 10 Badgers’ ability to recruit impact players who can contribute immediately.
Berger led the Badgers (2-0) with 87 yards on 15 carries, becoming the first true freshman to lead the Badgers in rushing in a game since Jonathan Taylor in 2017. He added two catches for 13 yards. Dike had two catches for 29 yards and a rush for 30 yards against Michigan. As you’ll see, all of his touches were important plays on scoring drives.
Dike was one of the standouts of training camp, so his contribution in the team’s second game wasn’t as surprising. Berger got his chances after the program’s COVID-19 outbreak left the running back group thin, but coach Paul Chryst said Monday that he’d earned the right to get more reps.
UW’s star offensive freshmen could be in line for another breakout game this weekend at No. 19 Northwestern, but for now, let’s open up the film room and see why they were so effective in their first action.
Situation: Second-and-10 at the Michigan 33, early first quarter
Play: Chimere Dike rushes for 30 yards, first down
Breakdown: The Badgers have had success with the jet sweep runs for years, and those plays were particularly effective last week at Michigan. But this reverse in which Dike (13, top of the screen) gets the ball flipped to him by Kendric Pryor (3) is a great wrinkle for UW to have on tape the rest of the season.
Defenses will have to respect it and hesitate just slightly on the backside, which could help spring big plays.
Dike does a good job of faking up field to get Gemon Green (22) on his heels to start the play before taking off on the reverse. Quarterback Graham Mertz makes a crucial block as Dike gets to the left hash, making sure he gets his head into the defender’s chest to avoid a block in the back penalty.
Once Dike turns the corner, he can turn on his jets and start churning up yards. Nakia Watson (14) does a good job blocking after carrying out his fake which lets Dike go untouched until he’s at about the 6-yard line. Credit where it’s due, Green came from the opposite side of the field to push Dike out of bounds and save a touchdown.
Dike’s speed is a weapon the Badgers will continue to use this season.
Situation: Second-and-10 at the UW 26, early second quarter
Play: Jalen Berger rushes for 18 yards, first down
Breakdown: This is the type of play that Berger was accustomed to running as a prep star in New Jersey — power run to the right with a tight end coming back to the left to open a cutback lane.
Berger gets the handoff and sees the right side of his line create a massive crease, with tremendous blocks by right guard Logan Bruss, center Kayden Lyles and pulling left guard Jon Dietzen. Berger gets to the line and can immediately get up field. Michigan’s defensive alignment here doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the line still blew up the play-side linebacker.
What I love about this play is what happens after Berger gains about 10 yards. He sees Daxton Hill (30) coming for him and once his stutter step to get by Hill doesn’t work, Berger runs through him for 4 extra yards. That’s finishing a run.
It’s a small sample size, but Berger appears to be the best backfield option for the Badgers when they want to run out of pistol or shotgun looks.
(Side note: Pryor’s blocking as a receiver might be deserving of a film room sometime this season. He’s tremendous.)
Situation: Second-and-3 at the Michigan 49, early second quarter
Play: Graham Mertz passes to Chimere Dike for 19 yards, first down
Breakdown: (Two camera angles this play so you can see Dike’s route)
Second-and-short near midfield is almost always an attempt at a shot play for the Badgers. It’s the perfect time to go deep because you trust your offense to get the third-down conversion the next play if the throw down field doesn’t work.
This play-action pass has max protection, with five linemen, a tight end and two backs all blocking, so just two receivers are out for passes — Danny Davis (7) on a deep corner and Dike on a deep over route. From the sideline angle, you can see how the play-action fake holds all three linebackers near the line of scrimmage and allows Dike to get behind them to open up the throwing line for Mertz.
In the behind-the-offense angle, you can see Dike get the inside release he wants against Green, fight his off with his hands and then make his break at the hash marks to get a few yards of separation. The ball is just a touch behind where Dike could’ve caught it and kept running, but he hauls it in and keeps control through a hard tackle.
Situation: Second-and-4 at the Michigan 23, mid fourth quarter
Play: Jalen Berger rushes for 23 yards, touchdown
Breakdown: Even with their second-team offensive line in the game, the Badgers dominated the line of scrimmage.
