Wisconsin football: Stock report following Week 1
Wisconsin football started the 2023 season on Saturday, securing a win to kick off the Luke Fickell ear in Madison. The good news is the Badgers dispatched of Buffalo 38-17 behind a strong second half, but it was far from a smooth ride.
During his Monday press conference, Fickell even admitted he was less fired up than usual for a win, partly because there was some sloppiness involved. But, at the end of the day, 1-0 sure beats 0-1.
Now, the Badgers will prepare for a road trip to Washington State, a team that rolled into Madison and beat Wisconsin a season ago.
Players of the Week: RBs Chez Mellusi, Braelon Allen
Mellusi and Allen both played a major role in Wisconsin’s offensive attack. In the first quarter, it was Mellusi scoring the program’s first touchdown of the season before adding his second score of the day after halftime.
While Mellusi started the scoring, it was Allen who was leaned on down the stretch. He scored a touchdown at the end of the third quarter to provide some breathing room and another with just over 6 minutes left in the game to ice things away.
Combined, the duo rushed for 298 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Newcomer of the Week: WR Will Pauling
Pauling is one player who hit the transfer portal and ultimately decided to follow Fickell to Wisconsin from Cincinnati. He turned in the top performance from a Wisconsin receiver in the opener, finishing with 5 catches and a team-high 55 receiving yards.
Overall, Wisconsin will need more from its receiver room, but Pauling had a nice outing to build on moving forward.
Biggest surprise: Lack of passing production
A lot was made during the offseason about Fickell bringing in offensive coordinator Phil Longo and the Air Raid offense to Wisconsin. The potential for that offense remains high, but the Week 1 performance left some kinks to be worked out.
In the passing game, Tanner Mordecai finished with just 189 passing yards despite 24 completions. Whether that is because of Mordecai’s inconsistent outing or a need for more playmaking from the receivers, Wisconsin will look for more from the passing attack moving forward.
Biggest concern: Tanner Mordecai’s shaky outing
Speaking of Mordecai, it was far from a great afternoon for the SMU transfer. He did complete 24-of-31 passes, but the 189 yards do not speak to an efficient passing attack.
Mordecai connected with Chimere Dike on a 29-yard score, but the rest of the afternoon left something to be desired. The other struggles for Mordecai include a pair of interceptions to account for.
Developing trend: Dynamic backfield when fully healthy
Braelon Allen enters his junior season looking for a 3rd-straight season with at least 1,200 yards rushing. While Chez Mellusi has not hit those numbers with the Badgers (just over 1,200 yards combined across 2021-22), he’s still an important part of the backfield.
In the season opener, it was Mellusi’s 89-yard score that appeared to set a spark in the second half for the Badgers. There’s no denying the Wisconsin backfield is at its best with Allen and Mellusi playing off one another, and the Badgers will look to keep both healthy this fall.
Key stat: 40 rushing attempts
Wisconsin football has been known for elite tailbacks and a strong rushing attack. That makes it understandable when some fans have concerns about an offensive approach known as the “Air Raid.”
Hopefully, Week 1 put most of those concerns to bed with 40 rushing attempts for 314 yards. Longo himself said the run game is a key part of what he’s trying to achieve, and the Badgers will certainly lean on the strength of their backfield throughout the season.
First impression about Week 2 at Washington State
Wisconsin will now turn around and gear up for a west coast trip to face Washington State on the road. The Badgers are likely to be favored in that contest but will need to avoid taking the Cougars lightly.
During the 2022 season, Washington State came into Madison and held Wisconsin to 14 points. That performance included 3 turnovers from the Badgers and 11 penalties.
Washington State started the season with a 50-24 road win over Colorado State and did not allow the Rams to find the end zone until the fourth quarter. Cougar QB Cameron Ward shined with nearly 500 yards of offense and 4 touchdowns in the opener, a player the Badgers will need to account for in Week 2.