The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 38-17 on Friday night, securing their first win in Big Ten play, but the victory was marred by the unfortunate injury to running back Chez Mellusi, which did not look good at first sight.
Mellusi, who has battled injuries throughout his career, had enjoyed a strong start to the season, rushing for 307 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries, but is now at risk of potentially missing out on the remainder of his final collegiate season following the injury.
Following the game, head coach Luke Fickell provided an update on Mellusi, who was taken for X-rays after the game and reportedly traveled back with the team late Friday night.
However, with the bye week approaching, the question now pivots from Mellusi’s availability to the potential replacements for the running back.
How will the Badgers look to replace Mellusi after the injury?
Fickell pointed to the team’s top reserves, Jackson Acker and Cade Yacamelli, as the players who should see the next reps at running back behind Braelon Allen.
Yeah, Jackson Acker and Cade Yacamelli [are the likely next guys up],” Fickell said. “I think those are guys we’re going to have to continue to get rolling.”
How do Acker and Yacamelli fit into the Badgers’ offense?
“They’re both big and physical guys,” Fickell said, providing a similar mold to what Braelon Allen has to offer, although the two’s skills are different.
For Yacamelli, Fickell pointed to the warranted hype that the tailback received in the offseason as the potential “next guy up”, adding that he’ll receive some opportunities to do so.
“Obviously, Cade is a guy that you’ve seen a little bit around here,” Fickell said. “I think that going into the season, a lot of people were talking about him being the next guy when these two guys(Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi) maybe were gone. So he’s going to get a lot more opportunities to do it. He’s just been more of a special teams guy right now.”
Acker, on the other hand, has been a versatile guy that didn't have a position coming into the offseason, but solidified himself as a solid running back, and has earned the No. 3 running back carries thus far this season.
“Jackson Acker’s been a guy that’s played all over the field. When we came in, we didn’t know what he was going to be,” Fickell said. “Was he going to be a fullback that maybe you didn’t have as much? Was he going to be a tight end? Was he going to move back into the wide receiver spot? Was he going to play at wherever? I mean, heck, we talked about moving over to defense, not really, but they wouldn’t let us.”
“But, I think he’s a guy that through all fall camp and things has really kind of honed his running back skills and I think we’ll see a lot more of them.”
When I watched him in the spring, Yacamelli impressed as a receiving back with his speed and hands, and that could be the role for him now as the potential No. 2 option, giving the Badgers’ desire to involve backs in the passing game.
Acker, meanwhile, provides a big body at running back that can work well with some of the power runs that Wisconsin incorporates into the offense.
But, the biggest issue will be the quick integration of both into a regular role, as the Badgers are more dominant offensively when operating in a timeshare and allowing Braelon Allen to keep his body fresh for the full season.
Allen could also warrant extra opportunities with Mellusi sidelined, but having that balance will be a key situation to watch in the coming weeks.