Badgers: Luke Fickell talks Chez Mellusi, bouncing back after getting humbled, Braelon Allen’s lack of carries and more

Luke Fickell made his weekly appearance in front of media members Monday morning. Coming off a disappointing 31-22 loss to Washington State on Saturday, the Wisconsin head coach hit on a number of topics over nearly 30 minutes.

Here are some of the more notable aspects of the press conference:

Mellusi still hurting

For the first time in his career, Chez Mellusi lost a fumble against the Cougars. It came at the worst possible time, with the Badgers trailing 24-22 with 9:39 left and sitting at midfield. Washington State would take the break and turn it into a two-score lead and the Badgers wouldn’t challenge again.

“He was crushed after the game,” Fickell said of Mellusi. “It’s not one play. That’s what we remind everybody all the time, but it is hard. A guy that has that much pride, he’s worked that hard and he knows that the opportunities are not like you’re going to line up and get the ball 35 times. They’ve got a great duo of guys (with him and Braelon Allen.) So it makes it even more difficult.”

Mellusi is Wisconsin’s leading rusher so far this season, with 206 yards and three scores. He figures to be needed, along with Allen, if the Badgers are to get back on track against Georgia Southern on Saturday. That was Fickell’s message to the fifth-year senior.

“I think everybody has got the utmost confidence in him and that’s what he’s got to have in himself,” Fickell said. “And we had a little conversation after practice (Monday), because I still think he was hanging on to it, which is something you can’t do, regardless of what the situation is after 10, 12, 15 hours, some would say 24, I think that’s too long. You got to move on, you got to put it past you.

“What you’ve got to remember is the feeling. So those feelings are what continue to motivate you. You don’t let them hold you back, so I fully expect him to not bat an eye over it. I can tell you that he took it really hard. But you saw the kind of maturity that his teammates have and the trust they have in him.”

Being humbled

When Fickell spoke with reporters after the game, he made clear they didn’t play well and that the Cougars deserved credit for making more plays than his club. After looking at the film, the coach’s mind hadn’t really changed.

“We got outplayed, to be honest with you. That’s just being real,” Fickell said. “And we said that to our guys after the game, especially when you go on the road, you’ve got to earn everything that you’re going to get. And we didn’t do a good enough job at that.”

But it does provide, albeit a less than ideal one, for another teaching and learning opportunity. It’s a bit of a cliche but how a team responds from a bad loss says a lot.

“When you get punched in the gut, what’s difficult about actually losing is can you be as constructive on yourself because you have some of those feelings of not obviously, coming out on top and having a victory,” Fickell said. “So that’s a challenge to us that we’re hopefully going to embrace. I know us as coaching staff, me in particular, are definitely going to embrace it.

“This game is humbling and we got humbled a bit in that way. But we’re excited about moving forward, because there is no time to rest and relax.”

Helping them to embrace the situation is the fact the loss didn’t really do anything to the team’s ultimate goal — compete for a championship. It won’t be in the College Football Playoff but that was always unlikely. The game came in the non-conference and has zero impact on the Big Ten West race and pushing for a conference title.

“You have everything still sitting right out in front of you. To me, that’s what’s important,” Fickell said. “It’s also a realization that we’ve got to continue to move forward. And I hope that allows us to focus on the journey and what you need to do to get better as opposed to the destination.”

Lack of Braelon Allen carries

Wisconsin’s star running back had never carried the ball fewer than eight times in a game he started. That was until he managed to get just seven carries for 20 yards (his second fewest in a game he started) against the Cougars. He did not speak with reporters after the game, but Fickell gave some insight on what Allen was thinking.

“It’s not the same as it has been,” Fickell said of force feeding the team’s lead running back. “I think that’s where we’ve all got to recognize that. I’m not saying it’s right, or it’s better, or whatever it is. But there’s there’s a flow to things. I think he’s mature, he understands that. He’s disappointed. He obviously wants to touch the ball a lot more, and feels like — more than just selfishly — like he can be more of an impact. And I agree with him, he can be more of an impact. But the opportunities that we get, we’ve all got to take advantage of.”

Allen does have 13 catches through two games, including six against Washington State, though it has led to just 37 yards.

Injury update

The Badgers could be getting back two guys for the Georgia Southern game that were expected to be impact players.

Fickell said defensive lineman Isaiah Mullens and Jake Renfro may be cleared as soon as this week after missing a large portion of fall camp and the first two games. Mullens had a scope on his knee in August, while Renfro suffered a foot sprain midway through the preseason.

Tight end Riley Nowakowski traveled to Washington State but was a spectator with a boot on his right foot. Fickell does not think he’ll be ready for the next two games and they are likely looking at the game against Rutgers on Nov. 5 following the team’s bye.