Badgers expecting ‘F-U’ energy from former UW RB Jalen Berger when they face him and Michigan State

The question to Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen took less than five seconds.

“Obviously, you’re not going to be facing him, but what are you expecting from Jalen Berger this weekend?” a reporter wondered on Monday as the Badgers prepared to face Berger and Michigan State this Saturday.

Somehow, Allen’s answer about his former teammate and fellow running back was even shorter than the question.

“I expect him to get shut down,” Allen said with a small grin.

Pushed to expand on the challenge the Badgers will face with a motivated Berger, Allen didn’t back off his initial feeling.

“I expect our defense to stop the run game as we are normally able to do. That’s it,” Allen said. “Hopefully, we hold him to a lot less than what he’s expecting.”

Allen shared a position room with Berger for a few months last year before the latter was kicked off the team by former coach Paul Chryst. It brought Berger’s career to a close with the Badgers after he rushed for 389 yards in seven games over two seasons. Though Chryst never revealed the reason for the dismissal, the Wisconsin State Journal reported him missing meetings and workouts were among the issues. In his final game in a UW uniform, Berger didn’t see the field in a 24-0 win at Illinois last October that proved to be Allen’s coming out party with 131 yards and a touchdown. A day later, Berger was gone.

A four-star player and huge recruiting win for the Badgers coming out of high school in the 2020 class, many thought Berger would head home to New Jersey and play for Rutgers. That didn’t happen. Instead, he ended up with Mel Tucker and Michigan State, hoping to repeat the success that another transfer, Kenneth Walker III, had a year ago with the Spartans when he won the Doak Walker Award for best running back in the country.

Berger and the Spartans got off to a very good start, going 2-0 and had the running game humming. Berger posted back-to-back 100-yard games and scored four touchdowns. But in Michigan State’s current four-game losing streak, the running game has fallen off and Berger’s stats along with it. He’s got just 81 yards in those games and is averaging 2.6 yards per carry. As a team, the Spartans have managed only 48.3 yards in Big Ten play.

“They’ve struggled recently up front. I think had some different combinations as far as that group goes and just hasn’t been as clean as early in the season,” interim coach Jim Leonhard said of Michigan State’s troubles. “I think the running backs have dropped off as far as the production more because of that.”

This will be the second time Wisconsin has faced one of its former running backs this season. Back in September, Nakia Watson came back to Madison with Washington State and scored two touchdowns in the Cougars upset of the Badgers. He didn’t dominate by any stretch, but he played with some extra motivation against a team he decided to leave following the 2020 season. Berger’s motivation would seem more intense because it wasn’t necessarily his decision to depart.

“No doubt about it. I think he’s going to come out here and try to run the hardest he has this year,” nose tackle Keeanu Benton said. “It’s usually how it goes. When you transfer to somewhere else, when you play that team, you want to play your heart out to basically have a big ‘F-U’ to the opposing team.

“It’s human nature.”