In the span of a few weeks, the Wisconsin Badgers have gone through a roller coaster of news. With the cancellation of the games against both Nebraska and Purdue, Wisconsin will likely need to win each of its remaining five games in order to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive.
With the positive COVID-19 test result for Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, the Badgers might need to look to new sources of offensive production if they hope to continue their momentum against Michigan. With Graham Mertz most likely not playing at full strength this Saturday, Wisconsin will need to go old-school and rely on its running game – something this program has excelled at for over a decade.
After the departure of all-time great running back Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin has gone with a running back-by-committee approach, with Nakia Watson, Garrett Groshek and Issac Gurrendo each earning more than 10 carries in week one. After a somewhat disappointing performance against Illinois, Nakia Watson will need to step up and deliver serious yardage for the Badgers in order for Wisconsin to come out of Ann Arbor unscathed.
While Watson had 19 carries in the win against the Illini, he put up only 62 yards against a relatively weak Illini defensive line for an average of 3.3 yards per carry. In these next three weeks, Watson – the new number one offensive option – must increase his production if Wisconsin hopes to keep its playoff hopes alive.
In limited playing time during the 2019 season, Watson showcased his potential to become the next great Wisconsin tailback. The five-foot-eleven, 230-pound redshirt Sophomore runs with power, and has shown the capability to break tackles and run over defenders. Even if he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to run downfield just yet, he shows a ton of ability to be a key piece in Wisconsin’s offense going forward in the future.
That being said, Watson delivered just 4.5 yards per carry in mop up duty for Taylor last fall, and eventually the production has to show up on the field. With Groshek and Guerendo proving to be capable options behind him, Watson has some pressure to prove this weekend he can get the job done.
It would be unfair to expect the same excellence from Mertz that Wisconsin Football received a few weeks ago. In order to keep the Badgers in the thick of the Playoff push, Watson will need to propel the Badger’s running game above their lackluster performance the last time out.