Wisco Wednesday: Might the Badgers Actually be Good? 

Still undefeated all time vs. Rutgers. The first team to 15 points wins this week. Mordecai can run now?

The Badgers play the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday. It’s easily the most important game of the season. I know they play Ohio State too, but no one is expecting Fickell to win that game, and that’s okay. The Iowa game matters the most for showing improvement from last year and for how the B1G West is going to shake out. But first, let’s go back and look at some of the keys to the homecoming win over Rutgers. 

Looking Back: Great Defense, Poor Passing, Terrible Snaps.

Rutgers 13
Wisconsin 24

Ricardo Hallman

Give Ricardo his flowers, he had a hell of a game. The 95 yard pick-six couldn’t have come at a better time. It was near the end of the 2nd quarter, and Rutgers still had some life. They drove down the field, were at the 5, and expected to score. That would’ve made it a 3 point game going into halftime. 

Instead, it’s 17-0. All the wind left Rutgers’ sails. Hallman effectively ended the game. 

On top of his INT, Hallman played well for the entire game. He was the highest graded CB in all of college football by PFF. He led the team with an 89.3. Ten other Badgers broke 70 (7 on defense) and no one besides Hallman was above 80; it was his time to shine. 

The Air Raid was a Lie

When is the Dairy Raid going to show itself? I’ll admit they’re trying to make it work, but it always goes back to the run game bailing out the ineffective passing offense. Sounds familiar, right Badger fans?

Out of the first 12 plays against Rutgers, 11 were pass plays. It resulted in a field goal, but it was not inspiring football. Longo’s offense only moved the ball 39 yards with that opening drive; that’s well under 4 yards per play – i.e. ineffective. 

Mordecai had 145 yards all game and only completed 55% of his passes. Something has to improve if Wisconsin wants to keep up with the better offenses in the B1G.

Mordecai can Scoot

Despite Mordecai having trouble throwing the ball, he has made good use of his legs. Mordecai wasn’t brought to Wisconsin to run the ball, but it turns out he’s quite good at it. Tanner’s scrambles have extended multiple drives the last few weeks and have proven tough for defenses to handle. 

Against Rutgers, he had 9 carries for 40 yards (throwing out the sacks). That’s nearly 4.5 ypc; those are running back numbers. 

His legs have also allowed him to extend some passing plays and find open receivers when coverage breaks down. I would like Mordecai to improve as a passer, but his ability to run has been a pleasant surprise.

Errant Snaps

I rarely call for a player to be benched, but Tanor Bortollini is testing me. If you watched the game, you know what I’m talking about. Mordecai was practically a receiver every time he was in shotgun. All game snaps were high, low, to the side, or had too much juice. It’s a miracle none turned into fumbles. 

Thankfully, Bortolini isn’t technically the starting center. He’s been filling in for injured Jake Renfro who should be back any week now. Based on the Rutgers game, I’d say that’s not soon enough. 

Are the Badgers Bad… or is Rutgers Good Now

Saturday made Wisconsin 5-0 all time vs. Rutgers. What surprised me about that: the first time they played was 2014. The average Wisconsin vs. Rutgers’ game is 38.4 to 8.6, so Wisconsin generally wins by 30. 

This year was a little different. It was only an 11 point win, and the offense struggled quite a bit. Rutgers also has 4 wins and looks like a bowl team. So was the “close-ish” win a product of Rutgers being good now? Or did Wisconsin play down to their competition? Per usual, we will find out as more games are played.

Around College Football: 

Maryland Had a Shot

The deck was stacked against the turtles, the whole world counted them out, and it was 10-10 at half. They allowed 0 offensive TDs from OSU in the entire 1st half, then it fell apart. Maryland still has a shot at Penn State and Michigan, but it looks like 9-3 is the ceiling for the best Maryland team we’ve seen in over a decade. 

Too bad they don’t get to play in the West.

Michigan Teams Going Opposite Directions

Michigan State and Michigan couldn’t be further apart right now.

Harbaugh has Michigan firing on all cylinders. They pulverized Nebraska and Minnesota on back-to-back road trips, and now they are favored by 34 over Indiana. Michigan doesn’t have a remotely interesting game left on the schedule until Nov. 11 when they play Penn State. Michigan might win the Natty this year.

Michigan State was bad with Mel Tucker; now they are even worse without him. They are in the running for the worst secondary in football, everyone can throw on them (except Iowa). Sparty heads to Rutgers this weekend for the Scarlet Knights homecoming game. Rutgers is favored by 5.5. Rutgers is better than MSU. 

Who would have expected this 2 years ago when Michigan State was coming off an 11-2 season with a win over Michigan? How quickly things can change. 

