Badgers show backfield depth after injury to Jonathan Taylor

Garrett Groshek (37) stiff-arms an Illinois defender in Wisconsin's 24-10 victory over Illinois.

Image By: Brandon Moe

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. — Two years ago, when Garrett Groshek first arrived at UW-Madison, he had little to no experience at the running back position. Instead, he was a quarterback at Amherst High School, in Amherst, Wis., where he completed 68.8 percent of his passes for almost 2,400 yards and 41 touchdowns during his senior year.

But with just over six minutes left in No. 5 Wisconsin’s (5-0 Big Ten, 8-0 overall) 24-10 win over Illinois (0-5, 2-6), it was hard to tell that Groshek had only played in seven games as a running back.

After receiving a handoff from redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, Groshek bounced outside for his longest run of the game. The redshirt freshman running back juked the first defender he encountered in the backfield before stiff-arming two more Illini to the turf en route to an 18-yard run.

Groshek and sophomore running back Bradrick Shaw both received a heavier workload Saturday afternoon after freshman running back Jonathan Taylor injured his left leg midway through the first half. But the duo’s performance revealed the true depth of Wisconsin’s backfield.

“They’re super good running backs,” redshirt junior left tackle Michael Deiter said. “Obviously J.T. is a really good running back too, but I think those guys are special. I think we have a lot of depth there right now, and there’s no surprise they did a pretty good job.”

While Taylor led Wisconsin with 73 rushing yards, Groshek set career-highs in both carries (12) and yards (51). Shaw had one of his better games of the year as well, rushing for 40 yards on 12 carries.

“Groshek on that last drive had two stiff arms for a really big run. He did a really good job for us,” redshirt sophomore right tackle David Edwards said. “We know what Brad can do. He’s done a lot of really good things for us these past couple of years.”

Seven different Badgers registered a rushing attempt in the first half of Wisconsin’s victory. And Deiter became the eight player to record an official carry after catching a throwback lateral from Hornibrook with 3:54 left to play.

No matter who was behind or next to Hornibrook, both Edwards and Deiter agreed that Wisconsin’s running game remained the same, schematically.

Shaw, who admitted he is still trying to improve his rhythm in the backfield, said that he felt like he is making progress towards playing like his normal self and feels a lot more comfortable then he did a few weeks ago.

Groshek continues to make plays in the backfield as well, while he competes with not only Shaw but also fifth-year senior running backs Chris James and Rachid Ibrahim.

“Garrett Groshek doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Edwards said. “He’s one of the best kids on this team, really a selfless guy. Does whatever he can to help the program, and the fact that’s he doing some good things for us and kind of helping us is kind of cool to see because of how good of a kid he is.”

The status of Taylor for Wisconsin’s upcoming game against Indiana remains unknown, but Edwards feels that UW is in good hands no matter who lines up in the backfield.

“Whoever we put in there,” Edwards said, “we have confidence they can succeed.”

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