Badgers: Kamo’i Latu led the team in tackles one day after surgery, another WR hits the portal and Braelon Allen on his fumble in OT

Kamo’i Latu never thought about not taking the field Saturday at Michigan State. Not when a teammate stepped on his right hand in practice last week and broke it. Not when he was told he’d need surgery to fix it, including a screw being put in his knuckle. And not when he left the hospital following surgery Friday, hours before the team charter left for East Lansing.

“When I woke up from getting put under (during surgery), all I was thinking about was Michigan State,” Latu said Monday. “Obviously, I had to club it up, which I knew it was going to come with some challenges, but it’s football.”

Latu played with a large club that encompassed his entire hand and wrist. When he first saw it, he thought it looked like a boxing glove and that excited him. Still, the challenges he mentioned included the inability to disengage from blockers as easily as he normally would and not being able to grab with both hands as attempted to wrap up a tackler, something that cost him a tackle on a kickoff when the returner slipped out of his grasp. Any potential opportunities for an interception might have been a tough task, though Latu insisted he caught every pass during pregame warmups.

Despite those obstacles, the sophomore transfer from Utah led the club with a career-high 13 tackles and played a central role in a fourth down stop on the goal line in the first quarter. His big game left him sitting second on the team in tackles, trailing only linebacker Maema Njongmeta.

Having Latu was significant for a Wisconsin defense that has been hit hard at safety. Senior Travian Blaylock went out in the spring with a torn ACL, sophomore Hunter Wohler hasn’t played since the opener due to a broken ankle and redshirt sophomore Preston Zachman missed Saturday’s game with an injury.

“I told them I’m playing whether they got to club it up or whether I got to play with one arm,” Latu said of his determination to suit up. “It’s something I tell this team, I’m willing to go out there and put my body out there and put my life on the line. I love these guys to death, man. I love this team and love these coaches.”

Latu had a follow up appointment Sunday where the doctor told him things were looking good and that swelling had gone down. But even with that improvement, you’re likely going to see the club again this week against Purdue, though Latu is hoping for something smaller.

Another WR in the portal

For a second straight day one of Wisconsin’s wide receivers entered the transfer portal. Redshirt freshman Markus Allen announced his decision Sunday night and that was followed by junior Stephan Bracey’s post on social media Monday morning that he was also leaving.

Bracey struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, playing in just five games over his four seasons and none this year. When healthy the Michigan product showed some of the athleticism that intrigued the Badgers when they recruited him, including on a 91-yard kick return for a touchdown against Nebraska last season.

In addition to Allen and Bracey leaving, quarterback Deacon Hill and offensive lineman Logan Brown (dismissed from the team) also put their names in the portal since coach Paul Chryst was fired Oct. 2. Players on teams where the head coach gets let go have 30 days to enter the transfer portal or they have to wait until Dec. 5 when the next transfer window opens.

The fumble

Braelon Allen was among several key players that declined to speak with reporters after the Michigan State game, so it wasn’t until Monday that he was able to explain his lost fumble in the second overtime period.

“It was a corner blitz,” Allen said of Ameer Speed coming hard off the edge. “I saw it and tried to cut back. As I was getting tackled (linebacker Jacoby Windmon) punched the ball out.

“(Running backs coach Al) Johnson preaches high and tight all the time. We actually practice falling on the ball close to your chest. I guess at that point you just got to lock it up with both hands. I didn’t do that, so that’s the consequence.”

The lost fumble was the first of the season for Allen.

Not for swag

Graham Mertz has worn a glove on his left hand the last two games and it’s not a fashion statement. It comes out of necessity after the quarterback injured his thumb while trying to stiff-arm an Illinois defender Oct. 1. Inside the glove is a splint for the thumb.

“(The injury is) nothing major, but that’s not for swag. It’s more for functionality. I mean, I’ve never really been a glove guy,” Mertz said. “It’s just a little extra support. That’s the first time I’ve ever worn a glove in game, but everybody’s like, ‘Oh, it’s so swag.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t really care.'”