Wisconsin defeated Army 20-14 in a fast-paced Saturday night showdown at Camp Randall Stadium.
In a game with a mere 21 total pass attempts between the two teams, the Badgers outran the Black Knights and improved to 3-3 on the season. Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen led the way with 108 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, and Chez Mellusi added 66 yards on 16 attempts of his own.
Jim Leonhard's defense put on a run-stopping clinic highlighted by linebacker Leo Chenal, who recorded 17 total tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Linebacker Jack Sanborn accounted for 12 total tackles, and free safety Scott Nelson tallied 11.
The game began on a sour yet familiar note for Wisconsin's offense, with quarterback Graham Mertz losing a fumble on the fifth play of the opening drive. Despite taking over at Wisconsin's 43-yard line, Army was unable to score.
It wasn't until the Badgers' third possession that they got the ground game moving, as Allen opened the drive with four consecutive runs for 22 total yards. An 18-yard completion to tight end Jake Ferguson and some more productive runs took Wisconsin into Army territory at the end of the first quarter.
A 4th-and-1 conversion by fullback John Chenal prolonged the drive. Then, Allen broke off a 33-yard touchdown to open the scoring. The 6'2", 238-pound tailback displayed excellent patience on the run, pausing at the line of scrimmage before bursting to the left for an uncontested dash to the end zone.
Wisconsin added six points on its next possession: a 10-play, 81-yard march that was arguably their best drive of the season, highlighted by probably the two best offensive plays of the night for Paul Chryst's squad. First, the Badgers punt unit successfully converted a fake near midfield, with Sanborn taking a direct snap up the middle for eight yards. Then, wide receiver Danny Davis III made a beautiful adjustment on an admittedly underthrown pass from Mertz, leaping to reel in a 36-yard catch.
Mertz would eventually put the finishing touch on the drive on a five-yard touchdown run, practically jogging in for the score after a convincing play-action fake. Army blocked Collin Larsh's ensuing extra-point attempt, so Wisconsin carried a 13-0 lead into halftime.
Army scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and got the ball back, trailing 13-7, with 4:25 remaining. Facing a 3rd-and-4 at their own 15-yard line, the Black Knights had to drop back and pass. It went as poorly as expected, with Leo Chenal bursting through and drilling quarterback Jabari Laws, who coughed up the football and gave Wisconsin a first down at Army's one-yard line.
Mertz picked up his second rushing touchdown with a quarterback sneak, and it took a last-minute Army drive to make the final score respectable.
Defensively, Wisconsin's sole task was stopping the run, and they performed admirably, holding Army to 179 rushing yards on 50 attempts for a 3.6-yard average. An offense featuring frequent triple-options and other concepts foreign to the Big 10 managed only 266 total yards. The Badgers countered tight offensive formations with heavy personnel sets and allowed few impactful runs.
The only Army quarterback to attempt a pass was Laws, who completed 5 of 6 for 87 yards. Because of the Badger defense's all-out commitment to the run, Laws was pummeled each time he threw the ball.
Wisconsin's defense tackled excellently overall, feeding off the energetic crowd and delivering hard hits throughout the contest.
On offense, the Badgers stuck to the formula of their previous two wins and — much like their opponent — gave the quarterback few passing opportunities. Mertz completed 8 of 15 attempts for 112 yards, accumulating over half his yardage to tight end Jake Ferguson (four catches, 58 yards). It was an adequate — albeit unremarkable — performance by the oft-criticized sophomore.
A big takeaway from Saturday's win is that Braelon Allen needs more carries. Despite his second-quarter success, he went 30 minutes of game time without a carry before getting the ball with 11:07 remaining in the fourth quarter. Right away, Allen strung together runs of 5, 5, 10 and 6 yards. He displayed impressive vision at the line of scrimmage, and his combination of size and speed makes him a formidable threat in open space.
Mellusi has enjoyed a strong season thus far, but Allen appears capable of establishing himself as Wisconsin's top running back. Isaac Guerendo is out for 2021 with a leg injury, and Jalen Berger was dismissed from the program, clearing the way for Allen to become a workhorse.
Having won consecutive games for the first time this season, Wisconsin will head to Purdue for a 2:00 p.m. matchup against the 4-2 Boilermakers, who just knocked off second-ranked Iowa in a decisive, 24-7 upset.