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Wisconsin Football Coaches, Players With the Most to Prove in 2023



Wisconsin Football defensive coordinator Mike Tressel
Wisconsin's new defensive coordinator, Mike Tressel, meets with reporters for the first time at the McClain Center in Madison, Wis. on Thursday Jan. 5, 2023.

Madison, Wis. — The Wisconsin football program underwent wholesale changes this offseason — headlined by a new head coach, new offensive/defensive systems, and transfer portal additions, to name a few.

So when the Badgers return to the field for spring practice, there will be no shortage of storylines to follow. But which players and coaches will have the most to prove after UW’s wild offseason?

Defensive Coordinator – Mike Tressel

New defensive coordinator Mike Tressel has some mighty big shoes to fill. Fair or not, fans will compare all of his accomplishments to the man he’s replacing – Jim Leonhard.

Leonhard is a Wisconsin football legend and was one of the sport’s best and brightest defensive minds.

Tressel, the reigning AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year, who followed Luke Fickell to UW from Cincinnati, faces the challenge of meshing Leonhard’s 3-4 defense with his 3-3-5 system to accentuate the strengths of the personnel within the program and putting the best product on the field next season.

Last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats played 66.3% of its snaps out of a 3-3-5 personnel grouping. And anyone who watched Wisconsin football during the Leonhard era knows that UW ran a 3-4/2-4-5 most of the time.

“We’re spending a lot of time right now, second to recruiting, trying to figure out how to mesh the elite,” Tressel said, referring to Wisconsin’s run defense and Cincinnati’s pass-d.

Regardless of his credentials, Tressel must maintain UW’s reputation as an elite defense in 2023 to gain the trust of the Badgers fan-base.

Running Back’s Coach – Devon Spalding

It’s no secret that the Wisconsin football program is RBU – so holding the title of running back coach at UW is a big deal.

Luke Fickell hired Devon Spalding this offseason, who worked for him as a grad assistant at Cincinnati, as the new running backs coach, after spending the last three seasons working with the tailbacks at Youngstown State.

“Being a part of a place that has such a great tradition in running back play, the challenge is to continue to recruit the best running backs in the country and make sure the production that we put on the field on Saturdays from the running back room is up to par to what they’ve done here in the past,” Spalding told UW reporters.

“We have a standard that we set in that room,” Spalding said of his initial message to the players. “The expectations of production are very high. Everything we do is tailor-made towards one thing, and that’s being the best unit in the country in everything we do.”

Spalding is a fast riser in the coaching ranks, having wrapped up his playing career in 2018. Last season, he coached standout RB Jaleel McLaughlin, who ran for 1,588 yards and was named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, honoring the FCS’s top offensive player

He inherits a talented running back room headlined by Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, but I’m most interested to see what he can do to develop the RBs behind them.

Wisconsin football doesn’t have a slam-dunk option for its RB3, so monitoring the competition/improvements from Jackson Acker, Julius Davis, Cade Yacamelli, and Nate White during spring and fall camp will be intriguing.

Running Back – Braelon Allen

It feels kind of nit-picky to have Braelon Allen, arguably Wisconsin football’s MVP from last season, on this list, but hear me out.

After back-to-back second-team All-Big Ten seasons, Allen will finally play in a competent offensive scheme (thank you, Phil Longo).

The 6-foot-2, 238-pound RB finished the 2022 season with 230 carries for 1,242 yards (5.4 YPC) and 11 touchdowns. He also caught a career-high 13 passes for 104 yards.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin native registered 671 yards after contact, 2.92 yards after contact per attempt, and was the highest-graded starting offensive player for the Badgers (79.6).

But he also saw a stacked box (8+ defenders) more than any other Power 5 running back in the nation. So for anyone concerned about his production dipping in efficiency, there’s your explanation.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that realistically, with the spacing Longo’s air raid scheme should provide, Allen should be well-positioned for a breakout season that vaults him into the NFL.

“I feel like I’m absolutely the best running back in the country heading into next season,” Allen told Max Chadwick of PFF. “The ideal plan is for me to have a great year and declare for the draft. The main goal, though, is to win a Big Ten title and a national championship. Once we start playing, I think we’ll realize that those goals are within reach.”

When you make bold comments like that, you have to back it up, and I think he will.

Outside Linebacker – Darryl Peterson

Wisconsin football lost Nick Herbig and Keeanu Benton to the NFL this offseason, who, by themselves, accounted for over half of the team’s sacks (15.5) and nearly 30% of the Badgers’ total pressures.

That means UW needs the next star pass-rusher to step up. The problem is — nobody can be sure what the defensive alignment will look like under Mike Tressel — and there’s also no obvious candidate to take on that load.

Enter redshirt sophomore Darryl Peterson, who received a ton of hype last offseason and finally got his feet wet in 2023 as the Badgers third OLB, playing 165 total snaps.

The 6-foot-1, 245-pound OLB registered 27 tackles, 11 pressures, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a disappointing 14.7 pass-rush win rate. Per PFF, Peterson finished with a 64.1 grade (average) as a pass-rusher.

