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Badgers film room: Freshmen Jalen Berger, Chimere Dike show star potential
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Badgers film room: Freshmen Jalen Berger, Chimere Dike show star potential

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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.

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