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Key Questions For Wisconsin Badgers 2024 Season

Updated: Apr 30


 Wisconsin Badgers running back Chez Mellusi
© Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin entered the 2023 season with high expectations under new head coach Luke Fickell, a new offense coordinated by Phil Longo, several talented players added through the transfer portal, and one last season in the weak Big Ten West division.


However, the season was a disappointment as the Badgers finished 7-6, third in the Big Ten West, and ended the season with a tough 35-31 loss to LSU in the ReliaQuest Bowl. With the Badgers set to kick off their season on August 31st against Western Michigan.


Let's examine three questions that must be answered on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.


 

Three questions the Wisconsin Badgers offense must answer…


Which Tyler Van Dyke is arriving in Madison?

Last year, Tanner Mordecai arrived with high expectations based on the 72 touchdown passes he threw in the previous two seasons at SMU. However, the Badgers' offense, and Mordecai, never found any rhythm during the season, and he only threw nine touchdown passes.


Mordecai ended up being more effective with his feet, finishing the season with over 300 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns. Somewhat surprisingly, Mordecai showcased his overall athletic skills at Wisconsin's Pro Day, running a 4.46 40-yard dash and jumping 36.5 inches vertically. Perhaps the Badgers should have showcased his athletic abilities more last year in terms of the play calling.



The Badgers decided to go for another one-and-done transfer quarterback, with Tyler Van Dyke arriving in Madison from the University of Miami. Van Dyke was a four-star recruit in the 2020 class and had early success at Miami, winning the 2021 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year award with 2,931 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, and six interceptions.


However, Van Dyke did not enjoy similar success in his next two seasons, averaging 2,269 yards passing, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.


Van Dyke has the prototypical size you want in a quarterback at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and has the arm talent to make all the passes at the college level. He does not appear to be mobile and has not done a good job with ball security, based on the 12 interceptions he threw last season alone.



Prediction - The Badgers are banking on the 2021 version of Tyler Van Dyke showing up in Madison and providing a strong passing attack to complement the rushing game, not the 2023 version. Look for the Badgers to get a mix of the two, given the strength of schedule they are facing, and Van Dyke finishes with 2,573 yards passing, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.


Can Chez stay healthy?

Running back Chez Mellusi arrived as a transfer from Clemson in 2021 and had a good season, finishing with 815 rushing yards, 4.7 yards per carry, and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, he only played in nine games as he suffered an injury to his left leg against Rutgers that ended his season.


Mellusi started the 2023 season showing off how well his skill set complimented the new Badger offense, rushing for 157 yards on just 13 carries (12.1 yards per rush) and two touchdowns in a win against Buffalo. Once again, Mellusi's season was cut short in the fourth game against Purdue when he suffered another season-ending injury to his left leg.


Last season, Wisconsin tried to utilize the running back more in the passing game, as Braelon Allen finished with 28 catches for 131 yards, a miserable average of 4.7 yards per catch. At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, Allen is not built for quick passes out in the flat in terms of having the quickness and agility to quickly turn his body upfield and make a nearby defender miss.


On the flip side, Mellusi is 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds and has the quick-twitch ability you want from a running back in the passing game.



With Allen leaving early to go to the NFL, Mellusi will be the top running back entering the 2024 season for the Badgers.


The transfer addition of running back Tawee Walker from Oklahoma will help provide another option to help with production at the position. Make no mistake about it, Mellusi must stay healthy for the whole season for the Badgers to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.



Prediction - Mellusi can stay healthy for the majority of the season and only has to miss one game. He finishes with 1,272 rushing yards, 516 yards receiving, and 17 total touchdowns (13 rushing and four receiving).


What is the offensive identity?

A common misconception is that the Badgers' Air Raid offense primarily focuses on passing. This is likely due to the attention Mike Leach's Air Raid offenses received when he coached at schools such as Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State.


The offense run by Phil Longo is about identifying mismatches and getting the ball to athletes in space, whether that be via the pass or run. According to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, North Carolina had more rushing attempts (2,041) than passing attempts (1,696) in the four seasons Longo was the offensive coordinator at the school. In 2023, the Badgers attained almost a perfect 50/50 split between the two, finishing with 454 rushing attempts (49%) and 469 passing attempts (51%).


