MADISON — Following a season opener where the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (1-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) could not get out of its own way, UW welcomed Eastern Michigan (1-1 overall, 0-0 MAC) to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday looking to bounce back from a season opening loss for the first time since 2015.
Wisconsin started off the game in a similar fashion to their season opener, failing to finish an opening drive that was setup by a 60-yard run by Chez Mellusi on the second play of the game.
Mellusi was tripped behind the line of scrimmage following a hand off and then was kept out of the end zone on three consecutive plays, with Wisconsin turning the ball over on downs.
However, this trend would end quickly as Wisconsin’s offense founds it’s legs en route to a 34-7 victory. And boy did they ever find their legs – Wisconsin rushed for 352 yards in the game, led by Chez Mellusi who rushed 20 times for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Wisconsin also got scores from Jalen Berger, Isaac Guerendo and Braelon Allen.
Berger, who did not appear in the season opener, split carries with Mellusi for most of the first half and carried the ball 15 times for 62 yards while adding his first score of the season. Berger has yet to carry the ball more than 15 times in a game at Wisconsin.
Guerendo’s score came as a bit of a shock to those in attendance. While the crowd was flashing its cell phone lights and singing along to ‘Fireflies,’ Guerendo was off with a bang and found pay-dirt, 82 yards later, for the fifth longest rushing touchdown in school history.
“The really simple break down of it is Isaac’s fast as hell, let’s get him on the outside and let him go score,” quarterback Graham Mertz said. “It was funny, we were in the huddle and I looked at all of the guys, and I was like, why not make it a quick one? It was funny, Isaac took off and I thought did I just jinx that, or did I call it, is he gonna get got, or is he gonna score?”
Allen, a true freshman, who was the fifth running back used in the game, recorded his first collegiate carry and scored his first career touchdown, while diving over the offensive line for a 1-yard score in the fourth quarter. Allen (No. 0 below) rushed seven times for 30 yards.
While Wisconsin’s rushing attack was the driving force, one could say that the Badgers defense paved the way with its suffocating play.
The Badgers defense held Eastern Michigan to 92 total yards and only allowed three first downs in the game, with one coming on a penalty. Wisconsin forced seven three-and-outs in the game, including the Eagles’ first four drives. Overall, the Eagles were 2-for-11 on third down.
Of the 92 yards allowed in the game, 76 yards came in the air, with Wisconsin being without starting corner Faion Hicks and starting safety Collin Wilder, the defense as a whole stepped up.
“Number one job of the defense each week is stopping the run,” said defensive end Matt Henningsen. “I think we did a good job of that tonight and obviously as a defensive line, just getting to the quarterback, not letting him have time, not making our guys in coverage cover too long.”
An that is just what Wisconsin did, it pressured Eastern Michigan’s quarterbacks, picking up two sacks and one interception.
With Wisconsin allowing just 16 rushing yards, Wisconsin has now held an opponent to under 50 rushing yards 14 times during defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s tenure. Wisconsin, Utah and Georgia have all accomplished the feat the same number of times, which lead the nation, during that span.
While the game did not end in a shut-out, Wisconsin’s defense gave up zero points, as Eastern Michigan’s only score of the game came on a 98-yard interception return by Darius Boone, Jr, off of a Chase Wolf pass when Wolf relieved Graham Mertz in the second half.
Mertz, who came back into the game following the interception thrown by Wolf, had a bounce back game against the Eagles. He finished the game 14-for-17 for 141 yards and looked at lot more comfortable in the pocket and threw the ball well, completing passes to five different receivers.
Four receivers had at least three receptions, including Kendric Pryor (four), Danny Davis, Chimere Dike and Jake Ferguson (all with three).
Following the 27-point win, Wisconsin has an early bye next week and will then take on Notre Dame (2-0), at Soldier Field, in Chicago on Sept. 25.
“Taking a look at the past two week and really being hard on ourselves to see what we need to improve on,” said Mertz of the early bye week. “That’s just the little details, it’s the run track so you don’t trip your guy up, it’s executing on third down, it’s all the little details, working the 2-minute, completing all those balls, for us it will be great to dive into the little stuff.”