Taiwan Deal contributing to Badgers’ offense after long road back from injury
Lost among Alex Hornibrook’s third-quarter interception, Rafael Gaglianone’s miss in the final minute and a final result that may have crushed the University of Wisconsin’s playoff hopes was one of the few Badgers players who enjoyed a milestone day in Saturday’s 24-21 loss to BYU.
Running back Taiwan Deal, who missed 22 games over the past two seasons with ankle injuries, scored twice -- his first times reaching the end zone since his redshirt freshman season in 2015.
“It was long overdue, but it felt great,” Deal said. “To be honest, I felt like I’d been there before. When I crossed that goal line, it wasn’t a big excitement. ... I just felt comfortable.”
While the experience felt familiar, the process Deal endured since his last touchdown against Minnesota nearly three years ago required an inordinate amount of patience.
After rushing for 503 yards and six touchdowns in 2015, Deal only played six games as a sophomore while battling ankle injuries.
During fall camp last season, a hit to his right ankle loosed screws implanted during a surgery earlier that offseason, ending Deal’s 2017 season before it began.
“You just feel happy for him because he’s been sitting back and watching for a long time and waking up earlier than all of us to get in for treatments,” UW left guard Michael Deiter said. “Just getting back and watching him be able to actually get touchdowns and just have fun and play football again, you feel happy for him. He’s helping us in the offense, so it’s awesome that we have him back.”
Deal’s rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries through UW’s first three games this season as the clear No. 2 early-down back behind Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor.
The Badgers used Deal near the goal line rather than Taylor against BYU, and the fifth-year senior converted with touchdowns of 2 and 5 yards - the latter tying the game at 21 early in the fourth quarter. He’s also willingly contributing on special teams.
“My role is whatever the coaches want me to do,” Deal said. “I’m playing special teams. I’m doing whatever I can do for my team. I’m laying my body out there for them. If I get in, I’m going to give it my best and I’m going to try to score and I’m going to run hard and do whatever I can.”
Deal’s touchdowns Saturday didn’t overwhelm him with joy. He thanked his linemen, like he’d used to do three seasons ago, and celebrated with the rest of UW’s running backs as the Badgers moved on to trying to fend off an upset bid from the Cougars.
But Deal said he did allow himself to think back on his journey for a brief moment and recognize the significance of finally regaining his ability to play a significant role in UW’s offense.
“It was kind of like, ‘Wow, I scored a touchdown,’” Deal said. “I didn’t think this would be possible. But it’s amazing the path that God has for you. If you just keep moving forward, everything is going to turn out how you want it to be or how it’s supposed to be.”
Neuville doesn’t practice
Badgers tight end Zander Neuville “really didn’t do anything” in practice Tuesday, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said.
The fifth-year senior left Saturday’s loss to BYU with a right leg injury after UW’s second play from scrimmage and is listed as questionable to play this week at Iowa.