Bielema Regression

I thought Illinois would challenge to win the West this year. I thought Bielema would beat Wisconsin again (it’s still possible). Instead, he’s getting blown out by Purdue and Nebraska. I was very wrong. 

Illinois is dead last in scoring Defense in the B1G. They are giving up 29 pts per game. 

The Illini’s next 2 games: At Maryland and home for Wisco. Illinois is staring at 2-6 in a couple of weeks. A bowl game seems nearly impossible. Bielema had a good squad last year, but it appears even he can’t turn Illinois into a consistent winner. 

Mario’s Miami Mishap

This isn’t a Wisconsin or even a B1G topic. But, if you haven’t heard this story, you simply must. It may be the greatest coaching blunder of the decade. 

Miami was hosting Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium (The Canes don’t have their own so they have to borrow the Dolphins). Miami was favored by 20; this game should not have been competitive. 

The facts:

  • Miami was up 3 
  • There were 33 seconds left
  • The ball was on the GT 30
  • GT had 0 timeouts
  • It was 3 & 10

What do you do? You kneel!

Miami did not kneel, they ran the ball up the middle and fumbled. 

But the game is not over, GT has 26 seconds, 0 timeouts, and is 74 yards from the endzone. That should be a hopeless situation for a bad Yellowjacket team. But they pulled off the miracle. It’s partly because of even more coaching blunders by Miami. On the final 44 yard pass TD with 10 seconds left Miami played normal coverage. The CB bit on a double move thinking GT was going for a 10 yard pass. WHO CARES ABOUT A TEN YARD PASS.

Miami should’ve just lined up on the goalline and prevented the touchdown. If the game goes to overtime, who cares? The better team usually wins in overtime. Just don’t give up a TD. 

Mario gave a masterclass performance on how not to head coach a football game last Saturday. At least it was entertaining for the fans. 

Looking Forward: To the Victor Goes the West

  • Odds listed were taken from FanDuel at the time of writing.

Game Preview: Iowa at Wisconsin

Spread: 

Wisconsin -9.5

Over/Under:

36.5

Location:

Ross-Ade Stadium – West Lafayette, Indiana

Kickoff Time:

Friday – 6:00 PM CT

TV Network:

FS1

Evaluating the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Brian Ferentz and The Magic 25:

Brian Ferentz needs to score 25 points per game to keep his job as Iowa’s offensive coordinator.  I have brought it up many many times this season in various articles. But what if Iowa wins the West without scoring 25 points per game? Would Iowa change its mind about the requirement? It’s crazy that possibly the worst offense in football is in a position to win 10 games because the defense and special teams are carrying them.

Iowa is currently at 21.8 points per game. And I don’t think the Wisconsin game is going to improve their average. 

New QB and a New TE… And a New QB Again:

QB Cade McNamara and TE Erik All were the 2 big transfers from Michigan that were going to fix the putrid Iowa offense this season. It obviously has not gone as planned. Yes, Iowa is winning, but the offense is just as bad as last year. 

And it might get even worse. 

McNamara was injured 2 weeks ago in the Michigan State game and will miss the rest of the 2024 season. That means a familiar face will be back in Madison this week.

Deacon Hill coming home. Wisconsin’s QB 4 last year is now Iowa’s QB 1.

How they’ve done so far:

Iowa is 5-1 right now; they are winning games, they just aren’t impressing anyone while doing it. Oh, and the 31-0 loss to PSU looks pretty bad. But, they are still halfway to 10-2, that should be enough to win the west. Unless of course, that 2nd loss is to Wisconsin. 

Week 1: Won 24-14 at home vs. Utah State

Week 2: Won 20-13 at Iowa State

Week 3: Won 41-10 at home vs. Western Michigan

Week 1: Lost 0-31 at Penn State (The White Out)

Week 2: Won 26-16 at home vs. Michigan State

Week 3: Won 20-14 at home vs. Purdue

After the Wisconsin game, the rest of Iowa’s schedule is an absolute joke. They might lose to Minnesota or Nebraska, but I wouldn’t plan on it. And if Iowa does beat Wisconsin, they’ll have head to head and Wisco still has OSU on their schedule. Winning this week makes the path to the B1G Championship game crystal clear.

How Will Iowa Score?

Iowa can’t score on offense. Wisconsin has a good defense. If Iowa breaks 10, their fans should be ecstatic. There is a way that Iowa can score despite their terrible offense though.

Defense and Special Teams.

It’s almost like this is how Iowa wants to do things. See, Iowa puts points on the board, they just do it the most Iowa way possible. The Kick/Punt returner is electric. He already has 1 run back TD this year. And he often puts Iowa in position to make FGs even if the offense goes 3-and-out. 

