Better or worse? Previewing Wisconsin's offense in 2022
Wisconsin’s offense took some steps forward and back last season.
In the running game, we saw a true running back workhorse emerge in the form of true freshman Braelon Allen. He joined former running backs Ron Dayne, James White, and Jonathan Taylor as the only RBs in program history to have 1,000 yards rushing as a true freshman.
As a whole, the Badgers were No. 8 offensively in the B1G in terms of yards per game with 371.1. However, Wisconsin was also the No. 2 B1G rushing offense behind Michigan with 210 yards rushing per game.
While the rushing numbers looked great, there is some work to be done on the passing aspects. Wisconsin still doesn’t have a consistent option at QB returning, and it could cost them.
Will the returning pieces of the Wisconsin offense be enough to help the Badgers win the B1G West in 2022? Here’s what the offense could look like for the season ahead:
Passing offense: EVEN
Paul Chryst’s offense is mainly run-heavy, but Braelon Allen can do only so much. That’s why it makes sense to put “even” for the passing offense, depending on which version of QB Graham Mertz decides to show up.
In 2020, Mertz showed a lot of promise in his first season as the starter, with 1,238 yards passing and a 9-to-5 TD-to-interception ratio in 7 games. Then Mertz took a step back in 2021, throwing 11 interceptions in 12 games.
Here is one of Mertz’s lowlights from the 2021 version where he threw back-to-back pick sixes against Notre Dame:
This could change if Mertz finally lives up to the hype of being Wisconsin’s highest rated QB recruit since Bart Houston back in 2012. Like Houston, he was also a 4-star QB per the 247Sports Composite.
It will be an interesting season for Mertz as he lost weapons like WR Danny Davis III, TE Jake Ferguson, and WR Kendric Pryor to the NFL Draft. Wisconsin did go to the transfer portal to get Mertz another weapon in UCLA transfer Keontez Lewis, although he didn’t record any stats during his time there. He will also still have the likes of Markus Allen and Chimere Dike to throw to as well even if they are unproven.
What has bogged down Wisconsin in the past is that the Badgers haven’t had consistent play at the QB position, much like Iowa. If Mertz can finally break through the mold, then Wisconsin could be tough to stop.
Running offense: Better
Braelon Allen and the Wisconsin run game had a breakout year last season, and it can only go up from there. With the addition of new offensive line coach Bob Bostad, Wisconsin should put up similar numbers on the ground to 2021, if not better.
Here is a video of Allen setting a new personal best at a team workout session:
1 pound PR 😎 4. 0. 6. pic.twitter.com/5BgOk8BPeQ
— Braelon Allen (@BraelonAllen) February 28, 2022
If you go back and look at Bostad’s past offensive lines, you can see one similarity: tough, physical lineman. In 2012 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the majority of his starters were over 300 pounds. The line included names like Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, and 323-pound center Ted Larsen.
Allen is only going to get bigger and stronger, but there are still some questions at the offensive line. If Logan Brown can finally get over the hump, he will be a big help. There is also the question of which of the other young linemen Bostad will end up using.
If the passing game can get going for Wisconsin this season, it will take a huge load off of the running game.
Special Teams: Worse
On paper, the special teams unit will most likely get worse because the Badgers will have a new kicker in 2022 with Collin Larsh turning pro and unproven returners coming back.
It looks like the kicking competition will come down to Arkansas transfer Vito Calvaruso, Jack Van Dyke, or Nate Van Zelst. The only problem with this list is that 2 out of the 3 players haven’t been used on field goals yet and have mainly been kickoff specialists so far. Van Zelst hasn’t even seen the field yet, as he redshirted during his first year.
The Badgers will also be looking for a reliable kick returning option. WR Stephan Bracy Jr. and CB Dean Engram had their moments last season. The only problem is keeping Bracy on the field. If he can stay healthy, he should be a viable option for the Badgers as a returner in 2022. Engram looks like he will be one of the team’s main punt returns, fielding 15 punts last season for 76 yards.
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) November 20, 2021
However, if Engram is unable to, there are other options that Wisconsin can use as well. Chimere Dike, Skyler Bell, or Markus Allen could all see some reps as returners if that’s the case.
It’ll be interesting to see what the special teams looks like for Wisconsin in 2022 with Chris Haering now coaching the tight ends.
The majority of Wisconsin’s offensive number will improve enough to say that the unit will be better than it was in 2021. Braelon Allen will get a great chance to build off the start he had in Madison in Year 1. Chez Mellusi should also be back after a season-ending injury last season for depth and versatility in the RB room.
Graham Mertz has a great opportunity to change his narrative as well, as unpredictable as he may be. However, if Wisconsin can find a way to balance its attack, the Badgers should have a decent chance at a division title.
The Badgers haven’t won the B1G West since 2019, but have a solid chance in 2022 despite some inconsistencies on offense. With Iowa losing a lot of its talent to the NFL, Wisconsin will be controlling its destiny. The question is, how far will they go?