When Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell, it looked like a perfect fit for what we know the Badgers to be.

Successful Midwestern native with Big Ten roots and a defensive background. That description fit Bret Bielema to a T, and Barry Alvarez established the archetype.

But with his first major hire, Fickell is changing everything about Wisconsin as we know it. Fickell’s hire of offensive coordinator Phil Longo will be one of the biggest jolts seen in the Badger State since Prohibition was repealed.

Wisconsin has maintained the same offensive identity since Alvarez arrived in 1990 and scrapped Don Morton’s ill-advised experiment with the veer.

Bruising offensive line. Star running backs who put up gaudy numbers. And with the exception of Russell Wilson in 2011, a quarterback who is primarily asked to keep the Badgers out of harm’s way.

It’s pretty telling that Darrell Bevell — Alvarez’s second starting quarterback — is still Wisconsin’s career passing leader. Bevell’s career ended in 1995. Illinois is the only other Big Ten program whose career passing leader did not play a game in the 21st century. (Congrats to Jack Trudeau.)

With Longo and the right quarterback, it may take just a couple seasons for Bevell’s mark of 7,686 yards to finally fall.

Starting quarterbacks under Phil Longo

As you can see, the model Longo quarterback is a true dual-threat — something the Badgers haven’t had since Wilson’s one-off season.

  • Drake Maye (UNC, 2022): 4,115 passing yards; 653 rushing yards
  • Sam Howell (UNC, 2021): 3,056 passing yards; 828 rushing yards
  • Sam Howell (UNC, 2020): 3,586 passing yards; 146 rushing yards
  • Sam Howell (UNC, 2019): 3,641 passing yards; 35 rushing yards
  • Jordan Ta’amu (Ole Miss, 2018): 3,918 passing yards; 342 rushing yards
  • Jordan Ta’amu (Ole Miss, 2017): 1,682 passing yards; 165 rushing yards in 7 games
  • Shea Patterson (Ole Miss, 2017): 2,259 passing yards in 7 games

Wilson is Wisconsin’s single-season leader with 3,175 passing yards. In 4 of the past 5 seasons, Longo’s quarterbacks have thrown for more yards.

And in the lone exception — Sam Howell’s 2021 — Howell rushed for 828 yards compared to Wilson’s total of 338 rushing yards in 2011.

Howell’s maturation under Longo’s tutelage is perhaps the most impressive element here. Somehow, Longo was able to mold Howell from a pocket passer with 35 rushing yards in a full season to a dual-threat averaging 69 rushing yards per game.

Even if a quarterback doesn’t fit Longo’s system initially, he finds a way to make it work.

That said, success is never guaranteed when a new coordinator comes in. Much was made of Nebraska’s hire of Mark Whipple last offseason after Whipple helped Kenny Pickett to the Heisman stage at Pitt. The Huskers actually dropped from 5th to 6th in Big Ten passing this season.

One thing that is guaranteed: The Badgers are going to look dramatically different.

Tempo, tempo, tempo

For years, Wisconsin’s offense has known one speed: slow, slow, slow.

Since 2009, the Badgers have ranked in the top 10 nationally in time of possession in 10 seasons. Wisconsin led the nation in time of possession 4 of those years.

Longo’s offenses also know only one speed, but it’s go, go, go.

The 2020 Tar Heels were his slowest-paced offense. They ranked 45th nationally in time of possession.

Longo’s 2017 Ole Miss offense, the first he coordinated at the FBS level, was 128th. The Rebels spent an average of 25:12 with the ball. The same season, the Badgers controlled the ball for an average of 35:21 per game.

Ole Miss finished 9th nationally with 6.9 yards per play, while Wisconsin was 39th with 6.1 yards per play. But due to struggles in the red zone, it was the Badgers who actually finished with the higher-scoring offense — 33.8 points per game to 32.8 for Ole Miss.

Longo’s offenses have averaged at least 70 snaps per game 4 times in his 6 seasons as an FBS coordinator. Wisconsin only exceeded that total in 2020, when a 7-game schedule probably skewed the data in a way that may have played out differently in a full season.

Longo number of plays vs. Wisconsin number of plays

  • 2022: North Carolina (74.2 plays per game), Wisconsin (62.8 plays per game)
  • 2021: North Carolina (68.8 plays per game), Wisconsin (66.7 plays per game)
  • 2020: North Carolina (70.8 plays per game), Wisconsin (70.7 plays per game)
  • 2019: North Carolina (73.8 plays per game), Wisconsin (68.8 plays per game)
  • 2018: Ole Miss (71.7 plays per game), Wisconsin (67.3 plays per game)
  • 2017: Ole Miss (67 plays per game), Wisconsin (68.1 plays per game)

This tempo won’t just be a whole new world for the Badgers. It exists in an entirely different solar system.

Wisconsin: A wide receiver haven?

There have been 4 1,000-yard receiving seasons in Wisconsin history, and Lee Evans accounts for half of them.

Longo has coached a 1,000-yard receiver every year.

  • 2022: Josh Downs (1,029 yards)
  • 2021: Josh Downs (1,335 yards)
  • 2020: Dynami Brown (1,099 yards)
  • 2019: Dynami Brown (1,034 yards); Dazz Newsome (1,018 yards)
  • 2018: AJ Brown (1,320 yards)
  • 2017: AJ Brown (1,252 yards)

The Badgers haven’t had a receiver hit the 1K mark since Jared Abbrederis in 2013. It’s easy to see why Markus Allen, who previously hit the portal and committed to Minnesota, instead decided to rescind that idea and stay in Madison after Longo was hired.

Receivers will want to play in this offense.

The West’s most wide-open offense

Since Jeff Brohm took over at Purdue, the Boilermakers became the standard against which other passing offenses in the Big Ten West were measured. Not that there is usually much to measure.

The combination of Longo’s arrival at Wisconsin and Brohm’s departure from Purdue could change that calculus. In all likelihood, the Badgers will become known for having the most explosive passing game in the B1G’s smashmouth, defense-and-punting oriented division.

It’s going to take some getting used to. And it will be fascinating to see how well it works in a division that boasted 3 of the nation’s top 5 total defenses in 2022.

In less than a week, Luke Fickell erased any doubt who the new sheriff is in Madison. And he’s bringing the future with him.