He undoubtedly has the highest upside in the OLB room, but that needs to translate onto the field next season for Wisconsin football to be disruptive and get after the opposing team’s QBs.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

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Wisconsin Football Fans React: Badgers Defeat Purdue Boilermakers



Wisconsin Badgers football

Madison, Wis. – The Wisconsin football team has officially opened their Big Ten football season after defeating the Purdue Boilermakers on Friday.

The Badgers entered halftime up 21-3 courtesy of two rushing touchdowns by quarterback Tanner Mordecai. Wisconsin never looked back and held onto their lead for the remainder of the game. Once again, the Wisconsin ground game proved to be too much for their opponent as the Badgers recorded four touchdowns and 195 yards rushing. Wisconsin also recorded three turnovers on the defensive side of the ball as Ricardo Hallman dominated for the Badgers with two interceptions.

While there were plenty of positives in the 38-17 win over the Boilermakers, there is still room for improvement. Fans were quick to fill social media with a variety of responses following the victory.

Wisconsin Badgers Excite Fans In Big Ten Conference Opener Against Purdue 

While the entirety of the game was not exciting, the Badgers had their moments and provided some excellent football for their fans. Including, the exceptional “Philly Special” the Badgers ran at the end of the game, as well as the intriguing rushing touchdowns. Transfer kicker Nathanial Vakos also impressed as he went 3-for-3 with his longest kick at 48-yards.

The Wisconsin Badgers Football Team Ran Wild Once Again

Against the Purdue Boilermakers, the Badgers recorded four touchdowns and 195 yards on the ground. Through the first four games of the season, Wisconsin has rushed for 807 yards and 14 touchdowns, with an average of 5.4 yards per carry. While the offense in general has struggled, the run game is certainly thriving under Head Coach Luke Fickell and Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo.

Some fans enjoyed the success of the Wisconsin football team, but seemed eager for the elusive running back Braelon Allen to touch the football more.

For Some Fans, The Struggles for Wisconsin Proved to be too much, But Many Keep Optimism

Despite the victory for the Wisconsin football team, the Badgers struggled at times to play fundamental football. In particular, the defense struggled at times and allowed more total yards than the Wisconsin offense gained. The Badgers still walked away with the victory but may have done so without fixing their issues at hand.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Jarrett Guerrera on Twitter @JarrettGuerrera.

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Wisconsin Football Report Card From 38-17 Win Over Purdue



Wisconsin Badgers football
Sep 22, 2023; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Ricardo Hallman (2) tackles Purdue Boilermakers running back Tyrone Tracy Jr. (3) during the first half at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin football program kicked off conference play with a bang, earning a 38-17 victory on the road against Purdue. It wasn’t a pretty or complete game by the Badgers, but UW did enough to come away with a win and head into the bye week at 3-1.

Here are my grades for Wisconsin’s offense, defense, and special teams in the Big Ten opener. 

Wisconsin Football Offense Grade: B

The offense was easily one of the biggest bright spots for Wisconsin in the win over Purdue, but I thought the way UW utilized Tanner Mordecai was one of the main reasons why. 

Mordecai isn’t your prototypical dual-threat quarterback, but he still possesses the ability to get out of the pocket and use his legs well. The sixth-year senior was able to run his way into the endzone twice while rushing for 58 yards. On top of that, Mordecai went 17-for-27 with 174 yards through the air. We’ve finally seen some glimpses of what Mordecai will be, and if he’s able to put the puzzle pieces together during the bye week, the Big Ten should look out. 

Of course, the biggest storyline coming out of this game was Chez Mellusi’s injury. He had to get an air cast put on, and the replay did not look good in the slightest. You just have to feel absolutely gutted for Mellusi, who has had his fair share of injury problems since coming to Madison. Though his time was cut short, the fifth-year senior put on a show alongside Braelon Allen, combining for 155 yards on the ground. Allen would also rush for two touchdowns. This game seemed to be a return to form for Allen after seemingly playing a step slow — and banged up — through the first few weeks of the season. 

Wisconsin also got some nice contributions from CJ Williams and Chimere Dike in the receiving game, but the drops by Skyler Bell and Will Pauling were a bit discouraging. Would like to see those cut down after the bye week. 

There was plenty to be happy about with Wisconsin’s performance, but it wasn’t a spectacular showing from the offense. Going forward, UW will need to cut down on the penalties (looking at you, Jack Nelson) and will need to put together a complete four quarters of offense. 

Wisconsin Football Defense Grade: C+

I’m not crazy about how Wisconsin’s defense performed against Purdue, but there were some bright spots. 

Ricardo Hallman and James Thompson Jr. were undoubtedly the stars on Wisconsin’s defense tonight. Hallman secured two interceptions on the night while also logging three tackles and two passes defended. Meanwhile, Thompson finished the night with six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and one pass defended. At two key positions, Wisconsin was able to get some crucial contributions from some key contributors.

