Badgers discuss departure of Jalen Berger, prep for a unique Army offense

On Sunday, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst dismissed running back Jalen Berger from the team without stating a reason for the decision. He didn’t offer up much more when asked about the move during his weekly Monday press conference.

“I spoke with Jalen on Sunday and I’m going to keep that between me and Jalen,” Chryst said when asked why he made the move.

Chryst was pressed on several different fronts but none resulted in him giving a reasoning for moving on from Berger, who led the team in rushing last season. Players that spoke with the media were also tight lipped on what happened.

“It’s difficult for me because he’s my friend. He’s like a brother to me,” running back Chez Mellusi said. “I’m going to continue to support him. I don’t know much about the situation. That’s out of my hands. I just told him I’m here for him and will continue to support him.”

While the coach and players weren’t saying much, the Wisconsin State Journal quoted two sources that said Berger broke team rules, including missing meetings and workouts. The behavior, according to the paper, began when the team added Mellusi from the transfer portal this past offseason.

Berger is the second running back to be dismissed from the team and the third to leave overall. An off the field fight in August between freshmen Loyal Crawford and Antwan Roberts resulted in the former being kicked of the team and the latter suspended. Roberts eventually entered the transfer portal, while Crawford is facing charges for the incident.

The departures leaves Mellusi, true freshman Braelon Allen, junior Isaac Guerendo, sophomore Julius Davis and true freshman Jackson Acker as the scholarship tailbacks on the roster. Walk-on Brady Schipper is also a part of the rotation.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a distraction, for me at least,” Mellusi said of the departures. “I know that it’s kind of a distraction for the outside world, people kind of think our running back room is falling apart, whatever that means. And I don’t think that’s the case whatsoever. So, it definitely doesn’t look great, but I’m very fortunate and very happy for the guys we do have in the room still.”

A unique challenge

Wisconsin is getting ready to face Army this week but the process of dealing with the Black Knights unique offense started way before Monday.

“We really started this prep in the spring, and (we) touched on it again as coaches and players in the summer in fall camp,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “It’s far from beginning right now, especially knowing that you didn’t have an (extra) week to prepare in-season. The guys have heard everything we’re talking about, they’ve seen it, they understand kind of the issues and why you have to do things a certain way. Now it’s having that one week of prep to get it done. You got to be clean on Saturday.”

Army is one of just a handful of FBS teams still running an option offense, something that once dominated the sport. Teams like Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Notre Dame won national titles in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s running option-style offenses.

The Black Knights run a flexbone triple option. It’s a run-dominated scheme (they’ve passed just 33 times in five games) that ranks second in the country in rushing (318 yards per game) and has scored 19 of their 23 touchdowns on the ground.

But Army hasn’t faced a unit like Wisconsin’s yet. The Badgers are stopping the run better than any team in the country, giving up just 41.4 yards per game and teams are averaging only 1.66 yards per carry.

“We’ve played a lot of teams that have been committed to the run, and I like our guys and I like the matchups,” Leonhard said. “There is an element of playing option football that you have to fit the schemes the right way but you got to do a little bit more. I like the way our guys are playing with that aggressiveness and you have to give them the flexibility to do that within the scheme.

“But yeah, we spent a lot of time as coaches kind of going back into the spring and summer, really knowing that this week it’s go time, and I’m excited. “It’ll be a plan that they can execute and play well and play fast, play with confidence and that’s what you need to do first and foremost.”