But Berger and fullback John Chenal make those strong blocks up front count with what they do. Watch Chenal (44) come to the hole and throw his shoulder and body into Josh Ross (12). That creates a seam to go with Logan Brown’s (50) kick-out block at the left tackle spot, and Berger gets a head of steam toward the hole.
Berger runs by blitzing safety Daxton Hill (30) — who tried to run around Brown’s man — and Cameron McGrone (44) to get a clear path to the end zone. This is a simple example of following your blocks and Berger did it well all night. Expect this to be the first of many touchdowns for Berger during his UW career.
Want to see a player quit mid-play? Look at Vincent Gray (4). Every key imaginable says this play’s going to his right, but he doesn’t move until Berger’s crossing the line of scrimmage. Berger outruns him to the goal line, but Gray doesn’t exactly appear to be sprinting. Things are rough in Ann Arbor — UW broke that team on Saturday.
Situation: Third-and-7 at the Michigan 11, mid first quarter
Play: Graham Mertz passes to Chimere Dike for 10 yards, first down
Breakdown: This play shows great situational awareness from Dike.
The UW defense had just picked off Michigan QB Joe Milton for the second time and given the offense the ball at the 14. If UW doesn’t get this first down and settles for a field goal here, that’s a momentum-building play for the Wolverines.
Dike and Pryor run crossing routes here that are usually designed to beat man coverage, but Michigan is in zone. Dike comes open after crossing with Pryor and immediately gets his head turned toward Mertz. Easy throw and catch, but what Dike does after the great is even better. He’s still 3 yards short of the first down when he gets the ball, and instead of trying to shake a defender, he lowers his shoulder and powers through Green (22) for the first down.
Dike gets the first down on his own, but an assist goes to Jake Ferguson (84) for pushing Dike forward to ensure he was past the sticks.
Dike’s smarts were praised during camp and he showed them here.
Get to know the Badgers' 2021 recruits
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2021 football recruiting class
JP Benzschawel, an offensive lineman out of Grafton, was the first recruit in the Badgers’ 2021 class, continuing the family tradition at UW.
Benzschawel’s brothers, Beau (2015-18) and Luke (2016-19) played offensive line and tight end, respectively, for the Badgers. His father, Scott (1983-87) and uncle Eric (1988-92) also played football for UW.
Benzschawel is one of the top-ranked offensive tackles in the country. A four-star recruit on 247sports, and ESPN, and a three-star on Rivals, Benzschawel is a top-200 recruit nationally by 247sports and ESPN.
Jackson Acker, a running back from Verona, committed to the Badgers soon after receiving an offer in June 2019.
UW was Acker’s first scholarship offer after his sophomore season, but he used it as momentum for a strong junior campaign at Verona High School. He was a first-team running back on the Wisconsin State Journal’s All-Area team, rushing for 929 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games.
Acker is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Deacon Hill, a quarterback from Santa Barbara, Calif., committed to the Badgers in July 2019.
A 6-foot-4, 225-pound, pro-style prospect, Hill was part of wave of recruiting commitments for UW. Hill turned down offers from Kansas State and Nevada in favor of the Badgers.
Hill turned heads at an Elite 11 regional camp in California with his big arm and deep throws. He is the lone quarterback thus far in the 2021 class, and the 2020 class added just one in walk-on Daniel Wright.
Hill is listed as a three-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Loyal Crawford, a running back from Eau Claire, Wis., committed to the Badgers in August 2019.
A fast, shifty and explosive back, Crawford was limited to five games as a junior due to injury. Still, he tallied 671 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in that span. He was one of the first freshmen to suit up for a varsity game at Eau Claire Memorial High School.
Crawford — listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds — is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
UW’s scholarship offer the first Division I offer Crawford had received, according to multiple outlets.
Riley Mahlman, an offensive lineman from Lakeville, Minn., committed to the Badgers after watching them defeat Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium in September 2019.
Mahlman is ranked as a four-star prospect by 247sports and ESPN, and a three-star by Rivals. He’s ranked as the top recruit in the state of Minnesota by 247sports and ESPN, and the No. 2 Minnesota product by Rivals. UW beat out Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Florida and others for Mahlman.
With Mahlman and 2020 linebacker Kaden Johnson, the Badgers secured the top-ranked recruit out of Minnesota in consecutive years.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tackle also played tight end for Lakeville South High School.
Bryan Sanborn, an inside linebacker from Lake Zurich, Ill., committed to UW in December 2019.
