MADISON, Wis. — Braelon Allen understood the importance of his role following Chez Mellusi’s injury, sidelining Wisconsin’s leading rusher for the rest of the season.
Allen handled that burden as effectively as he has accepted every other task assigned to him during his exceptional freshman season.
The 17-year-old Allen rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns to help No. 20 Wisconsin beat Northwestern 35-7 for its sixth consecutive victory on Saturday.
“I told Chez I was going to finish the season for the both of us,” Allen said.
Mellusi, who hurt his left knee during a 52-3 victory at Rutgers last week, entered Saturday’s action ranked fifth in the Big Ten in rushing (815) and second in carries (173).
Allen stepped up, continued his emergence that coincided with the start of Wisconsin’s winning streak. He has rushed for over 100 yards in six straight games after totaling just 12 carries during Wisconsin’s 1-3 start.
He’s the first Wisconsin true freshman to run for at least 100 yards in six consecutive games since Anthony Davis in 2001. Allen improved his season rushing total to 834 yards.
“He knows how important he is to this group,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s got a great mix of he’s humble, he’s confident and I think today showed he’s got a chance to be special.”
Allen led a balanced team effort.
Graham Mertz threw two touchdown passes, and Wisconsin’s defense recorded four interceptions. Northwestern’s Andrew Marty was picked off three times for a second straight week.
Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten, No. 18 College Football Playoff) is tied with No. 19 Iowa (No. 20 CFP) for first place in the Big Ten West Division standings. Wisconsin beat Iowa 27-7 on Oct. 30.
“We’re blessed with an opportunity, a second chance,” said Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal, who had 14 tackles and a sack. “We’re just thinking about making the most of that second chance, not blowing it, not trying to get too ahead of ourselves, not thinking about anything else except the next game.”
Northwestern (3-7, 1-6) lost its fourth straight game.
Allen wasted no time Saturday showing he could pick up the slack in Mellusi’s absence.
He had seven carries for 86 yards during a 95-yard drive that put Wisconsin ahead for good. He started that stretch with a 37-yard scamper and ended it with a 2-yard touchdown.
The most spectacular of his 25 carries came late in the third quarter when he bounced off three defenders in the first 10 yards of a 33-yard touchdown that extended Wisconsin’s lead to 35-0. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin’s 1999 Heisman Trophy-winning running back, was on the sideline Saturday and offered Allen encouragement before that touchdown.
“I think after my first couple of carries, honestly, I was like, ‘These guys aren’t really trying to tackle. They’re bouncing off me,’” Allen said. “I think by the end of the game, it was the same thing. Start to finish, they weren’t really interested in it.”
That’s been an issue all season for Northwestern, which entered the day ranked 124th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in yards rushing allowed per game (224.89) and 121st in yards allowed per carry (5.4).
“We’ve got to tackle better,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got guys in position to tackle and we were up too high, didn’t wrap our arms. ... Fundamental stuff. A-B-C, 1-2-3.”
Mertz completed his first nine pass attempts and went 18 of 23 for 216 yards, including touchdown passes of 13 yards to Danny Davis and 11 yards to Jake Ferguson. He completed passes to nine different teammates and was intercepted once.
Northwestern’s lone score came when A.J. Hampton returned a Julius Davis fumble 49 yards with 11:38 remaining. The fumble was forced by Xander Mueller.
Northwestern wasted an 82-yard drive on its opening possession when Caesar Williams picked off a Marty pass in the end zone. Wisconsin then scored touchdowns on three straight possessions.
Northwestern: Inconsistent quarterback play has hurt Northwestern all season. Marty, one of three Northwestern quarterbacks to start games this season, went 10 of 18 for 100 yards. Ryan Hilinski took over in the fourth quarter and went 3 of 8 for 25 yards with one interception.
Wisconsin: The Badgers entered the weekend leading the nation in total defense, and they’ve gotten even more dangerous on that side of the ball now that they’re forcing turnovers. Wisconsin has 16 takeaways over its last four games after having just four in its first six contests. This marked the fourth game in which Wisconsin didn’t allow an offensive touchdown.
Wisconsin should rise a few spots as it tries moving closer to the top 15.
Northwestern: Hosts Purdue (No. 19 CFP) on Saturday.
Wisconsin: Hosts Nebraska on Saturday in its home finale.