The Defense has contributed to Iowa scoring as well.

Pick Six – check
A Safety – check
Fumble Recovery in opponent territory – check

Iowa will likely get some points on Saturday, I just don’t think it’s the offense that will be responsible. 

What to Watch for the Badgers

OL Change Up?

I mentioned above that Jake Renfro should be back this week. That would be huge for the interior O-Line. Not only would that massively upgrade Bucky’s center play, but Bortolini can move over to his natural position at guard. So 1 guy coming back actually improves 2 positions on the field. 

The interior guys are crucial in Wisconsin’s physical running game. And, having multiple capable starters makes rotating guys for the hurry up offense possible. When the OL improves, the whole offense improves. 

Don’t Lose from Penalties

Iowa is one of the least penalized teams in the country. They average less than 3 per game. Wisconsin averages over 6. In a tight game with low scores, a penalty in a critical moment could decide the game. Fickell needs to emphasize this in practice this week. Especially for the O-linemen, who have gotten an abnormally high number of pre-snap flags this year. 

More Running

Wisconsin’s strength right now is running the ball. Who’d’ve seen that coming? Wisconsin can take advantage of Iowa in that area. As good as their defense is, it’s only 55th against the run in college football. 

Acker has been a nice surprise as the new RB2, and Longo has drawn up some designed QB runs for Mordecai the last couple weeks. We were told this would be the year of the Air Raid, but we have the pieces to run the triple-option. 

Whatever works, that’s what I want the Badgers to do. This game is too important to be “figuring out the passing game.” If it works, cool. If not, run the damn ball. 

The De Facto West Title Game

Whoever wins this game is winning the West. Not maybe, not probably, IS. 

Think about the B1G West for a minute. Who isn’t an embarrassment? 

  • Northwestern: Just no, they beat Howard by 3. 
  • Minnesota: lost to the above NW team.
  • Illinois: crushed by Purdue and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks.
  • Purdue: they are 2-4
  • Nebraska: lost to the above Minnesota team, but looks better after the QB change
  • Iowa: the offense is the embarrassment, but they keep winning.
  • Wisconsin: lost to ranked Washington State on the road.

I see 2 tiers. The 4 teams I listed up top are a joke and aren’t winning anything. It’s the last three that might not be terrible. Nebraska has a problem though. They have 2 conference losses, and they still have to play Iowa AND Wisconsin. I’m contradicting myself a little bit by pointing out the path for Nebraska, I just don’t think they are capable of winning both of those games (and going perfect on the rest of the schedule).

So barring Nebraska winning out (like I said, not happening), it’s down to Iowa or Wisconsin. And having head-to-head will be huge. Iowa has the one conference loss, and let’s just assume Wisconsin drops the OSU game. The winner of the game Saturday would have a 1 ½ game lead over the loser. And it’ll be mid Oct. The loser isn’t coming back.

This game is for the West crown. 

My Picks*

I missed on the spread and the O/U for the Rutgers game last week. I attribute that to the offense being worse than I expected coming out of the bye. This week I expect even more struggles for Longo’s unit. The Iowa defense is better than Rutgers’.  For this game, below is what I would pick – if I had to.

Spread: 

Take Iowa +9.5
There won’t be enough points scored for Wisco to pull away by 10+. 

Over/Under:

Under 36.5
This is going to be rough. I can’t see enough scoring to get to 37. I’ll set the O/U on total punts at 13. 

How I did last week:

Picking the Winner: Won – Wisconsin won
Picking the Spread: Lost – Rutgers covered
Picking the O/U: Lost – The Under hit

I keep picking overs, and the offense keeps slacking. Time to switch to unders until something changes.

Season-Long Record Picking Wisconsin Games:

Picking the Winner: 5-0
Picking the Spread: 3-2
Picking the O/U: 2-3

*These picks are to express my opinion on games from a point spread perspective. I am not advocating for you, the reader, to gamble on any of these games. Please bet responsibly.

Unwatchable Score Prediction:

Iowa 13
Wisconsin 19

How does one predict a score of 19 for Bucky? Well, I don’t think this game will be very watchable. It’s going to drag football back to the Stone Age with the offensive stall outs we’re going to see. The thing is, I think both coaches realize that, and will take every point they can get. So that means 2 FGs for Iowa and 4 for Wisconsin. Both teams can have a TD too, but Iowa’s will be defensive or via special teams. 

Both defenses will be heavily praised after the game. And both offenses will be beyond embarrassed they even took the field. 

#BuckyByAMillion

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This article was written by Cole Tollison and edited by Hayden Breene

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