When Isaac Guerendo turned on the afterburners and raced down the sideline for an 82-yard score late in the first half Saturday night, he did more than record the eighth-longest touchdown run in University of Wisconsin football program history.
The junior tailback also interrupted a stirring rendition of Owl City’s “Fireflies” by the student section, which got drowned out by cheering from the rest of Camp Randall Stadium as Guerendo streaked toward in the north end zone.
Yes, a week after groans filled this place during and after a season-opening loss to Penn State, there was actually plenty to celebrate in the No. 18 Badgers’ 34-7 win over Eastern Michigan.
Let’s get this caveat out of the way early: This will be the worst opponent on UW’s schedule, and it’s not even close. Eastern Michigan received a whooping but collected a $1.4 million payday, a lose-win situation for the Eagles.
There was nothing the Badgers could do in this game to make up for what happened in their 16-10 loss to Penn State a week earlier, but there’s plenty of value in get-well games and certainly some things to be encouraged by as UW reaches a bye week before its showdown with No. 8 Notre Dame on Sept. 25 at Soldier Field in Chicago:
- Two big plays in the running game.
Chez Mellusi had a 60-yard run on UW’s second snap of the game and Guerendo topped it later in the half with his breathtaking burst.
Guerendo is a speedster and Badgers coach Paul Chryst somehow needs to get the ball in his hands more.
“I wasn’t lying to you guys about how fast he was,” UW quarterback Graham Mertz said. “Everybody got to see that.”
Which leads me to this …
- UW has three legit options at tailback and they complement one another.
“They do give you a little bit different (look),” Chryst said, “and yet I don’t feel like you have to change what you’re doing.
“As we go through this season, we’re going to need them all. They all have their different little style. We just need to keep getting better and keep growing there.”
Mellusi became the first UW player since Corey Clement in 2013 to top the 100-yard mark in the first two games of his career, finishing with 144 on 20 carries.
Meanwhile, sophomore Jalen Berger finally made his debut after spending the opener on the bench for reasons that remain unclear. Berger was solid between the tackles, finishing with 62 yards on 15 carries as he shook off the rust.
Guerendo was productive in a backup role in the opener against Penn State. He’s behind Mellusi and Berger on the depth chart, but that’s a pretty good No. 3 option that Chryst has in his back pocket.
“It takes a lot of pressure off each of us,” Berger said. “You don’t have to go around getting 30 carries just with one person. Each of us gets an ample amount of carries, so just being that three-headed monster feels great.”
- UW’s defense was practically flawless.
Yes, the opponent needs to be considered. But it would have been easy for the Badgers to be complacent during a game that was never really in doubt. Instead, they kept producing three-and-out after three-and-out.
Eastern Michigan didn’t produce a first down until nearly 26 minutes had elapsed in the game. It had one first down and 23 total yards in the first half.
The final tally for the Eagles: Three first downs, 92 total yards, 16 rushing yards.
It was an effort deserving of a shutout, but that got opportunity got ruined when backup quarterback Chase Wolf threw an interception that got returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Still, it was another impressive performance by a defense that — except for four big plays by Penn State in the second half — was great last week as well.
“Enormous pride,” UW senior defensive end Matt Henningsen said. “That’s what we do as a defense. Our goal as a defense is to be the most physical defense in the country. If we’re physical, that will result in them being unable to run the ball. If they can’t run the ball, it’s tough to throw the ball.”
Speaking of throwing the ball, UW didn’t do much of that against the Eagles. It would have been great to see Mertz attempt some deep throws, if for no other reason than to prove the Badgers have that capability.
Instead, Chryst chose a ground-and-pound attack and called 15 consecutive running plays to open the game. Mertz attempted 17 passes, completing 14 for 141 yards, and did what he was asked.
Nothing fancy, but a pretty clean effort other than a botched red zone effort on the opening series of the game. The main issue there was Mertz tripping up Mellusi on a handoff on a first-and-goal from the 7.
It was another example that the Badgers have plenty to clean up before playing Notre Dame.
“It’s big to get your first win of the season,” senior tight end Jake Ferguson said, “just to kind of get that ball rolling.”
As Ferguson’s famous grandfather was fond of saying, winning is good for the soul. And the Badgers’ soul needed this one after last week.