Badgers RB Watson getting chance for reps in blowout wins

One of the questions coming into the season was who was going to be the primary backup to Jonathan Taylor for Wisconsin?

Junior Garrett Groshek (17 carries, 10 receptions) has gotten some work, but has mainly been a third-down type back. Senior Bradrick Shaw (eight carries) still appears to be working himself back into the rotation after missing all of last season.

That means it’s been Nakia Watson’s time to shine. The redshirt freshman didn’t appear in a game in 2018, despite the ability to play four games and still redshirt. But when Taylor’s needed a spell, Watson’s been the one getting the brunt of the work – mostly – and with mixed results.

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He rushed 14 times for 80 yards and a touchdown in the opening win over South Florida, but struggled to put up numbers in the three games following. He had 29 yards on eight carries with a TD against Central Michigan, 31 yards on 13 carries vs. Michigan and toted the ball just once, gaining one yard, against Northwestern.

With the Badgers blowing out Kent State last Saturday, Watson was given 12 carries (before giving way to Shaw and Brady Schipper), gaining 53 yards. An average of 5.3 yards per carry. Not shabby, but also no big gains (a long of 12). Watson has shown so far not to be a breakaway runner but more a churner of yards.

Watson has 48 carries this season – six have gone for 10+ yards, with only two of 20+ (a long of 27). That equates to 12.5% of his rushes being 10 yards or longer. Of his 103 carries, Jonathan Taylor has 28 runs of 10+ yards (five of 20+), or 22.3%. Taylor was at 19.9% in 2018 and 20.4% as a freshman.

Now, it’s unfair to compare anyone to Taylor, of course. But last year’s backup, Taiwan Deal, had a rush of 10+ yards on 17.1% of his attempts while Groshek, who had the third-most carries, was at 21.5%. In 2016, Dare Ogunbowale was at 14.3% (starter Corey Clement 16.2%).

Bottom line, Wisconsin needs more out of Watson. Head coach Paul Chryst noted it takes time for a running back to learn patience, so there is definitely room to improve (and he did have a nice kick return). It’s not a big concern for 2019, but with Taylor expected to leave for the NFL after this year, it makes 2020 a lot more interesting.

Here’s the complete rundown of the young Badgers after five games, which saw two more redshirt freshmen see their first action this past week:

“TRUE” FRESHMEN
Keeanu Benton, NT
South Florida: 2 tackles (solo), TFL
Central Michigan: Started, 1 tackle (solo), TFL
Michigan: Started, 1 tackle, QBH
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 3 tackles (2 solo), 2 TFL, QBH

 

Clay Cundiff, TE
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Leo Chenal, LB
South Florida: 5 tackles (3 solo)
Central Michigan: 4 tackles (4 solo)
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: 3 tackles (3 solo), sack, TFL, FR
Season totals: 12 tackles (10 solo), sack, TFL, FR

 

Semar Melvin, CB
South Florida: 1 tackle (solo)
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Season totals: 1 tackle (solo)

 

Graham Mertz, QB
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: 4-of-5 passing, 35 yards
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: 5-of-5 passing, 38 yards; 2 rush, 6 yards
Season totals: 9-of-10 passing, 73 yards; 2 rush, 6 yards

 

Have not played
Peter Bowden, LS; Stephan Bracey, WR; Logan Brown, OL; Dante Caputo, S; Julius Davis, RB; Jordan DiBenedetto, WR; Quan Easterling, FB; Dean Engram, CB; Tatum Grass, LB; Rodas Johnson, DE; Jackson Kollath, LB; Spencer Lytle, LB; Cooper Nelson, QR; Maema Njongmeta, LB; Logan O’Brien, OL; Gio Paez, NT; Cam Phillips, WR; Hayden Rucci, TE; Joe Tippmann, OL; Titus Toler, LB; Blake Wilcox, K; James Williams, CB.

