7 way-too-early predictions for Wisconsin's offense in 2022
There’s a known commodity with the Wisconsin offense this season, and a new face.
Wisconsin returns veteran quarterback Graham Mertz, and adds Baltimore Ravens assistant Bobby Engram as the new offensive coordinator.
Mertz has said this spring that the Badgers might not depart much from their traditional run-oriented style but should have enough new elements that fans will notice the difference.
Here are 7 way-too-early predictions for Wisconsin’s offense in 2022:
The Badgers are trying to reverse a troubling trend of their scoring offense dwindling in recent years to less than 26 points per game. The last 2 seasons have been the lowest-scoring season averages during the Paul Chryst era, at 25.4 and 25.1. By comparison, the Badgers averaged 34.1 in 2019, 29.7 in 2018 and 33.8 in 2017. Remember, entering last season, the thinking was that Mertz had more pass-catching targets with Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor, and Chez Mellusi arrived from Clemson to boost the rushing attack.
Look for the Badgers to return to form and average close to 30 points a game this season.
On the surface, it appears the new offense will only offer wrinkles here and there, but the bread and butter will stay the same. New coordinator Bobby Engram is tasked with taking Mertz’ experience and coaching it to another level. But there’s some in the fan base who would be just fine if Engram can coach Mertz to limit the turnovers, hand the ball off to Braelon Allen and get out of the way.
The key will be the play-calling, and even though Engram has referred to it being a collaborative effort, there needs to be a clear difference from recent seasons, which is why he was hired and why the offense has stagnated in recent seasons. If Chryst gives Engram enough freedom, that can happen.
There were chants for Caleb Williams during a men’s basketball game, but Graham Mertz is still the quarterback and he’s still excited for this season. Mertz is due for a bounce-back season after he had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10) in 2021. His career has seen its share of ups and downs.
Mertz is known to have an aggressive mentality, and given his experience, he brings a professional approach. It still feels that more is needed. “How can we stretch defenses out and make them cover the whole field?,” Mertz said earlier in the spring.
However, with this much institutional knowledge about Mertz, it’s difficult to see him reach 15 touchdowns and 2,500 yards.
Health has been a concern for Chez Mellusi, and not only did he have an ACL injury last season, he also battled a hamstring problem.
Still, he ended the season with 815 yards and 5 touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Because he missed all of spring practice, he may be overlooked heading into the season, but the Clemson transfer has more than 1,200 career rushing yards and 11 touchdowns over the last 3 seasons. What’s more, he also averaged nearly 10 yards per catch last fall. While attention will be on Allen, look for Mellusi to have a couple big games.
Tyler Beach/Offensive line
One of the key elements of the offensive line is Tyler Beach, who returns for an extra season, and will move inside from tackle to guard. New offensive line coach Bob Bostad appears to have found another gear in Beach, who is 6-foot-6 and 315-pounds and has played in an eye-popping 47 games.
Beach will be a deciding factor for the offensive line, which also returns Joe Tippmann and Jack Nelson to block for Braelon Allen. There’s a strong theory that the struggles of the offensive line are a main factor in Mertz’ struggles. Also, Bostad’s coaching style is a clear contrast to former position coach Joe Rudolph.
Bell only played 9 snaps as a true freshman, but he offers outside speed that the Badgers need to stretch the offense. He turned heads this spring as he became one of quarterback Mertz’s top targets. That breakout development is crucial for an offense in desperate need of more playmakers because Chimere Dike is the only receiver on the roster who has caught more than 3 college passes.
Bell will be a difference-maker for the Badgers.
The Badgers need some proven experience for their wide receivers, and that’s what Dike offers as he brings a career with 31 catches for 461 yards and two touchdowns worth of experience to an otherwise unproven receiver room. Last year, he made 19 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown. He’s due for a legitimate breakout season following a strong spring and he has all the tools to be a true WR1 for the Badgers. He’s on board with that breakout potential.
“The game is just slower for me,” Dike said. “I have played a lot of football at this point, and I know how to win on different routes. The speed of the game has slowed down, so I can process things easier. The game feels more in my control. I feel like I can dictate what happens more.
“From the beginning (of freshman year), it’s gotten slower and slower. I feel like going into this spring, it took a big jump for me just in the speed. I was pretty comfortable last year in playing. But I feel like I’m really comfortable now with the speed — diagnosing what’s happening and knowing how to win.
“The faster you can process, the faster you can play and the faster you can execute.”