Wisconsin RB Taiwan Deal's emergence could help save the season

Wisconsin runs all over Hawaii for third victory (0:49)

Taiwan Deal rushes for 147 yards and two touchdowns in No. 22 Wisconsin's 28-0 victory over Hawaii. (0:49)

MADISON, Wis. -- When Wisconsin running back Taiwan Deal collects a handoff, there is generally only one way the play is going to end.

Deal will lower his head, seek out contact and blast right up the middle, churning forward while dragging defenders with him. There is a reason, after all, why he has carried the ball 62 times this season and been tackled for a loss of yardage only once.

"I just run the ball," Deal said. "I come out, I don't care. If someone's going to come up and try to knock me out, I'm going to just try to run through them, too."

This punishing style of play has made Deal an unlikely force to be reckoned with early in the season. Deal was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week after he carried 26 times for 147 yards with two touchdowns during Wisconsin's 28-0 victory against Hawaii on Saturday. And it was a performance that could not have occurred at a better time for the Badgers, taking place just two days after school officials announced starting tailback Corey Clement would be sidelined four to six weeks due to sports hernia surgery.

Thanks to Deal's emergence alongside Dare Ogunbowale, Wisconsin now has a legitimate 1-2 punch despite Clement's absence. Perhaps, then, the demise of the Badgers' running game has been greatly exaggerated.

"He'll just put his head down and run," Badgers center Dan Voltz said of Deal. "He took some hits, a lot of carries. He showed to the team that he can be that tough guy, that dependable guy, down-for-down that we need to run the ball and get those yards. I couldn't be more proud of him. I'm glad we have him on our side."

This season, Deal has quickly become one of the most important pieces to No. 19 Wisconsin's hopes of defending its Big Ten West championship, which begins Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium against unbeaten Iowa. Ogunbowale opened fall camp as the second-string tailback behind Clement, and he started two consecutive games with Clement sidelined.

But with Wisconsin backed up at its own 3-yard-line to begin the Hawaii game and in need of power personnel, Deal earned his first career start. He ran the ball on the game's first four plays for 29 yards to ease the pressure and polished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown.

Deal's 62 carries are 14 more than what Ogunbowale has through four games. Clement is still third on the team with eight carries, and he hasn't played since the season opener, which should say something about how few options there are at tailback. Given that Clement may not return until November, the need for Deal and Ogunbowale to perform well is substantial.

"We just wanted to make sure everyone knew that even though Corey wasn't there, we're still going to pound the ball," said Ogunbowale, who carried 15 times for 85 yards with a touchdown against Hawaii. "We're still going to be good at it. Taiwan did a great job at that. I tried to make sure I did it well, too. That was our big thing me and Taiwan talked about. We wanted to make sure we could show everyone that we could still run the ball, even with our guy out."

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Deal was the Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior in 2013 at DeMatha Catholic after rushing for 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. When he arrived at Wisconsin, expectations were high, but the adjustment to the college game did not always come easily last season. He broke his hand, which forced him to redshirt, and he struggled with consistent effort in practice. Clement noted Deal was too shy to ask questions during running back meetings, and then he would make mistakes in practice because of it.

As Deal earns more carries, he said his confidence has soared. But plenty of areas for improvement remain, particularly Deal's vision and patience.

"Sometimes he neglects to follow me," Badgers fullback Derek Watt said. "He'll just try to make his own hole. But hey, if he's doing his thing out there, let him run. You can't really tell him what to do, what he's seeing."

Deal, for his part, recognizes the need for him to expand his skillset. Often, he is so focused on ramming the ball through the middle, down the opposing team's throat, that he forgets to find the creases on the edges of a defense -- which causes plenty of ribbing from fellow running backs.

"I would look at film after the game and see that I could've took something outside," Deal said. "But as I continue to play, I feel like I'm going to continue to get better and I'm going to see those holes next time."

Teammates have no doubt about the type of player Deal is capable of becoming. In the meantime, he just may help Wisconsin save its season.

"He's got to make sure he gets his eyes up so he can see that he's not going to get tackled," Ogunbowale said. "But he'll get that together. When he does, he's going to be a special back here."