Sanborn, the younger brother of Badgers inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect had a handful of Power Five offers, including Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. Bryan’s late father, Paul, played football at Oregon.
Ayo Adebogun, a linebacker/defensive end hailing from Mequon, committed to the Badgers in December 2019.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder was a second-team all-state selection by the Wisconsin Associated Press as a junior, a season in which he tallied 16 sacks and 75 total tackles.
The Homestead High School product is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Hunter Wohler, a safety out of Muskego, orally committed to UW just before Christmas 2019.
Rated by multiple recruiting sites as the best or second-best prospect in Wisconsin in his class, Wohler helped Muskego to an unbeaten record and a WIAA Division I state championship as a junior. Wohler had 122 total tackles and two interceptions as a junior, and he was named the state’s Associated Press' player of the year.
Wohler — listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds — is rated as a four-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals, and ESPN. He’s ranked as the No. 298 overall prospect in the 2021 class by ESPN.
Jake Chaney, a linebacker out of Lehigh Acres, Fla., committed to the Badgers in March 2020.
The 6-foot, 200-pound prospect is a three-star recruit according to 247sports and Rivals.
He was the District 7A player of the year last season after recording 100 tackles as a junior. Jake Chaney’s father, James, is his coach at Lehigh Senior High School and played at Florida State from 1988-1991.
Chaney was the third linebacker and ninth overall recruit in the 2021 class.
Antwan Roberts announced in April that he’d be attending the University of Wisconsin.
The 6-foot-1, 189-pound back is a three-star recruit per Rivals and 247sports.
UW was the only Big Ten program to offer Roberts a scholarship. He was also considering offers from Cincinnati, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Memphis, Missouri and Vanderbilt. He also played defensive back for his high school, Pope John Paul II.
Jack Pugh, a tight end out of Hilliard, Ohio, announced his commitment to the Badgers in late May
Pugh — ranked a four-star recruit by 247Sports and ESPN, and a three-star prospect by rivals — is ranked in the top 12 of tight ends in his class. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound prospect had scholarship offers from more than 20 programs, including a majority of the Big Ten Conference schools.
Pugh has the prototypical size to play as an on-the-line tight end, but has also split out as a receiver often through his high school career. A standout basketball player, Pugh also showed explosiveness as a defensive end for Hilliard Bradley High School.
Peterson, a three-star outside linebacker/defensive end from Akron, Ohio, committed to UW on June 1, 2020.
He was one of the Badgers’ top targets on defense since the spring of 2019. He tallied 21 sacks in his junior season at Archbishop Hoban, and chose the Badgers over offers from Alabama, Michigan, West Virginia and more.
247Sports, Rivals and ESPN all rate Peterson — a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder — as a three-star prospect. He’s the first linebacker in the 2021 class.
Mike Jarvis, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound lineman out of Medford, N.J., announced his commitment to the Badgers on June 3, 2020.
A three-star prospect on 247Sports and a two-star per Rivals, Jarvis has potential to play as a defensive or offensive lineman, although he’s been primarily recruited for his ability on defense.
Jarvis picked UW over scholarship offers from Duke, Florida State, Indiana, Nebraska, Princeton, Rutgers and others.
Outside linebacker/defensive end TJ Bollers added to a hot recruiting streak for the Badgers when he committed in June 2020.
Rated a four-star recruit by 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals, Bollers held offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State and most of the Big Ten. He narrowed his choices to Alabama, California, Iowa State, Nebraska, Northwestern and UW before making his decision..
Bollers — listed at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds — is ranked the 98th overall recruit in the country by Rivals, 147th by 247Sports and 200th by ESPN.
Hallman, a 6-foot cornerback out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., tweeted his commitment to the Badgers in late June 2020.
Hallman, ranked a four-star prospect by Rivals and a three-star by 247Sports and ESPN, had offers from at least 16 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, including Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Miami, Florida and Florida State.
UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was a key piece to Hallman choosing the Badgers. Hallman has said in multiple interviews that he and Leonhard spoke often and that Leonhard was the kind of coach he wanted to play for. Leonhard was also key in UW landing another 2021 prospect out of Florida, linebacker Jake Cheney.
