The Wisconsin Badgers hosted the Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday in front of a home crowd of 75,610 at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers found themselves in familiar early-game woes, with Braelon Allen only mustering four carries for 16 yards. The newly adopted Air Raid offense continued to struggle with just 95 passing yards in the first half — most of those yards coming from just two plays.
The Badgers continued to play sloppy offense, resulting in several three-and-outs and frustrating illegal shift penalties that prevented them from gaining any meaningful momentum. The score was knotted at 7-7 as the halftime whistle blew.
The Badgers exhibited a mix of reliability and inconsistency on defense in the first half. They only allowed 7 points and escaped tight spots several times, either due to errant throws by Eagles quarterback Davis Brin or missed opportunities, including a failed field goal attempt by Eagles kicker Michael Lantz at halftime that kept the game level.
The second half began much like the first, with the Badgers sputtering to a three-and-out on their first drive. They planned to go for it on 4th and 1, but an illegal shift penalty pushed them back by 5 yards, forcing another punt.
The Eagles seized the momentum on the ensuing drive, partially thanks to a contested catch by Joshua Thompson between two Badgers cornerbacks that propelled them to the 25-yard line. A 25-yard reception by Jjay Mcafee put the Eagles ahead 14-7.
The turning point arrived when Allen sprinted for a 32-yard gain deep into Eagles territory. He plunged over the goal line three plays later with a 4-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
From there, the Badgers never looked back. Their defense stepped up significantly, forcing three consecutive turnovers — including two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The defensive line began to pressure Brin more while the secondary contested passes more effectively.
The Badgers' offense also caught fire, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive drives. A glimpse of the Air Raid offense emerged with a 45-yard pass to Badgers tight end Hayden Rucci in the middle of the fourth quarter, followed by a 17-yard reception by transfer wide receiver CJ Williams.
All five touchdowns Saturday came on the ground — true to Wisconsin’s style — thoughTanner Mordecai managed to accumulate 236 passing yards and complete 19 of 30 passing attempts.
Allen had a stellar game, racking up 94 yards and two touchdowns, while Chimere Dike led the Badgers in receiving with 57 yards.
On the Eagles' side, Brin threw for an impressive 383 yards but struggled with five interceptions. Derwin Burgess Jr. was the top receiver with eight receptions for 124 yards. Surprisingly, the Badgers' offense ended up with fewer total yards and first downs than the Eagles, but Georgia Southern's turnovers ultimately cost them the game.
Defensively, the Badgers dominated with six sacks and seven tackles for loss. Darryl Peterson stood out with two sacks and three tackles for loss, while Hunter Wohler contributed with one sack, one tackle for loss and two interceptions.
Wisconsin and adjustments:
The Badgers struggled to start strong in their games this season so far. They were tied at halftime against Georgia Southern, trailed by 15 against Washington State and only had a small four-point lead over Buffalo. It's not easy to win games when you're playing catch-up in the second half.
But the good news is that Wisconsin has a knack for making smart changes during halftime. They scored 14 more points than Buffalo, 13 more than Washington State and 14 more than Georgia Southern in each third quarter.
If the Badgers can start the first half stronger while keeping up their third-quarter success, they could become a dominant team.
Despite Wisconsin's historical reputation for producing exceptional defensive front-seven talent and running the ball effectively, their secondary has been a consistent concern this year. Miscommunications among Badger cornerbacks Saturday allowed Eagles wide receivers to make significant plays.
Instances like a 16-yard catch on 3rd and 11 by Khaleb Wood, a 27-yard catch on 3rd and 6 by Dalen Cobb and a remarkable 68-yard catch by a double-covered Joshua Thompson highlighted the need for improvement in the secondary. These lapses must be addressed to ensure a more robust defensive performance moving forward.
Running game trumps Air Raid
Wisconsin is still a running back school, and Braelon Allen is still the engine to this offense.
The Wisconsin offense stalled in the first half. Allen only had four rushes for 16 yards, and Mellusi wasn’t any better. The Badgers offense picked up when Allen started running the ball better, opening up space for Mellusi and Mordecai to start making plays.
Head coach Luke Fickell had a great passing playbook at Cincinnati, Phil Longo did incredible things with star QB Drake Maye at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill last year and Tanner Mordecai broke passing records at SMU. But even with all these new additions to Wisconsin, what works best for this offense is running the ball.
The Badgers face an uncommon Friday night lights game later this week against Purdue in West Lafayette at 6 p.m..