Braelon Allen is on the verge of becoming Wisconsin's next dominant running back

  • Exclusive interview: Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen details his career so far and upcoming junior season in an exclusive interview with PFF.
  • The Power Five’s top returning rusher over the last two seasons: Allen’s 2,500 rushing yards over his first two years lead all returning Power Five running backs. 
  • “I feel like I’m absolutely the best running back in the country heading into next season”: Allen is ready to prove that he’s college football's best running back.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

November 15th, 2014.

It’s a day that will live in Wisconsin football history. On a snowy afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin, star Badgers running back Melvin Gordon III ran for a then-FBS record 408 yards against Nebraska

Not only did that game cement Gordon’s legacy as an all-time great, but it also sparked a dream in a fifth-grader 90 minutes away from campus in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. 

“That game honestly started my love for football,” current Badgers running back Braelon Allen said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “Melvin Gordon was my favorite player. It’s been my dream to play running back at Wisconsin since I was 10 years old. Now, that dream has come true.”

While the soon-to-be junior is living the dream right now, he didn’t think that was possible until right before he moved in for his freshman year. Every major recruiting website listed Allen as a linebacker coming out of high school, and he thought he’d stay on defense in college.

“I was committed to Wisconsin as a defensive player,” Allen said. “It wasn’t until two weeks before I got on campus that Coach [Paul] Chryst told me that he wanted me to play running back. I was both shocked and excited at the same time.”

Despite the late notice that he’d be switching sides, Allen hit the ground running — literally. He led all true freshmen in 2021 with 1,258 rushing yards while producing the seventh-most yards after contact in the Power Five (829). Allen was also top-three among Power Five running backs in both yards per carry (6.8) and yards after contact per attempt (4.5). Amazingly, he accomplished all of that while only receiving 12 carries over the first four games. Allen was also only 17 years old for the entirety of his freshman season.

“Even I was surprised with my freshman year,” Allen said. “I really didn’t even start playing until midway through the season. The first four or five weeks I was like fourth on the depth chart.”

On paper, Allen was similarly successful as a sophomore this past season, rushing for 1,242 yards. However, he wasn’t pleased. 

“It’s kind of self-explanatory,” Allen said. “Sure, I put up similar numbers to my freshman year. But I didn’t improve. The most disappointing part of the season, though, was our record.”

The Badgers finished the year 7-6 and posted their worst winning percentage in 14 seasons. Eighth-year head coach Paul Chryst was fired five games into the season, so defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard took over as the interim coach. Amidst all the uncertainty, there were rumors that Allen might look for a new home. 

“During the season, those rumors of me entering the transfer portal first sprouted up,” Allen said. “That was never on my mind. After the year, I said that if Coach Leonhard stayed, I’m staying. Once they went in a different direction, I had to think about my future and evaluate all of my opportunities.” 

Instead of permanently promoting Leonhard to head coach, Wisconsin hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell. In 2021, his Bearcats became the only Group-of-Five team to ever make the College Football Playoff. It didn’t take long for Allen to realize that the best choice he could make was to stay in Madison to play for Fickell.

“Just from a few conversations with Coach Fickell, I could tell that he was a guy I wanted to play for,” Allen said. “I knew right away that he’s a great leader. He’s a player’s coach and he’s a winner. All of the qualities that you could want in a head coach, he has.”

With Fickell comes a new offensive coordinator in Phil Longo, who should revolutionize the Badgers’ offense. For years, Wisconsin’s offensive philosophy has been predicated on running the football. In both of Allen’s seasons, the Badgers have been among the Power Five’s top-10 teams in rushing play percentage. Thus, defenses key in on the run by stacking the box. Over his first two years, Allen has 62 more carries against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box than any other Power Five running back.

Most rushing attempts against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box since 2021 (Among Power Five running backs)
Name School Attempts against defenses with 8+ box defenders
Braelon Allen Wisconsin 268
Tavion Thomas Utah 206
Blake Corum Michigan 169

That’s a stark contrast from the offenses that Longo ran while he was North Carolina‘s offensive coordinator. In his version of the Air-Raid offense, the Tar Heels only faced eight or more box defenders on 148 rush attempts over the last two seasons, the fourth-fewest in the Power Five. To say Allen is ecstatic about that would be an understatement.

“Heavy boxes definitely make it more difficult,” Allen said. “There are eight, nine guys in the box, and you only have five or six blockers. You usually have to make two or more guys miss tackles every time. That gets hard to do in the Big Ten. That’s why I’m very excited to play in Coach Longo’s offense. There will definitely be more lanes to run through.”

When asked if he thinks he’ll have his best year yet because of the lighter boxes, Allen laughed that question aside. 

“I’m going to have my best year regardless of how many people are in the box.”

As you can tell, Allen has tremendous confidence both in himself and his team heading into next season, which could be his final one as a Badger.

“I feel like I’m absolutely the best running back in the country heading into next season,” Allen said. “The ideal plan is for me to have a great year and declare for the draft. The main goal, though, is to win a Big Ten title and a national championship. Once we start playing, I think we’ll realize that those goals are within reach.”

While there might only be one more season for Allen in Madison, he’s hoping to leave a legacy that’ll last forever. When asked about what that legacy might be, Allen turned his camera to a wall that featured many legendary Wisconsin running backs: Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, James White, Jonathan Taylor and of course, Allen’s childhood idol, Melvin Gordon III. 

“I want to be with them.”

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