Chez Mellusi returns to action, carries rushing load for Wisconsin Badgers in their comeback win over Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. – Chez Mellusi didn’t miss a beat.

The senior running back returned to action Saturday after a five-week absence and played a key role in Wisconsin’s 15-14 comeback victory over Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. His 21 carries and 98 rushing yards were season-highs.

With star sophomore Braelon Allen nursing nagging injuries, Mellusi’s return came right on time for a team desperately trying to become bowl eligible and show the powers that be in the Wisconsin athletic department that Jim Leonhard is the right man to be the program’s permanent head coach.

If Mellusi had his way, he would have been back long before Saturday.

“I feel like I had that moment two weeks ago,” he said when asked when he felt he could handle the workload he was given against the Cornhuskers. “It was just the doctors and trainers being cautious. I’m not new to this process, so I just made sure I was ready.”

Wisconsin vs. Nebraska: Chez Mellusi, Isaac Guerendo come up big for ground game plus other awards from a comeback road win

Mellusi’s career at UW has been slowed by injuries. After transferring from Clemson before last season, he missed the final four games after tearing his left ACL. He was having a solid season this year – 223 yards in 56 carries – before suffering a broken right arm against Northwestern.

The injury occurred with 8 ½ minutes left in a 42-7 victory at Northwestern.

"First, I didn’t know (I was hurt),” he recalled. “I just felt something weird in my hand/wrist area. I actually stayed in for a couple of plays and started messing with it and then I was like ‘No, something is wrong.'”

The week immediately after the injury Allen carried a career-high 29 times. Rather than add another back to the rotation, Wisconsin leaned on Allen and Isaac Guerendo for carries.

Mellusi returned to practice in a limited capacity in advance of the Iowa game. The Badgers could have used his help against the Hawkeyes, though there were issues on the offensive line that made it tough for anyone carrying the ball.

"It was tough. I know I could have made an impact in some of these games,” Mellusi said. “Waiting and being patient, that is why I feel I played so hard today.”

Wisconsin scored three times in the second half Saturday and Mellusi had key moments during each possession. He had six carries for 33 yards in a 14-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal by Nate Van Zelst that gave UW its first points of the game with about five minutes left in the third quarter. Mellusi ran three times for 16 yards during a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Graham Mertz to Skyler Bell with 10 minutes 7 seconds left in the game and cut the Nebraska lead to 14-9.

And on the game-winning possession Mellusi's 5-yard run put UW on the 1-yard line and set up Mertz’s touchdown on a sneak.

“That guy’s been through a lot and there is a power when you go through a lot of stuff and he’s got that for sure,” Mertz said. “I’m so proud of him, how he fought back and how he battled today. It was infectious.”

Meanwhile, Allen was unable to go after the first play of the final possession.

“I’m hurting, I’ll be honest,” he said. “But a win makes it much better.”

Despite being in and out of the lineup Saturday, Allen finished with 92 yards in 18 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per run. His 22-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest gain in the drive that ended with Bell’s touchdown reception.

“We have to be smart with him. We know he’s banged up,” Leonhard said. “It’s probably not getting better until this (season end). Trying to be smart. Having Chez back will be a huge help because (Allen) is a warrior. He wants to play. He wants every touch He doesn’t want to come off the field.

“I’m proud of what he’s going through, but we have to continue to be smart with how we use him, when we use him.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Chez Mellusi makes triumphant return in Wisconsin's win over Nebraska