Fall camp is in session for the Badgers and that means shoulder pads are bashing all over the place.
Coach Paul Chryst is entering his eighth season with his alma mater, and has a load of riches in the backfield. There’s no denying Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi were one of the best rushing tandems in the country last season. After all, the duo combined for a jaw-dropping, 2,083 yards on the ground and 17 rushing touchdowns.
Chryst made sure his squad went back to their bread and butter. And that’s a physical rushing attack, which is synonymous with Wisconsin. Barry Alvarez established the blue collar scheme and culture over three decades ago, and the program has produced a plethora of star-studded running backs along the way, including the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.
After Alvarez retired, Bret Bielema enhanced the ground game, and Gary Anderson kept it afloat. However, Chryst, who’s a former Badger signal-caller, lives and dies by the rushing attack on the gridiron. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wisconsin finished second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game last year, and returned all of that production.
Allen is the headliner, who steamrolled for 1,268 yards and 12 scores as a true freshman in 2021. He packs a lot of power behind his massive six-foot-two, 238-pound frame. Allen eclipsed the century mark in rushing in eight of the Badgers’ final nine games, including a 228-yard performance in the victory over Nebraska.
Mellusi is not as big as Allen, but he’s just as physical. The Florida native started out on four last season, and went over 100 yards rushing in four different games, including three conference tilts. Unfortunately Mellusi tore his ACL against Rutgers and missed Wisconsin’s final four contests.
Chryst emphasized at Big Ten Media Days that Mellusi was ahead of schedule approaching fall camp and how he expects him to be a full participant.
“Thankfully Chez’s rehab has been going well and he’s going to be able to start in fall camp,” Chryst said. “We have to be smart with how we introduce him back into it.”
Chryst is confident with the depth behind Allen and Mellusi. He knows it’s going to be vital when it comes down to injuries as his team navigates through the Big Ten gauntlet. And there’s nothing like that next man up mentality the coach’s eyes.
“I also think we got some other backs that are talented and can help our team,” he said.
Isaac Guerendo was Wisconsin’s third-leading rusher in 2021, and he’ll be battling for that third spot. Guerendo had a promising outing against Eastern Michigan, when he generated 92 yards on the ground and a score. Not to mention Julius Davis will be in the mix.
The challenge for Chryst will be sharing the workload with everyone. So many rushers and not enough touches can easily cause issues in the locker room. Regardless, Chryst believes they’re a close-knit group and they all have one common goal, which is to win. Wisconsin was picked as the favorite to win the West this season by Big Ten Media members last month, but Chryst doesn’t pay attention to the outside noise. Nor does he allow his players to.
“Our guys need to be smart enough to know none of that matters, and it’s what we do,” the 56-year-old said. “I think that’s what matters most is do we have the right approach for the full season.”
With three days of fall camp in the books, the Badgers are putting the pedal to the metal. Sooner or later the rushers will start to separate themselves. Everything starts with the big boys up front though. There’s enough leadership and experience on the offensive line for Wisconsin to have a lethal rushing attack again. Regardless, the offense appears to be poised for success, with arguably two of the nation’s best running backs in Madison.