It wasn’t all great, though. I’m going to be frank for a second here: I’m getting a little tired of seeing these big chunk plays given up by Wisconsin. It’s been a consistent problem for the past few weeks, and while there may have been some improvement tonight, there were still far too many big plays given up for my liking. 

There are still plenty of kinks to work out in Wisconsin’s defense, but this game seemed like a very small step in the right direction. Hopefully, Mike Tressel can have this group ready as they venture further into conference play. 

Wisconsin Football Special Teams Grade: A-

Wisconsin found themselves a good one in Ohio transfer Nathanial Vakos. The sophomore knocked through all three of his field goal attempts to remain perfect on the season. With his three on Friday night, he’s now 7-of-7 on three-point tries. 

Four games in, I have to say I’m very impressed with what Atticus Bertrams has brought to this team. He’s been a mark of consistency, and he had some damn good punts on Friday night. 

It was also great to see Chimere Dike run a couple of kicks back. The senior receiver had two returns for 34 yards and 39 yards, respectively. He’s shown that he can be a threat, and you’d love to see him break off a return for six at some point this year.

The only thing bringing this grade down was Jack Van Dyke’s kick out of bounds. This has now become a consistent issue for the kickoff specialist, as he’s sent three balls sailing out of bounds through four games. 

The Wisconsin football program is now off to a 3-1 start in the Luke Fickell era. The Badgers will head into the bye week before facing Rutgers on October 7th.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here. Also, like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers football news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Jake Maier on Twitter @JakeJMaier.

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Wisconsin Football Offensive Snap Counts & PFF Grades vs. Purdue



Wisconsin football; Badgers QB Tanner Mordecai runs for a touchdown vs. Purdue
Sep 22, 2023; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) runs for a touchdown during the first half at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Fickell and the Wisconsin Badgers football team (3-1, 1-0 B1G) kicked off Big Ten play with a 38-17 victory over Ryan Walters and the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on Friday night. 

In this post-game recap, we dissect the performance of the Wisconsin Badgers by analyzing their snap counts and Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades for each position group — and include a few stats that help add context to the ole eye test. 

By analyzing these metrics, we can gain a clearer insight into the individual contributions of each unit to the team’s overall performance. While you can’t take these figures as gospel, this allows us to identify strengths, key contributors, and areas where Wisconsin football excelled.

Let’s dive in. 

Wisconsin Football Offensive Snap Counts & PFF Grades

Wisconsin football; Badgers head coach Luke Fickell & Jack Nelson + CJ Williams

Sep 22, 2023; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell high fives Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver C.J. Williams (4) during the first half at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports


Tanner Mordecai – Snap Count: [75] – PFF Grade: [87.8]

Running Backs:

Braelon Allen – Snap Count: [41] – PFF Grade: [71.4]

Chez Mellusi – Snap Count: [32] – PFF Grade: [63.5]

Jackson Acker – Snap Count: [4] – PFF Grade: [61.6]

Wide Receivers:

Chimere Dike – Snap Count: [52] – PFF Grade: [64.0]

Bryson Green – Snap Count: [50] – PFF Grade: [51.3]

Will Pauling – Snap Count: [48] – PFF Grade: [64.4]

C.J. Williams – Snap Count: [45] – PFF Grade: [72.7]

Skyler Bell – Snap Count: [30] – PFF Grade: [53.3]

Tight Ends:

Hayden Rucci – Snap Count: [48] – PFF Grade: [37.2]

Tucker Ashcraft – Snap Count: [24] – PFF Grade: [50.9]

JT Seagreaves – Snap Count: [1] – PFF Grade: [60.0]

Offensive Line:

Jack Nelson – Snap Count: [75] – PFF Grade: [74.1]

Joe Huber – Snap Count: [54] – PFF Grade: [59.7]

Tanor Bortolini – Snap Count: [75] – PFF Grade: [71.4]

Michael Furtney – Snap Count: [51] – PFF Grade: [67.3]

Riley Mahlman – Snap Count: [75] – PFF Grade: [62.1]

Trey Wedig – Snap Count: [45] – PFF Grade: [74.4]

Offensive Analysis:

A few things that immediately stand out are that Wisconsin football PFF grades were much kinder to Jack Nelson than I would have guessed. He held up fine in protection — never allowing a pressure — but Nelson tacked on three more penalties — which is quickly becoming a problem. 

CJ Williams got involved in the Badgers offense in a major way, leading the team in targets (8) and receptions (5), plus he was second on the team in receiving yards (56) on the day. The USC transfer has a ton of upside, and it was nice to see how he could impact the game on the boundary as a possession receiver. 

Tanner Mordecai also put together a nice game for Wisconsin football against Purdue — particularly as a runner on Friday. The threat of him being a runner helped open up running lanes for Braelon Allen, who also put together a strong performance on the ground (16 carries, 116 yards + two touchdowns). That said, I’d hate to see him get dinged up because the Badgers lean on him too much — so that’s a situation to monitor. 

The Wisconsin Badgers tight ends had a forgettable night — and the numbers reflect that. Overall, I’m still confident this group can get the job done for this season, but I’m afraid they will have games like this on occasion.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

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