MADISON, WISCONSIN – SEPTEMBER 17: Braelon Allen #0 of the Wisconsin Badgers scores on a 39-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against the New Mexico State Aggies at Camp Randall Stadium on September 17, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Badgers: Studs and Duds vs. Illinois

The Wisconsin Badgers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) fell to the Illinois Fighting Illini (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) 34-10 on Saturday afternoon.

The Badgers looked disjointed all around. Now 0-2 in conference play, Wisconsin is on a backslide.

Here are the studs and duds from Saturday’s loss.

Stud(s):

The Wisconsin Badgers offense (on the first drive)

After being blown out by Ohio State, the Wisconsin Badgers needed to come out swinging on Saturday, and they did just that. While the rest of the game didn’t pan out, the first drive was great for the Badger offense.

Senior running back Isaac Guerendo had a solid opening kickoff return that gave Wisconsin excellent field position. Graham Mertz quickly stepped up, completing all four of his passes for 54 yards on the first drive. The drive was capped off with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Mertz to Guerendo, putting the Badgers up 7-0 in just under a minute.

Quickly after the first drive, UW’s offense began to crash and burn. Wisconsin would only put up three more points in the next 59 minutes.

While there were very few positives to take away from this game, the Badger’s first drive was well put together and looked like something the Badgers could build off of. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Duds

The Wisconsin Badgers run game

Wisconsin is a program built on establishing the run, and they failed to do that on Saturday.

The Badgers running back duo of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi put up an unbelievably poor performance.

Allen, the Badger’s RB1, put up a stat line of eight carries for two yards. That’s right, two yards, an average of 0.3 yards per attempt. The 18-year-old back was unable to break through the formidable Illini defensive line.

Mellusi was the leading rusher in this game, but his stat line was nothing to rave about. With seven rushing attempts, the Clemson transfer gained only 16 yards on the ground. The Badgers running backs simply had no answers, but it wasn’t entirely on them.

The Illinois defensive line completely outplayed Wisconsin’s offensive front. The offensive line allowed six sacks in this matchup and struggled to give the running backs a hole to run through.

The Illini defense deserves a lot of credit in this one, and the Badgers offense needs a long look in the mirror after a disastrous performance.

Defense

To be fair to the defense, they were put in difficult situations due to the shortcomings of the Badger’s offense. However, the defense could not get out of their own way either.

The secondary was the most concerning group in this one. The Fighting Illini quarterback, Tommy DeVito, threw for 167 yards on 18 completions. While the secondary didn’t allow a touchdown through the air, they made several mistakes that allowed Illinois to keep their foot on the gas. Cornerback Jay Shaw was flagged twice for pass interference, including on fourth down at the one-yard line. That penalty allowed the Illini to score on the very next play. While the call was questionable, it was enough for the official to call it and give Illinois seven points shortly after.

One other group that raised some concern was the Badger’s pass rush. Wisconsin failed to get any pressure on the quarterback, an ongoing theme for the defense. While Keeanu Benton had a great game, he was really the only Badger creating any sort of panic in the backfield. UW will need to find some answers on the defensive front and start to get in the backfield once again.

Wisconsin has matchups against some strong offenses coming up. If the defense can’t get out of their own way, it will be a long season for Jim Leonhard and company.

Paul Chryst

Chryst looked completely disinterested on Saturday. It seemed that every time the camera panned to Chryst, he had his arms crossed or on his hips with a blank expression.

The game plan was one of the most questionable of the year. By that, I mean there was hardly any game plan to be found. It was hard to imagine the Badgers coach stooping any lower after the Washington State and Ohio State losses, but it seems that the Badgers have hit a new low.

Wisconsin played boring and disinterested football. The Badgers were dominated in the time of possession, in the trenches, and on the ground. There were virtually no positives to take away from the matchup, and that starts with the coaching.

As I said earlier, Wisconsin is backsliding. Chryst needs to figure it out now, or UW will need to do some soul searching and really think about the direction of this football program.

Injury luck

While this is completely out of Wisconsin’s control, the injuries were the cherry on top of the disastrous game.

The Badgers, already stretched thin at tight end with the injury to Clay Cundiff, couldn’t afford to lose another tight end. Disaster struck when Hayden Rucci suffered an injury in the second quarter. Now without their top two tight ends, the Badgers will be shorthanded moving forward.

The injuries didn’t stop there, as Guerendo and Keontez Lewis also suffered injuries. Both players seemed to be in a lot of pain when they suffered their injuries, but no updates have been made available yet.

The Badgers now face a challenge with injuries to three offensive weapons. One thing to keep an eye on going forward is how the Badgers will adapt to these injuries.

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