Adding Hallman to the fold continues a strong South Florida connection to UW’s secondary — current Badgers’ defensive backs Faion Hicks, Semar Melvin and Rachard Wildgoose are all from that area.
Skyler Bell — a 6-foot-1, 185-pound prospect out of Watertown, Conn. — had upwards of 18 scholarship offers, including other Big Ten programs like Iowa, Rutgers, and Northwestern before deciding on UW.
Bell is the first receiver to join the class, announcing his commitment in August, but the Badgers are expecting to add more.
Bell is a three-star recruit per 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals.
UW won an intense recruiting battle for Rucci, whose older brother Hayden is a Badgers tight end. Rucci held offers from nearly every top program in the country, but had narrowed his list to Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and UW before announcing in early September.
Rucci is a five-star prospect and the No. 16 overall recruit in the country per 247Sports, while Rivals tabs him No. 29 and ESPN ranks him 33rd; Rivals and ESPN list him as a four-star recruit.
The Lititz, Penn., product is listed at 6-foot-8 and 295 pounds, and his father, Todd, played at Penn State before a seven-year career in the NFL with the New England Patriots.
AL ASHFORD III
Al Ashford III was a surprise pick up for the Badgers when he committed in early September. Ashford III’s commitment came seemingly out of nowhere, as he didn’t publicly announce a scholarship offer from UW prior to choosing the school.
Ashford III is listed as a three-star recruit on both 247Sports and Rivals, and is the top-rated cornerback in Colorado per 247Sports. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds.
Fond du Lac prospect Braelon Allen kicked off the Badgers' 2022 class with a bang when he committed in July 2020. But he reclassified to the 2021 class in September, giving the class its seventh four-star-or-better recruit in the 2021 class.
Allen — listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds — has been recruited as a safety, the position he’s played for Fond Du Lac, but 247Sports now lists him as an inside linebacker. Per 247Sports’ composite rankings, Allen is the No. 6 inside linebacker in the 2021 class.
Wide receiver Markus Allen became the first UW recruit to make his oral commitment during the 2020 season when he announced on Nov. 6.
He's a four-star prospect per Rivals and a three-star recruit according to 247Sports and ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound target out of Clayton, Ohio, had at least 26 Division I offers and was ranked as the No. 10 player in his state by Rivals. After he de-commitment from Michigan in September, UW and Cincinnati emerged as favorites to land Allen.
Jake Ratzlaff joined a star-studded group of defensive recruits when he committed to the Badgers in late November.
Ratzlaff is a four-star prospect per 247Sports’ composite rankings and a three-star recruit per Rivals.
Ratzlaff was committed to Minnesota to play hockey, but decided to pursue football and chose UW over offers from Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State, Northwestern and Penn State.
NATE VAN ZELST
Nate Van Zelst joined the 2021 class the day before February's signing day.
A five-star kicker per Kohl's Kicking, the Wilmette, Illinois, product is the first specialist to join the class. Van Zelst had a long field goal of 49 yards as a junior, but wasn't able to play a senior season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He accepted a preferred walk-on offer.
Garrison Solliday became the first post-signing day commitment for the Badgers when he announced he was joining the class on Feb. 8, 2021.
The Mendota Heights, Minnesota, product projects as a linebacker. The 6-foot, 220-pounder was an all-state football player and wrestler in Minnesota.
He accepted a walk-on offer.
Excited to announce my commitment to further my education and athletic career at the University of Wisconsin! Thank you to my coaches, family, friends and everyone who helped me get here.❤️🤍 #Badgers #wiscon21n @CoachBostadUW @tmehlhaff10 @CoachKhalif @CoachDanOB pic.twitter.com/oXpiDsnmE0— Gsolliday (@Gsolliday3) February 8, 2021
Grover Bortolotti joined the last in mid-February 2021 as a walk-on.
Bortolotti played running back and defensive back at Whitefish Bay, which went 7-0 his senior season. He's listed as an athlete by Rivals, so he could play safety or move to a different role once camp begins.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder had three interceptions his senior year.
Arrowhead High School product Owen Arnett joined the class in early March as a preferred walk-on.
Arnett originally committed to Virginia in November, but decided to stay closer to home and play at UW. The 6-foot, 200-pound prospect projects as a linebacker.
A second-team all-state edge player as a senior, Arnett had 67 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions, according to Wissports.com.