 

REDSHIRT FRESHMEN
A.J. Abbott, WR
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 1 tackle (solo)
Season totals: 1 tackle (solo)

 

Donte Burton, CB
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: 1 tackle (solo)
Michigan: PBU
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 1 tackle (solo)
Season totals: 2 tackles (2 solo), PBU

 

Boyd Dietzen, DE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Jack Eschenbach, TE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Jaylan Franklin, OLB
South Florida: 1 tackle (solo), sack, TFL
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 1 tackle (solo), sack, TFL

 

Michael Furtney, OL
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

C.J. Goetz, DE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Andrew Lyons, OL
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Isaiah Mullens, DE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Taj Mustapha, WR
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Reggie Pearson, S
South Florida: Started, 1 tackle (solo), FF
Central Michigan: Started, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Started, 3 tackles (2 solo), .5 TFL, FF
Northwestern: 1 tackle (solo), PBU
Kent State: Started, 3 tackles (3 solo)
Season stats: 8 tackles (7 solo), 2 FF, PBU, .5 TFL

 

Cormac Sampson, OL/TE
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Brady Schipper, RB
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 6 rush, 21 yards
Season totals: 6 rush, 21 yards

 

Alexander Smith, CB
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: 1 tackle (solo), PBU
Kent State: 2 tackles (2 solo)
Season stats: 3 tackles (3 solo), PBU

 

Marty Strey, OLB
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Jack Torchio, S
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: INT, PBU
Northwestern: Started, 1 tackle (solo)
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season stats: 1 tackle (solo), INT, PBU

 

Nakia Watson, RB
South Florida: 14 rush, 80 yards, TD
Central Michigan: 8 rush, 29 yards, TD; 1 catch, 0 yards
Michigan: 13 rush, 31 yards
Northwestern: 1 rush, 1 yard; 1 tackle
Kent State: 12 rush, 63 yards; 1 catch, 6 yards
Season stats: 48 rush, 204 yards (4.3 average), 2 TD; 2 catches, 6 yards

 

Chase Wolf, QB
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: 1-for-1 passing, 2 yards
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Season stats: 1-for-1 passing, 2 yards


Have not played
Travian Blaylock, CB; Mike Gregoire, WR; Isaac Guerendo, RB; Jacob Heyroth, ILB; Conor Schlichting, P.

 

“TRUE” SOPHOMORES

John Chenal, FB
South Florida: 1 rush, 2 yards; 1 catch, 12 yards; 1 tackle (solo), FF
Central Michigan: 3 rush, 11 yards; 1 catch, 2 yards
Michigan: 2 rush, 5 yards, TD
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 4 rush, 24 yards
Season totals: 10 rush, 42 yards (4.2 average), 2 TD; 1 catch, 2 yards, 1 tackle (solo), FF

 

Aron Cruickshank, WR
South Florida: 1 kick return, 23 yards
Central Michigan: 1 catch, 19 yards; 2 punt returns, 14 yards
Michigan: 1 kick return, 11 yards
Northwestern: 2 kick returns, 69 yards
Kent State: 2 rush, 6 yards; 2 catches, 10 yards
Season totals: 2 rush, 6 yards; 2 catches, 10 yards; 4 kick returns, 103 yards; 2 punt returns, 14 yards

 

Jack Sanborn, LB
South Florida: Started, 5 tackles (2 solo)
Central Michigan: Started, 1 tackle, INT, QBH
Michigan: Started, 7 tackles (5 solo), 2 TFL, sack, FF
Northwestern: Started, 13 tackles (7 solo), TFL, PBU
Kent State: Started, 2 tackles (2 solo), 2 sacks, 2 TFL
Season totals: 28 tackles (16 solo), 3 sacks, 5 TFL, INT, QBH, PBU, FF

 

Rachad Wildgoose, CB
South Florida: 2 tackles (solo)
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: PBU
Northwestern: 3 tackles (3 solo), 2 TFL
Kent State: Started, 3 tackles (2 solo)
Season totals: 7 tackles (6 solo), 2 TFL, PBU

 

Bryson Williams, NT
South Florida: 1 tackle (solo)
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 1 tackle (solo)

 

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns