Entering the 2022 college football season, the Wisconsin Badgers look to improve upon a season that featured many ups and downs on the offensive side of the ball. With new offensive coordinator, Bobby Engram, the Badgers will hope to find more consistency and success with the ball in their possession this upcoming season.
Calling the shots under center will be Graham Mertz, returning for his third season as the starting quarterback. He’s shown flashes of greatness, but overall, he has been just average.
In 20 starts, he threw 3,269 yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He started off this past season ice cold, with six interceptions and just one touchdown through the first three games. As the year went on, Mertz became increasingly more consistent, limiting his turnovers and improving his ability to manage the game.
Once Braelon Allen emerged in the backfield, the offense began to see much more success. The Badgers ran the ball the majority of the time, with Mertz completing 20+ passes in a game just twice throughout the season. The effectiveness of Allen as a runner allowed for Mertz to catch opposing defenses out of position, making less risky throws and showing his development and maturity as a pocket passer.
Mertz was a highly touted 4-star recruit out of Mission, Kansas, and he’s often received public praise from different coaches and teammates within the locker room. It’s no secret that he’s got talent, as his first career start against Illinois in 2020 resulted in a five-touchdown performance with just one (yes, one) incompletion. He’s yet to find this level of success on the field again, but under new offensive coordinator, Bobby Engram, many expect Mertz to take a leap into the next level in the upcoming season.
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Lining up behind Mertz will be rising superstar running back Braelon Allen. His performance last year was the story of the season for the Badgers, as he stepped in to start after Jalen Berger’s dismissal and Chez Mellusi’s injury. He ran for over 100 yards in eight of the final nine games, totaling over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns even without becoming the full-time starter until the seventh game.
His outstanding season gained him national attention — the college football world couldn’t believe a 17-year-old kid was dominating the competition with such ease. Allen finished the season averaging 6.8 yards per carry and has been floating around the Heisman conversation this offseason. Currently, he has the third-best odds at running back to win the award, sitting behind Texas’ Bijan Robinson and Ohio State’s Trayvon Henderson.
Senior running back Chez Mellusi is expected to return from a season ending injury as well, looking to serve as a complimentary piece to Allen. Mellusi was on pace for over 1,000 yards last season prior to his injury and will provide Wisconsin with a change of pace that will help to wear opposing defenses out. Isaac Guerendo is also returning to the backfield after facing his second straight season-ending injury. Though it’s a crowded room, Guerendo will be fighting hard for playing time and will probably see the field in a few instances.
In the pass catching department, the Badgers will look to replace a few important names that departed the program in the offseason. Losing top receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor as well as star tight end Jake Ferguson, Mertz will be looking at a whole new set of weapons this season. Expected to take on the main receiving role is rising junior Chimere Dike. He caught 19 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown in the previous season, but he had a reception in every game and seemed to build a connection with Mertz as the season went on.
Behind Dike will be a group that lacks experience but has shown flashes of promise this spring and in their playing time. Redshirt freshman Markus Allen and Skyler Bell will both return after receiving playing time against Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Allen and Bell were behind a lot of experience on the depth chart last season, but now will get their opportunities.
Another pass catcher who could emerge in 2022 is UCLA-transfer Keontez Lewis. The former 3-star recruit is in a similar spot to the others with limited production, failing to record a catch during his 11 game tenure at UCLA. However, the sophomore has wowed coaches and reporters with his outstanding 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound frame and physicality. Another story is the transition of former defensive back Dean Engram over to wide receiver. The son of the new UW offensive coordinator will add another piece of depth for the inexperienced receiving corps.
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At the tight end spot, there are a ton of different directions the Badgers can go in. This is another group without much experience, in part to the durability and success of Jake Ferguson. Cam Large, Clay Cundiff, Jaylan Franklin, Jack Eschenbach and Hayden Rucci all have seen limited playing time, but a few will have to emerge to assume blocking and pass catching duties.
On the offensive line, losing left guard Josh Seltzner and right tackle Logan Bruss will leave tough holes to fill. Both are preparing for the NFL draft — a common theme among Wisconsin linemen. Luckily for the Badgers, their O-line room has plenty of depth to replace these key positions. Wisconsin will return three starters in left tackle: Tyler Beach, center Joe Tippmann and right guard Jack Nelson. All three performed extremely well this past season, especially in the running game, so expect them to return to their positions.
To replace Seltzner and Bruss, the Badgers have options. Versatile lineman Tanor Bortolini can play both inside and out, logging reps at 4/5 o-line positions in his college career. The Badgers have plenty of other linemen with lots of experience, including likely left guard replacement Cormac Sampson and guard Michael Furtney. Wisconsin also has former top recruits who they hope to develop to their full potential, with former 5-star Nolan Rucci and 4-stars Logan Brown and Riley Mahlman. There’s certainly no shortage of depth along the Badgers offensive line.
For greater team success, the Wisconsin offense is looking to improve from some of its woes of last season. They’ll look to balance out their attack and become more efficient in the passing game, as they held one of the top rushing offenses in the nation.
With the introduction of Bobby Engram and some new playmaking weapons, the Badgers offense hopes to grow leaps and bounds this offseason and perform at a high level in 2022.