Monday, October 02, 2023

Wisconsin run game a focus for Cougars on Saturday

Sports Reporter | September 7, 2023 1:58 PM

PULLMAN — The Washington State Cougars will welcome in No. 19 Wisconsin on Saturday, a rematch of last season’s Week 2 matchup where WSU took a 17-14 victory in Camp Randall Stadium.

Even with new offensive schemes for the Badgers this season, the game will still be decided upon whether or not the Cougars can stop the Wisconsin rushing attack, according to WSU Head Coach Jake Dickert.

“There’s no secret to want to start there, by cutting the head off the snake and stopping the run,” Dickert said at a press conference on Monday. “That’s always been the successful point of any defense that I’ve ever been a part of – this week will really be big.”

First-year Wisconsin Head Coach Luke Fickell came to Madison after seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bearcats, including a trip to the College Football Playoff Semifinals in 2021. The Bearcats averaged 34.4 points per game and 240.8 passing yards per game over Fickell’s final three seasons with the team, compared to Wisconsin’s 25.7 points per game and 175 passing yards per game over that same span. Nevertheless, Wisconsin’s identity of running the football remains present.

“They brought in new schemes and systems that they’re still getting comfortable with, but the identity of Wisconsin football is still there,” Dickert said. “Big, fast, tough, play aggressive, play with tons of effort. The core of what’s always been a perennial top-15 is there, and they’re getting used to new roles and new coordinators.”

The Badgers rushed for 174 yards on 44 carries in last season’s matchup between the two squads, with the average of four yards per carry being the Badgers’ fourth-fewest in a game last season. That experience in playing a run-heavy team will carry into this year’s matchup in Pullman, linebacker Kyle Thornton said.

“We know what kind of physical style they’re going to be,” Thornton said at a press conference on Tuesday. “They showed that last year. They’re obviously a different style, it’s still got the same physical people behind it. A lot of returners on offense, so we know it’s going to be a challenge on defense and we’ll be ready for it.”

The experience of capturing a road win against Wisconsin last season also plays a role, Dickert said.

“You always garner experience from games, playing in big moments,” Dickert said. “That was a fourth-quarter tight game down to the wire – you can never replicate experience.”

In their first game of the season, the Badgers ran the ball for 314 yards on 40 carries in a 38-17 win over Buffalo. Running backs Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen combined for 298 of those yards and four touchdowns. Against the Cougars last season, the duo totaled 142 yards combined.

“I don’t get to see everybody, but I’m not sure there’s a better two tailbacks on the same team in the country than what Wisconsin has,” Dickert said.

In stopping a run-heavy attack, a defense’s physicality is the premier factor according to defensive end Ron Stone Jr.

“Being more physical up front,” Stone Jr. said at a press conference on Tuesday. “That’s how you stop everything, that’s what decides almost every football game. For a team that wants to run the ball or tries to run the ball, if you hit the o-line in the mouth every play they won’t have much success.”

Kickoff between the Cougars and Badgers is at 4:30 p.m. in Pullman. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.

Ian Bivona may be reached at



Washington State defensive end Ron Stone Jr. (10) makes contact with former Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz. Stone said that stopping Wisconsin’s rushing attack comes down to the physicality of the defense.



Wisconsin running back Chez Mellusi (1) accounted for 157 of the Badgers’ 314 rushing yards in last week’s win over Buffalo.

Recent Headlines