Chryst: RB Jalen Berger has ‘earned the right’ to keep getting reps

With two of their top three running backs unavailable last Saturday night, the Wisconsin Badgers turned to Jalen Berger for a spark. He delivered, running for a team-high 87 yards and a touchdown. It was the kind of effort from a true freshman that gets fans excited and wanting to see more. But the reality of the situation is that the missing guys — senior Garrett Groshek and sophomore Isaac Guerendo — will return, and probably soon.

“Eventually, you’re going to get into a numbers game,” coach Paul Chryst said Monday when asked if Berger had done enough to earn more reps even when the others get back.

Sophomore Nakia Watson led the team in carries in Week 1 against Illinois with 19, while Groshek had 13 and Guerendo got 11. With the latter two not playing against Michigan, it was Berger that got the most carries, finishing with 15, and Watson got 12.

“I thought Jalen did some really good stuff,” Chryst said. “For his first action, I thought he was poised. I thought he saw things well and it was fun to get him going. I think he’s obviously earned the right to continue to get more reps.”

It’s unclear when Groshek or Guerendo will return in time for the Northwestern games, but it sounds like we’ll see Berger on the field even if they do.

Getting guys back

Wisconsin was without 10 starters or key players against the Wolverines for undisclosed reasons. While one of the names on the list of guys unavailable, quarterback Jack Coan, was injury related, the other nine could be injury or COVID-19 situations.

“There’s a group that will have a chance to, kind of as the week progresses, start to be able to do a little bit more each day,” Chryst said. “I think it’s going to be like that all season. We’ll gauge where they’re at and how it went. Really, it’s kind of the next day. If they did a little bit more, how does their body feel after that day.”

Any player that tested positive for COVID-19 after Oct. 31, would not be eligible to return for the Northwestern game based on the Big Ten’s 21-day return-to-play protocol. UW put out an update on Oct. 31 that showed a total of 12 active cases among players. Assuming they pass through the protocol, all of those players should be available against the Wildcats. The latest data from UW, which came Nov. 9, showed an additional four players had tested positive since Oct. 31. Those four will miss the game.

“We’ve got a group that’s kind of in that next wave, so if it’s a good week for them, it’ll be a good week for us as a program,” Chryst said.

Minnesota kickoff set

We knew the date the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe would take place and now we know the time.

Wisconsin will host Minnesota on Nov. 28 with kickoff coming at 1 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.