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Wisconsin Badgers Football Bye Week Report Card



Wisconsin Badgers football head coach Luke Fickell leads the team onto the field
Sep 22, 2023; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell leads his team onto the field prior to the game at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

After four games, the Wisconsin Badgers football program is headed into the bye week at 3-1. The puzzle pieces have yet to be put together, but the Badgers have shown some promise early in their 2023 campaign.

There have been some flashes of potential from this team, and the bye week serves as an opportunity to grade how Wisconsin’s three phases have fared. 

With that said, here are my grades for Wisconsin’s offense, defense, and special teams through four games.

Wisconsin Football Offense Grade: B-

Coming into the season, the air-raid scheme was the talk of the town. In hindsight, maybe we were a bit lofty with our expectations, but I don’t think it’s hard to understand why when we’ve seen the flashes of potential Phil Longo and his offense have. 

While his first couple of performances were lackluster, Tanner Mordecai has really started to come into his own over the past few games. 

Through four games, Mordecai has thrown for 876 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions through the air, as well as 103 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. While those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, it’s good to see the sixth-year senior improving. Mordecai has shown some poise in his throws and is not afraid to get out of the pocket and use his legs. With Chez Mellusi sidelined, getting Mordecai involved in the running game will help Wisconsin immensely.

Speaking of Chez Mellusi, what a brutal loss for the Wisconsin Badgers football team. Through the first four games, the fifth-year senior showed that Phil Longo’s system was tailor-made for his skill set. It won’t be easy to replicate his production, but you can never count out Braelon Allen. Agent Zero was dinged up to start the season and started a bit slower than expected. However, he’s put together a string of solid performances. He’s now up to 371 yards and six touchdowns on the year, and with Chez Mellusi out, he should run those numbers up for the rest of the season.

The receivers have been a bit hit-or-miss to start the season. I’ll put my hand up and say I expected much more from Bryson Green. That’s not to say he won’t turn it around, but I’m a bit surprised with how limited his role has been. Going into the season, I thought Green had the potential to be Wisconsin’s WR1, but that spot is still Chimere Dike‘s. The senior receiver has been on fire to start the season, hauling in 11 catches for 228 yards and a touchdown. Admittedly, I thought the race for the top dog in the receiver room would be much closer and Dike would take a step back, but boy, was I wrong. He looks even better than he did in his standout junior campaign, and he’ll be one of the Badgers most crucial contributors as the season progresses. 

Now, here’s where the grade gets knocked down: the offensive line. I know there are injuries — I’ve seen enough lofted snaps this season for my lifetime — but I’ve just been unimpressed on the offensive front. I really need to see more from Jack Nelson after the bye week. Going into the season, he was largely recognized as Wisconsin’s top NFL prospect, and while I think he will be a good NFL offensive lineman, he’s had some very apparent struggles. Don’t get me wrong, I think the offensive line will clean this up and look much better throughout the season, but I was unimpressed with their play during non-conference play and the Big Ten opener.

Overall, the offense hasn’t looked exactly as advertised, but that is okay; there’s no need to panic yet. The bye week serves as an opportunity for Phil Longo to get this offense right and make it happen for the rest of Big Ten play.

Wisconsin Football Defense Grade: C-

Wisconsin’s defense has been rather unimpressive for the first stretch. No, I don’t think this is a fireable offense — as some Badgers football fans came to believe — but to say that I expected more out of this defense would be putting it rather lightly. Do I think this defense will improve? Absolutely. There’s too much talent for it not to improve as the season progresses. Do I have some worries that it will take longer than needed till Wisconsin gets there? Definitely. 

I’ll start with the good, and that would be Hunter Wohler. Going into this season, I expected the junior safety to take a step up, but he has made a giant leap up through four games. Wohler is a dog; he flies around the field and can hit with the best of them while also having the ability to keep up with receivers. I don’t think there has been any single player more impressive than the Muskego native to start the year. 

The Wisconsin Badgers football pass rush is another area I see this team improving, and some steps have already been made towards that. Although Wisconsin isn’t necessarily loaded with talent at the position, having big contributions from Darryl Peterson and James Thompson Jr. is a great sign for the future of this defense. 

Now, let’s get to the bad. The thing I’ve been the least impressed with is the run defense. Of course, this is a symptom of the Badgers not having Keeanu Benton, who was always going to be a tough player to replace. That said, the lack of disruption up front needs to be cleaned up. Wisconsin has plenty of teams who will lean heavily on their rushing attack on their remaining schedule, and if the run defense isn’t cleaned up, games will be closer than they need to be.

As I mentioned, there is just too much talent on this defense for it to stay at this level, so I’m hopeful for an increase in production from Mike Tressel‘s crew. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some worries, but I will choose to believe that this group will turn it around for the rest of the season.

Wisconsin Football Special Teams Grade: A-

Through four games, Wisconsin’s special teams have undoubtedly been one of the biggest bright spots.

Nathanial Vakos, a former freshman All-American at Ohio, has been lights out to start the year. The sophomore specialist has hit all seven of his field goal attempts with a long of 49 yards while also converting all of his extra-point opportunities. Heck, this guy was Wisconsin’s MVP in the matchup against Washington State. I’ve been very impressed with Vakos thus far, and I can’t wait to see if he can keep this perfect streak.

Atticus Bertrams has also quietly put together a solid season. The Australian punter has punted 16 times for an average of 42.5 yards per attempt, with only one punt returned. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but Bertrams looks to be a reliable option as a true freshman.

I’ve also loved what we’ve seen from Chimere Dike as a returner. The Waukesha native is second in the Big Ten in yards per return with an average of 9.6 and fourth in the Big Ten in kickoff returns with an average of 32 yards. He’s no Devin Hester, but Dike has been excellent to open the year as the return man.

The only thing pulling this grade down for me is Jack Van Dyke. Wisconsin’s kickoff specialist has sailed three kicks out of bounds in four games, which really needs to get cleaned up. Other than his struggles, the special teams crew has been a marker of consistency, and they’ll be a key component moving forward.

The Wisconsin Badgers football program is set to take on Rutgers on October 7th following the bye week as both teams look to improve to 4-1.

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Jake Maier is the managing editor and publisher at He has provided coaching and editorial support to numerous writers in his role, contributing significantly to the platform's growth. His expertise extends to Wisconsin Badgers football, basketball, and recruiting coverage. Jake's previous bylines can be found at Fansided and Wisconsin Sports Heroics.