In case you haven’t noticed, Paul Chryst and the offense for the Wisconsin football team have found their identity, and it’s one that most Badger fans will find to be quite familiar. The Badgers are now back to playing “Wisconsin Football” behind a strong run-blocking offensive line and a clock-eating power running game.
Chez Mellusi transferred to Wisconsin from Clemson in search of greater opportunity, and that’s exactly what he’s found at Wisconsin. Mellusi earned the starting running back job out of fall camp and has been the one constant in a running back room that has faced its own set of turmoil this season. Through 8 games, Mellusi has compiled 740 yards rushing on 158 attempts (4.7 YPC) and 4 touchdowns. His quick burst and finesse style of running has helped bring life to this offense when it’s in a lull.
But the Badgers’ backfield has really hit its stride since forming a true committee with true freshman running back Braelon Allen.
At just 17 years old, it’s hard to fathom what Braelon Allen is accomplishing in the Big Ten as a true freshman. Four weeks ago, Allen was finally given the necessary snaps to make an impact in the run game against Illinois. All he’s done since then is run for 483 yards on 66 attempts (7.3 YPC) with four touchdowns over the last four weeks. To say he’s taken the opportunity and run with it would be an understatement.
Braelon Allen rushing stats over the last four weeks:
Illinois – 18 carries, 131 yards (7.3 YPC), 1 touchdown.
Army – 16 carries, 108 yards (6.8 YPC), 1 touchdown.
Purdue – 12 carries, 140 yards (11.7 YPC), 2 touchdowns.
Iowa – 20 carries, 104 yards (5.2 YPC).
Despite only seeing the field in 6 games this season, Allen has registered 532 yards rushing on just 78 attempts (6.8 YPC) and 5 touchdowns. The only thing keeping him from seeing more carries and possibly becoming the 1A in this timeshare would be ball security (4 fumbles).
Snap counts last four weeks Braelon Allen vs. Chez Mellusi
Illinois: Braelon Allen – 30 snaps, Chez Mellusi – 31 snaps
Army: Braelon Allen – 23 snaps, Chez Mellusi – 24 snaps
Purdue: Braelon Allen – 16 snaps, Chez Mellusi – 32 snaps
Iowa: Braelon Allen – 29 snaps, Chez Mellusi – 28
Essentially this has been a true timeshare over the four-game winning streak. Had Allen been able to take better care of the football against Purdue, it’s fair to assume the workload would have been close to an even split yet again.
These two backs have been a nearly perfect complement to one another, and have been one of the main reasons this offense has re-established an identity as a power-running team. Their different styles of running keep opposing defenses on their toes and offer a change of pace when the other needs a breather. Each back has totaled four 100+ yard rushing efforts, two of which have come together (Illinois, Purdue).
Playing “Wisconsin Football” starts with the offensive line
Early in the season, it was clear the offensive line was in a state of flux – and that could be putting it mildly. However, the early struggles shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
Two of Wisconsin’s newest starters on the offensive line had minimal on-field experience entering 2021. Starting center Joe Tippmann had played just 11 career snaps at right guard entering this season, and starting right guard Jack Nelson had only played 9 career snaps at right tackle.
Not to mention, starting right tackle Logan Bruss missed time in fall camp with a leg injury and left tackle Tyler Beach missed just about all of fall camp with a leg injury of his own.
So, the starting unit had very little time to practice together before the season started and even navigated an eight-man lineman rotation early in the year that has since been done away with.
Now, during the Badgers’ four-game win streak this Wisconsin offensive line is clicking on all cylinders, and run blocking has become a significant strength for this offense. Over the last four games, Wisconsin has run for 1,045 yards on 201 carries (5.1 YPC).
Wisconsin Football controls its own destiny in the Big Ten West
After the massive victory over the 9th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisconsin is in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten West and make the Big Ten championship – all they have to do is win out.
With their last four games of the season coming against Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Minnesota that would appear to be plenty doable given the offense establishing an identity, and the defense is one of the best units in the entire nation.
After an abysmal start to the season, don’t be surprised if you see your Wisconsin Badgers get closer to hopping back into the top 25 polls after four straight wins, and two consecutive wins over ranked opponents.