MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s players are making a strong argument that interim head coach Jim Leonhard deserves to have the job for keeps.
Isaac Guerendo ran for an 89-yard touchdown and combined with Braelon Allen for 233 yards rushing as Wisconsin defeated Maryland 23-10 on Saturday. Wisconsin (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) improved to 3-1 under Leonhard, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after the firing of Paul Chryst last month.
“Of course, I think there’s nobody more deserving than him,” said outside linebacker Nick Herbig, who had two of Wisconsin’s five sacks. “It blows my mind that he’s not the (permanent) head coach yet.”
With each team throwing for just 70 yards amid windy and rainy conditions, Wisconsin’s superior ground attack made the difference.
Allen rushed for 119 yards on 23 carries and gave the Badgers the lead for good with a 9-yard touchdown that opened the scoring late in the first period. Guerendo ran 12 times for a career-high 114 yards, including the 89-yard score that made it 14-0 in the second quarter.
“It didn’t seem as though they were as affected by the elements as we were,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “That starts with me as the head coach.”
Guerendo said the Badgers prepared all week for the likelihood of poor weather. Wisconsin outrushed Maryland 278-112.
“We knew it was going to be a run-the-ball type of day,” Guerendo said. “I appreciate the o-line for blocking their butts off today all day, opening up holes for me and Braelon.”
Guerendo delivered the play of the day in the second quarter as he put Wisconsin ahead 14-0 by cutting to his right and racing down the Badgers’ sideline while carefully staying inbounds.
“Mr. Tightrope himself,” quarterback Graham Mertz quipped. “That was definitely fun.”
Wide receiver Chimere Dike provided some exceptional downfield blocking to help Guerendo complete the fifth-longest run from scrimmage in program history. The school record is owned by Allen, who had a 96-yard touchdown in a season-opening 38-0 victory over Illinois State.
Nate Van Zelst provided the rest of Wisconsin’s points by going 3 of 4 on field-goal attempts.
Wisconsin’s defense capitalized on the elements to bother Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa all day. Wisconsin ended Maryland’s string of 10 straight games in which the Terrapins had scored at least 27 points.
Although he entered Saturday having completed 72.5% of his passes to rank fourth among all Football Bowl Subdivision players, Tagovailoa went just 10 of 23 against the Badgers. The lone touchdown for Maryland (6-3, 3-3) came on a 5-yard completion from Tagovailoa to Tai Felton with 57 seconds left in the game.
Tagovailoa had missed Maryland’s most recent game – a 31-24 victory over Northwestern two weeks ago – with a knee injury. Tagovailoa said the knee wasn’t a factor in his struggles on Saturday.
Neither team threw the ball particularly well due to the weather. Mertz was 5 of 18.
“If you were going to try to throw it much over 10 yards, the ball was going to be affected in a big way,” Leonhard said.
Wisconsin’s defense benefited from the return of Herbig and safety Hunter Wohler.
Herbig had missed Wisconsin’s 35-24 victory over Purdue two weeks ago with a knee issue, while Wohler hadn’t played since breaking his fibula in the season opener. Wohler improved his Big Ten-leading sack total to eight and Wohler had his first career interception.
Wisconsin’s two straight wins have raised hope the Badgers can produce the type of late-season surge that assures Leonhard remains in charge next year.
“I think everybody in this locker room wants him to be our guy,” Dike said. “He is our guy. The better we can perform, the better chance he has to get that job. I’d be shocked if he didn’t, honestly.”