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Wisconsin Football Report Card From 31-22 Loss to Washington State

The Luke Fickell era is off to a 1-1 start after a brutal loss to Washington State.



Wisconsin football; Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai vs. Washington State
Sep 9, 2023; Pullman, Washington, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) carries the ball against Washington State Cougars defensive lineman Nusi Malani (15) in the first half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin football program suffered a devastating loss to Washington State on Saturday night, falling to 31-22 to the Cougars.

UW had some new life in the second half. However, the Badgers could not get out of their own way. Dumb penalties, subpar game planning, mental mistakes, and a little sprinkle of “ref-ball” turned this game into a disastrous loss. The Luke Fickell era is now off to a 1-1 start. 

Here are my grades for Wisconsin’s offense, defense, and special teams from the loss in Pullman.

Wisconsin Football Offense Grade: D+

This game was a tale of two halves, and boy, oh boy, was that first half a terrible showing for this Wisconsin football offense. Sure, the Badgers were able to pick it up in the second half, but it all came crashing down and put a nail in the coffin.

Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi had just 20 rushing yards combined in the first 30 minutes of play. Coming off of a game where they combined for 298 yards — albeit against a significantly worse defense — that’s just disastrous. Even worse, Allen had only two carries at the half. While he did look like he was a step slow and slightly off balance for a chunk of the game, you’d think the best skill position player would get some more touches. Wisconsin’s running back duo finished with just 90 yards on the ground and a devastating Mellusi fumble that sealed Wisconsin’s fate.

Then we get to the offensive line. You have to feel for Tanner Mordecai; he did not get ample time to throw for the majority of the game. The offensive line play left much to be desired across the board. However, Jack Nelson‘s struggles stood out the most. Widely considered the top NFL prospect on the Wisconsin football roster, Nelson was beaten not once but twice in plays that resulted in strip sacks, one of which went for six. He was a big component of the lack of protection for Mordecai.

Speaking of Mordecai, there were actually some positives in his game. Although he threw too long on some crucial deep balls down the stretch, he did look more polished than he did against Buffalo. He seemingly settled in more — when he had time in the pocket — but also showed that he can break loose and use his legs well if need be. He is the only reason the offensive grade is a D+, in my view.

The offense has left much to be desired after the first two weeks of the season. We’ll need to see where it builds from here, but early returns have not been extremely promising. 

Wisconsin Football Defense Grade: C

I’ll reiterate that this game was a tale of two halves, and the group with the worst half was the easily the defense.

Mike Tressel brought in a new defensive scheme, and fans have already started calling for his job and to bring back Jim Leonhard. While I strongly believe that is premature, it’s hard to ignore how much of a shift this changing of the guard was, even if it was made out to be a less significant scheme-wise. 

In the first half, Wisconsin could not generate pressure and, frankly, was utterly torched by Cam Ward. Going into halftime, Ward accounted for 177 of Washington State’s 213 total yards and two touchdowns. He was all over the field, and Wisconsin had no answers for him until the second half rolled around.

UW’s defense came out looking brand new. They kept up with the pace of play and were able to really slow down Wazzu’s offense. In fact, with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin had limited Washington State to just 24 yards on 17 plays in the second half. It was a night and day difference, but the offense didn’t do the defense any favors down the stretch. Put in a bad situation following a (questionable) Chez Mellusi fumble, the defense let up a touchdown to seal the game — at the hands of former Wisconsin football tailback Nakia Watson, no less.

The defense’s first-half performance is dragging their grade down, but the second half has given Mike Tressel something to build on.

Wisconsin Football Special Teams Grade: A

Nathanial Vakos deserves his flowers; he was a bright spot for Wisconsin. The University of Ohio transfer knocked in all three field goal attempts and hit his lone extra point attempt. It’s good to know that UW has a kicker that is dependable, so I guess there’s that. 

On top of Vakos’ play, Atticus Bertrams had arguably the biggest highlight for Wisconsin tonight on a punt that landed at the one-yard line. Yes, it is a sad reality that a punt was a highlight, but that’s where we’re at, folks. 

Final Thoughts

I’ll have more to say about this game as the week goes on, but I must say that this loss was just wholly disastrous. Wisconsin football went in looking for revenge and left with a brutal loss.

There were some bright spots, but let’s just say they were few and far between. UW will now look to get back on track next week against Georgia Southern. God help us if that is not a comfortable win. 

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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.