Entering the bye week, the Wisconsin Badgers faced some tough news, as running back Chez Mellusi was diagnosed with a fractured fibula that he sustained during the fourth quarter of the team’s 38-17 win over the Purdue Boilermakers, effectively ending his 2023 season.
The Badgers offense had finally found a strong balance, not only between Mellusi and top back Braelon Allen, but also between the run and the pass that allowed for a quick start against Purdue, leading to the comfortable three-score victory.
However, Mellusi’s injuries changed the plans, as the Badgers will now have to find ways to cover the 13 carries per game that the running back was accustomed to.
A realistic step? Getting top back Braelon Allen more opportunities, which the running back believes will occur after conversations with the staff over the bye week.
“[Conversations with the staff were] pretty simple, pretty quick, I guess. We didn’t have any really deep talk about anything,” Allen said to the media on Tuesday.
It was more so just [head coach Luke Fickell] telling me there’ll be a little more added to my plate, which obviously I’m more than willing to handle. I think it’s a good opportunity for me and the other running backs to have to step up too.”
However, the loss of Mellusi doesn't only have on-the-field ramifications, but also off-the-field, as the senior was one of the leaders of the locker room.
With Mellusi out, Allen understands that an added responsibility is becoming more of a leader.
“Not having a guy next know, like Chez, I’m gonna have to be more of a leader,” Allen said. “Kind of step up in that way. Know, obviously he was the senior in the oldest, you know, he was kind of the heartbeat of our room. So not having know, I got to step more into that role. Not that I wasn’t before, but just having to do more of that now.”
Does Allen believe there’s additional pressure in looking to cover what the Badgers are losing in Mellusi? Not necessarily.
Instead, the top back is looking to just play his game, while embracing the added opportunities that could come his way.
“I don’t think my mindset [is trying to] cover for what we’re losing in Chez,” Allen said. “I think I just have to play my game. That’ll be all we need [and] all I need to do.”
“Obviously, like I said before, I have a little bit more on my plate, which is perfectly good with me. Like I said, just playing my games to the best of my ability.”
With Allen, an issue in the past has been durability, with last year serving as an example, as the lead back battled through injuries as a bellcow in November, showcasing more signs of sluggishness and limited capabilities.
How has Allen looked to improve on that aspect this season?
“There’s only so much you can do. Football obviously, is going to wear down on you, but I think it’s just the training over the offseason, whether we thought it or not, me and Chez, we’re both preparing to if either of us were put in a situation where we kind of had to take over, we’re going to be ready for it physically,” Allen said.
“So, I think that’s just the training. Coach Brady and his staff, what they did with us in the offseason throughout the summer has me prepared.”
The Badgers have their first test without Mellusi this weekend when they face off against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, with kickoff slated for 11:00 A.M.