“I’d be an idiot not to run the football here with the backfield that we have and the offensive line that we have" - Offensive coordinator Phil longo prior to the 2023 season.


Whether they are running the Wishbone or the Air Raid offense, the Wisconsin Badgers MUST run the ball to play winning football.


Take one glance at the table below, and you will notice the Badgers rushed for two times more yards in victories than they did in losses.

Outcome

Passing Yards Per Game

Rushing Yards Per Game

Rushing Touchdowns Per Game

Wins (7)

188 yards

212 yards

2.7

Losses (6)

257 yards

100 yards

0.5

Prediction - The Badgers finish the season with a more optimal split between the run and pass game, with a 59/41 split, with the 59% being running plays.


 

Three questions the Wisconsin Badgers defense must answer…


How dirty will the opposing quarterback's jersey be after the game?

Defensive football is fairly easy if you can stop the run and get consistent pressure with a four-man rush in passing situations.


The Badgers finished the season ranked seventh in the Big Ten with 135.1 rushing yards per game and ninth in the Big Ten with 29 sacks overall. It's important to note that almost half of the 29 sacks occurred in three games against Georgia Southern (6), Washington State (4), and Ohio State (4), while the Badgers had nine games with two or fewer sacks.


As with most college football teams, the transfer portal giveth and taketh away. The Badgers lost several defensive linemen in the portal to the SEC, with Gio Paez going to LSU and Rodas Johnson landing at Texas A&M, but they picked up a couple of intriguing players at linebacker with Jaheim Thomas (Arkansas) and Leon Lowery (Syracuse).


Both players had 3.5 sacks for their respective teams last year, and the Badgers' defense has been known for strong pass rush production from their linebackers when you think of players like T.J. Watt, Nick Herbig, Joe Schobert, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Zach Baun. It's important to note that all five of those players were on NFL rosters in the 2023 season, so the production carries forward from Saturdays to Sundays.


Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Jaheim Thomas
© Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction - This remains a weakness for the Badger defense, and they finish the season with 31 total sacks.


Will the Grinch steal success from the defense?

Several months ago, the Badgers announced they had hired Alex Grinch to join their defensive staff as safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator. This is a hire that was not well received by Badgers fans, given Grinch's recent struggles at USC that led to his firing last season in November.


The USC defense was ranked 119th in yards allowed per game and 121st in points allowed per game when Grinch was fired and had given up 101 points in his final two games coached against California and Washington.


Are the Badgers getting the USC version of Alex Grinch? Or are they getting the Alex Grinch who was very successful in turning around defenses at Oklahoma and Washington State? Under Grinch for total defense, Oklahoma's defense improved from 114th to 29th, and Washington State's from 99th to 16th.


USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction - As Bum Phillips famously said, "There are two kinds of coaches, those that are fired and those that are going to be fired." Grinch was not a good fit at USC, and both sides were in need of this change. Grinch didn't suddenly lose the coaching abilities and knowledge that made him successful at his prior stops and will have a positive impact on the Badgers' defense.


Can the Badgers turn up the turnovers?

The Badgers' defense only forced 17 turnovers (13 interceptions and four fumbles recovered) in 2023 and ranked 59th overall in turnovers per game. Those numbers are somewhat misleading, given that Wisconsin had six turnovers alone in the 35-14 win over Georgia Southern early in the season.



What helps a team generate more turnovers compared to the prior season? The easy answer is to get better defensive players and play a weaker schedule. While there will always be a component of luck with turnovers, given a tipped ball may not be caught or a forced fumble is not covered, your likelihood of having more turnovers goes up if you have better players on your side of the ball.


Prediction - While the Badgers open up with a couple of creampuffs in Western Michigan and South Dakota, Phil Steele ranked the Wisconsin 2024 schedule as the 12th toughest in the country, given it includes the likes of Alabama, USC, Penn State, and Oregon. Look for the Badgers to struggle again with forcing turnovers, and they finish the year with 18 turnovers.


 

Badger Nation - Will you be jumping around in 2024?


The easy answer is yes because Badger fans enthusiastically jump around before the fourth quarter at every home game!



Facing a murderers' row of opponents in 2024, the Badgers must address all six key questions reviewed in this article to succeed. However, this is unlikely, so expect a season with highs and lows, where the team's talent and performance outshine its final record.





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