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Wisconsin Football Woes: The Luke Fickell Era’s Disastrous First-Year



Wisconsin Badgers football head coach Luke Fickell
Apr 11, 2023; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin head football coach Luke Fickell is shown during practice Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Fickell and the Wisconsin Badgers football team took an already disappointing season to new lows last weekend with a 24-10 loss at Camp Randall Stadium to the Northwestern Wildcats.

Let’s discuss that nightmare game — the path to bowl eligibility — and look ahead to the Badgers’ next opponent: Nebraska.

Wisconsin Badgers Football (Overall: 5-5; B1G: 3-4)

SP+ rank: Overall 38th, Offense 82nd, Defense 6th, Special Teams 21st

Previous week’s result: (L) vs. Northwestern, 24-10

Northwestern Thoughts: This is Luke Fickell’s press conference opening statement after the game on Saturday: “There’s not much of a statement. That’s embarrassing, and I take the blame for it and not having guys ready, and not at any phase of the game. It’s not a whole that can be said, or I can say. I’ll answer questions. But it’s very difficult trying to figure out where we are and what we need to do to continue to move forward, but we’re going to have to do that.”

While that is probably all that needs to be said for the head coach to convey his disappointment to the media, he sure as shit better “figure out where [they] are” before the last two games of the season because if the Wisconsin Badgers lose those two, which seems likely after watching the team play the last two weeks, they’ll miss out on a bowl game for the first time in over two decades and they also will have zero rivalry trophies in Madison for the first time in who even knows how long.

The Badgers were dominated on both sides of the ball (a troubling development that is becoming all too regular an occurrence this season) against Northwestern in the first half on Saturday and the ‘Cats jumped out to a 24-3 lead at halftime. NU had five possessions in the first half and scored on four of them. The only reason they didn’t score on the fifth one was because they kneeled the ball to go into halftime. On the other hand, Wisconsin football followed up a solid opening drive (10 plays, 57 yards, made field goal) with drives that ended: punt, punt, missed FG, punt. None of those drives were longer than six plays.

Wisconsin’s offense has been ravaged by injuries this year, but starting QB Tanner Mordecai, starting RB Braelon Allen, and top WR Chimere Dike were all back for the game against Northwestern…and the offense still looked like rancid dog shit. To be fair to Allen, he only had three carries and didn’t appear to be 100% yet.

In the second half the offense stayed the same (that’s a bad thing in case you skipped the previous paragraph) but the defense kicked things into high gear. The Wildcats gained 22 yards on offense in the third quarter and eight (!!!) in the fourth quarter. That’s what I’m talking about! What did the offense do to match the defense’s inspired post-halftime effort? Absolutely nothing until scoring a meaningless touchdown with 11 seconds left.

Fickell calling this an “embarrassment” is the understatement of the century. If you can remember back to the halcyon days of late August when we were all young, beautiful, and full of hope, you may recall that Northwestern was reckoning with a major hazing scandal among the football team and the athletic department at large. Pat Fitzgerald was let go and a team that was already supposed to be bad had the look of one that might not win a game all season. Well, they’ve won just as many as Wisconsin football has this year and are currently in second place in the atrocious Big Ten West.

This season, should they lose their final two games, will be in the 99th percentile of “worst possible outcomes” for Fickell’s first year in charge. The only way it could be worse is if the Badgers went winless or some horrific off-the-field scandal was discovered. It is extremely clear that people (me included) who thought Fickell could come in and instantly turn things around were SORELY mistaken. Not only will Wisconsin not be competing for any championships this year, it looks like they won’t be doing so for the foreseeable future.

Hiring Luke Fickell in order to compete with the Ohio States, Penn States, and Michigans of the Big Ten was always a “longer term, big picture” goal, but the short term goal of “competing with fucking Minnesota” has been replaced with “competing with Northwestern and Indiana!” That is pathetic!! There aren’t a ton of teams where UW can just “roll the ball out there” and expect to win, but this year’s Northwestern and Indiana teams are two of them where Wisconsin football should’ve been able to simply “out-talent” the opposition.

This brings up another point that this team isn’t nearly as talented as we thought! The coaching staff hasn’t put the players in position to succeed too often, but even when they do, the players regularly don’t make the play. Then there is the “leadership void” that hasn’t been filled as rumblings of a divided locker room have sprung up. Also, Jack Nelson had three holding penalties. What the hell happened to that guy?

Anyways, this has been a very stupid season.

What’s on Deck for the Badgers?

Up next: Saturday, Nov. 18, vs. Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. CT, NBC

Nebraska Thoughts: And yet, despite all of the stupidity, the Wisconsin Badgers can still end it on a high note by beating Nebraska on Senior Day and winning the Axe back against Minnesota in Minneapolis!

The Badgers and Huskers are currently a part of a 5-way tie for second place in the B1G West (lmaooooo) with Northwestern, Illinois, and Minnesota. I’m not going to figure it out, because it will make me too sad, but hypothetically Wisconsin could still tie Iowa for the division title and then make Big Ten West First Loser rings like the Gophers did that one year.

But first things first: the Huskers come to Madison on Saturday night and, under new head coach Matt Rhule, they look more competent than they have in years. Since Nebraska’s first Big Ten game ever, when Wisconsin football blasted them 48-17 under the lights at Camp Randall, the Badgers have owned the Huskers. UW has won nine straight against Nebraska, 10 of 11 all-time as conference rivals, and 12 of 16 throughout history.

Obviously none of that matters THIS year, but it’s important to understand the history of this matchup before we can discuss the current game. Nebraska has lost to some very bad teams (Minnesota, Colorado, MSU, Maryland) and their best win is…Illinois? Northwestern? The team was kinda cooking midway through the year and were sitting at 5-3 ahead of a couple winnable games (MSU, Maryland) and of course, because they’re Nebraska, they lost them both by a field goal.

Against the Terps, Nebraska lost their starting QB Heinrich Haarberg (who sounds like he should be an imposing midfielder in the Eredivisie for PSV Eindhoven and not a Nebraska football player) to a hand injury, benched their backup QB Jeff Sims (who was the starting QB at the beginning of the season) after his 1,000th turnover, and then watched third string QB Chuba Purdy lead an 11-play, 90 yard drive that ended in an interception which Maryland turned into a 12-play, 75 yard drive and game-winning, walk-off field goal. The Huskers threw four interceptions and fumbled the ball three times (only losing one!) against Maryland and were STILL somehow in the game until the very end.

This is all just a long way of saying Nebraska, who needs one win to make a bowl for the first time since 2016, stinks. They stink just like Northwestern stinks…and Indiana stinks…so if you can muster up the hope to predict a Wisconsin football win, you are a better person than I. Given how this season has gone, losing to the Huskers, at home, for the first time in over a decade, to give them bowl eligibility for the first time in seven years is exactly what I’m expecting to see on Saturday night.

Fun Tweet of the Week I Wanted To Include Just Because

30 Rock is one of my favorite shows and this tweet nails every note this type of interaction between Liz and Jack would contain. Perfection.

Wisconsin Football Fall From Grace Is a Hard Reality Check

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Drew Hamm is a seasoned sports journalist with an extensive background in covering the Wisconsin Badgers. He has previously held positions as the site manager at Bucky's 5th Quarter and founder of Badgers Ball Knower. Currently, he contributes as a staff writer for