Dayne gains 297 yards against U

Todd Zolecki

MADISON, Wis. — Ron Dayne is no ordinary freshman. He’s special: very special.
In a few short months, the Wisconsin tailback has become the nation’s most dominant and punishing rookie rusher. Dayne’s bowl-them-over style has made him a fan favorite and an opponent’s nightmare — and he’s done it without even starting the first three games of the season.
Against the Gophers football team Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, he ran like a machine that never tired and showed no signs of vulnerability. He never stopped pounding the ball down the field.
After sifting through the carnage of the Badgers 45-28 win, the results were frightening. Dayne carried the ball 50 times for 297 yards with three touchdowns. He carried the ball only 19 times in the second half.
He did everything a back could do. He ran behind his blockers. When they weren’t there to block, he ran around and past the defenders. If he couldn’t do that he’d simply run them over.
Despite all the action, Badgers coach Barry Alvarez wasn’t worried about his star back running out of energy.
“He didn’t have any long runs,” Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said. “He wasn’t winded on any of those. That’s just a good workman’s day, wasn’t it? I’m really proud of him. He’s a neat kid. He even brought his girlfriend up to meet me the other day — the one he chills with, you know?”
Dayne said he was going to do just that after the game — “Go chill a little bit.” But he said he could run the ball that many times again. And he probably will.
The Pine Hills, N.J., native has already gained over 1,000 yards this season, setting a freshman school record. He has also scored 10 touchdowns. It took Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George three years to do that.
Alvarez planned all week to run the ball against Minnesota’s defense. With a guy like Dayne, why not? Dayne weighs 260 pounds. Only three Gophers defenders on the depth chart weigh more than him: Raymond Baylor, Antoine Richard and Jerome Davis.
The size mismatch was evident.
“We started learning you’ve got to get him low because he’s got a real strong upper body,” Gophers defensive back Tyrone Carter, who weighs 172 pounds, said. “He’s a big guy, a big back. He was coming with power every play. We knew we had to wrap him up. You can’t just hit him because he won’t go down.”
Dayne isn’t the type of guy who needs a lot of motivation to gain yards. But once Minnesota started “talking” to Dayne on the field, he got a little angry.
Badgers offensive lineman Jerry Wunsch said those tactics don’t intimidate Dayne, they just get him agitated.
A few bruising runs later, the hot tongues of Minnesota’s defenders cooled down.
“They started getting quiet and started helping me up and everything,” Dayne said. “After the first quarter people stopped talking, until they hit me for two yards, than they’d start talking more.”
Dayne’s runs and brutal hits took its toll on the Gophers defense. As the game wore on, he noticed Minnesota’s tackling efforts didn’t seem as strong.
“They would start acting like they were going to tackle me and dive toward the ground,” he said. “I was happy when they started doing that.”
Alvarez and Wunsch both believe better things are to come from Dayne. Wunsch said Dayne, who is starting to overshadow some of the Badgers’ recent running backs like Brent Moss, Terrell Fletcher and current Badger Carl McCullough, is just starting to learn the offense.
“Brent didn’t play as a freshman,” Alvarez said. “I’d say (Dayne) is more advanced. He’s got more physical tools. He’s a different style runner. He’s very mature and very strong. We said all that stuff before, all you have to do is look at him and realize he’s special. He’s an overpowering kid.”
Gophers coach Jim Wacker said Dayne is for real and is the toughest player in the Big Ten to tackle.
Most of the conference has already concluded that for themselves.