If you were looking to glean some big takeaway about the Wisconsin Badgers after their second game, well, this wasn’t the contest for that.
Wisconsin played bully ball against its overmatched foe, Eastern Michigan, taking control of the game in the first half and meandering through the final two quarters in an easy 34-7 win.
If there was any question how the Badgers were approaching this game, it was answered quickly as UW ran the ball on its first 15 plays. We did, however, find out a few things, which will presumably remain as the games continue: Chez Mellusi is still the starter and while he is capable of breaking a big run at a moment’s notice, he’s not necessarily a breakaway back (that role is saved for Isaac Guerendo). Also, Jalen Berger does in fact still exist and will be a big part of Wisconsin's offense, regardless of his puzzling absence in the season opener.
The Badgers defense was, as expected, dominant. At the end of the first half, Wisconsin had more yards in penalties committed (25) than Eastern Michigan had in yards of total offense (23).
The Eagles never got anything going and didn’t cross midfield until their final drive of the game. In EMU’s first eight possessions it punted all eight times and in seven of those went three-and-out. The Eagles finished with 92 yards – 48 of those coming in the final quarter – and three first downs. That’s the fewest yards allowed by the Badgers since Sept. 7, 2019 against Central Michigan. Wisconsin also gave up just three first downs in that ’19 contest, just the second time since 2000 and the 17th overall in FBS during that span. It also was the fourth time since 2000 in which the Badgers didn’t give up a first down via rush. Dominated, indeed.
Even against a lesser opponent, though, Wisconsin had some issues. Another botched handoff when Graham Mertz and Mellusi tripped over each other. Two red-zone failures, totaling now five of those in two games. A pick-six thrown by backup Chase Wolf. A not-so-impressive 5-of-13 on third-down conversions after going 7-for-21 vs. Penn State last week.
It didn’t matter, of course, against an opponent like Eastern Michigan. But tougher opponents await and questions surrounding Wisconsin will be answered in those matchups, but not this one.
The Badgers did get a win, though, and an easy one at that. There’s nothing bad about that but it might be the only thing we truly learned about the Badgers.
Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
We never do this but we’re going to make an exception here and just give it to the defense. That unit, particularly before subs entered in the second half, as we mentioned above (see eight consecutive punts), controlled things. The Badgers’ defense allowed no touchdowns -- the 11th time in 50 games that’s occurred under defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard – or any points, for that matter. Eastern Michigan had 23 yards at the half, including minus-13 rushing. It wasn’t much better after three quarters, as the Eagles were averaging only 1.6 yards per play (44 yards on 27 plays). Why was this never a contest? The defense. And it was a total team effort as no one had more than three tackles or one tackle for loss (six total).
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Mellusi continues to make a splash. He finished with 144 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, including a 60-yard run, the longest for Wisconsin since 2019. In the first half he had 100 yards on nine rushes. He became the fourth Badgers RB since 2000 to have back-to-back 100-yard games in his first two games at Wisconsin, joining Anthony Davis (2001), P.J. Hill (2005) and Corey Clement (2013). Only Davis and Mellusi, however, did it against two FBS teams (Davis had a four-game streak to open his time with the Badgers, it ending against, ironically, an FCS team). Hill did it in three straight, with two FBS opponents sandwiched between an FCS.
With just under five minutes remaining in the first half, Guerendo took a handoff, broke free and raced all the way to the end zone for a touchdown and a 24-0 Wisconsin lead. It wasn’t the score itself, though, which stood out. It was how fast Guerendo got there. Once he got ahead of the pack, no one was catching him. According to Wisconsin, Guerendo reached 22.15 mph on the run. Based on last week’s top speeds – and certainly this week there could have been faster – Guerendo would rank third among the max speeds reached in college football this year. Yes, we just used a Wisconsin player and speed in the same sentence. Sorry to ruin the narrative.
Wisconsin gained 352 yards rushing – its most since 2019 – on 6.4 yards per carry, with four scores on the ground. It was the first half, of course, when the Badgers did their most damage, rushing for 275 yards (on 32 carries, an 8.6 average). That’s the most rushing yards Wisconsin had in a first half since racking up 286 in the first two quarters against Nebraska on Nov. 15, 2014.
THEY SAID IT
"I thought we had a good plan. I thought guys were attacking, and obviously it takes the front seven, but the safeties are so involved with that. I thought they were really good and impacted in the passing game, too. Keeanu (Benton) had the knock down, Henny (Matt Henningsen) had a knock down, Henny get the sack. I just like the way that group is playing right now." -- head coach Paul Chryst on the defense
"Yeah, thought he did some good things. You're right, it was a different type of game. I still think we got to be — and this isn't necessarily on Graham, but as an offense we got to be better on third down. I didn't think we were great on third down. I said that's not just Graham. That's me, that's everyone. But I thought he was confident and protection was good and he played poised, and I thought that part was good." -- Chryst on quarterback Graham Mertz
"Chez is just that new edition. He runs hard and reminds me of Garrett Groshek and Jonathan Taylor at the same time — kind of shaking off a couple tackles and getting some extra yards.” -- tight end Jake Ferguson on running back Chez Mellusi
"To be honest, I can't really give an answer right now. It's in the past now. I'm ready to move forward." -- running back Jalen Berger on why he didn't play in the opener
"I feel like we stayed dominant. That's what we expect from our defense. We just kept our foot on the throttle." -- defensive tackle Keeanu Benton
A week of rest and then a matchup against Notre Dame at Chicago’s Soldier Field at 11 a.m. The Fighting Irish are 2-0 after a pair of three-point wins at Florida State and at home vs Toledo. Former Badgers quarterback Jack Coan had a big game against the Seminoles – 26-of-35 passing for 366 yards with four touchdowns and an interception – then led the Irish to a touchdown with just over a minute to play to avoid an upset against the Rockets, finishing 21 of 33 for 239 yards with two TDs and a pick. Notre Dame will look to go 3-0 when it hosts Purdue on Saturday.