MADISON, Wis. — No. 12 Wisconsin’s offense started 2021 like it played much of 2020, leading to a 16-10 loss to No. 19 Penn State on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Offense: Chez Mellusi
Chez Mellusi came to Wisconsin because he wanted an opportunity to show what made him a 4-star recruit coming out of high school. The Badgers gave him plenty on his first day in the backfield. The former Clemson running back carried the ball 31 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. The carries were three more than he had the entire season last year and the yardage was a career high. Mellusi had four runs for negative yardage but countered that with six carries of 10 or more yards.
Wisconsin’s defense wasn’t on the field for very long – just 51 plays – but Sanborn stood out. The Badgers held Penn State to just 50 yards rushing and got after quarterback Sean Clifford. Sanborn accounted for two of the eight tackles for loss and one of their two sacks.
— Starting inside linebacker Leo Chenal missed the game due to a positive COVID-19 test. He will also miss the Eastern Michigan game next week. Senior Mike Maskalunas started in his place and had two tackles, including one tackle for loss.
— Several true freshmen saw the field for the first time, including running back Braelon Allen and safety Hunter Wohler. Each was on the kickoff team to start the game. Allen was also in on kickoff return.
— Wisconsin welcomed its fans back to Camp Randall Stadium for the first time in 651 days. The announced crowd was 76,832.
— Five players made their first career starts: running back Chez Mellusi, center Joe Tippmann, right guard Jack Nelson, cornerback Isaiah Mullens and linebacker Mike Maskalunas.
— Jalen Berger was Wisconsin’s leading rusher last season and listed second the depth chart coming into the game. However, the redshirt freshman did not play a single snap against Penn State. Coach Paul Chryst was asked why, and he did not explain it other than saying he felt Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo played well and took the carries available.
— Wisconsin lost its home opener for the first time since 1995.
Inside the Numbers
90.6 – That was Graham Mertz’s passer rating, the second-lowest in his eight starts. The Wisconsin quarterback struggled, especially when forced to go to a second or option. Mertz had two intentional grounding penalties, a botched handoff exchange with Mellusi that resulted in a turnover, threw an interception on fourth-and-goal with 2:26 left, missed a wide-open Chimere Dike on the final possession for what should have been the game-winning touchdown and then threw a game-sealing interception.
“Obviously not proud of how it ended,” Mertz said. “There are definitely a lot of things that fall on my plate that I need to clean up and I will. I’m going to do anything I can to make sure I’m ready to go and this team is ready to go. There’s a lot of stuff I need to clean up. I’ll be ready.”
1-4 — That was Wisconsin went in the red zone. It included not getting any points out of first-and-goal at the 2-yard line in the first half and first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the second half.
Danny Davis asked where the offense needs to be better:
“Just capitalizing in the red zone, man. That’s it.”
0 – That’s how many turnovers Wisconsin forced. It’s the first time in 13 games the Badgers didn’t take the ball away from their opponent.
99 – That’s how many yards receiving Danny Davis had. It was a career-high for the senior and it came on eight catches, which was the second-most he’s had in a game.
247 – That’s how many yards passing Sean Clifford had. Of that, 143 came on three passes, including a 49-yard touchdown to Jahan Dotson. Safety Scott Nelson said afterward that all their issues were communication related.
43 – That’s how long the field goal was that Collin Larsh hit to give the Badgers a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter. It was just his third make of 40-plus yards. He had been 2-for-7 coming in.
4-6 — That’s Wisconsin’s record in its last 10 games. The Badgers also fell to 10-16 under Chryst against top-25 teams, including 0-6 against Ohio State and Penn State.
Wisconsin (0-1) will host Eastern Michigan next Saturday with kickoff coming at 6 p.m.