As college football season draws ever-closer, we’re running down Indiana’s schedule to preview its opponents for 2023.
IU’s penultimate home game is against a Wisconsin team under new leadership for the first time since 2015. Former Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell took over the Badgers program after an extremely successful stint with the Bearcats, and he’ll look to turn things around after a relatively disappointing season in Madison. This will be the first IU-Wisconsin matchup since 2020, when the Hoosiers went up to Camp Randall Stadium and ended UW’s 10-game winning streak in the matchup.
- Opponent: Wisconsin
- Date/Time/TV: Saturday, November 4, TBA
- Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
- 2022 record/postseason result: 7-6, 4-5 Big Ten, beat Oklahoma State in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl
Returning production, offense: 75 percent (per Bill Connelly/ESPN)
Offensive outlook: Wisconsin’s offense has had better seasons than 2022. The Badgers had particular trouble in the passing game, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in passing offense (Indiana finished eighth). Fickell, who has a defensive background, hired North Carolina offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Phil Longo to serve in the same role at UW. The Tar Heels had some of the top passing attacks in the country during Longo’s stint in Chapel Hill with Sam Howell and Drake Maye at quarterback, and he’ll hope redshirt senior SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai can have similar success. Mordecai finished 11th in the country, second in the AAC, and higher than in passing yards per game last season, and he completed 65 percent of his passes. He was the seventh-ranked quarterback in the transfer portal, per 247Sports.
Senior wide receiver Chimere Dike is back after leading the Badgers last season with 689 yards on 47 receptions with six touchdowns. Beyond him, Wisconsin’s receiving corps is filled with transfers and youth. Redshirt sophomore Will Pauling followed Fickell from Cincinnati. Sophomore USC transfer C.J. Williams was a top-100 recruit and top-10 receiver in the class of 2022 (per 247Sports Composite). Junior Oklahoma State transfer Bryson Green caught 36 passes for 584 yards and five touchdowns last season for the Cowboys. All-Big Ten junior running back Braelon Allen enjoyed a strong 2022, finishing fourth in the Big Ten at 103.5 rushing yards per game. His 5.4 yards per carry ranked seventh in the conference. His role could change in a new offensive system, but he’s certainly a nice weapon for Longo to work with.
Pro Football Focus ranked Wisconsin 16th in the country in pass blocking last year and 30th in run blocking. Of course, offensive line coach Bob Bostad left for Indiana — Jack Bicknell Jr. leads the unit now after coming with Longo from UNC. Wisconsin’s offensive line has three returning starters, and redshirt junior center Jake Renfro was a stalwart on Cincinnati’s strong 2020-21 teams before missing 2022 with an injury.
Returning production, defense: 68 percent (per Bill Connelly/ESPN)
Defensive outlook: Fickell’s Cincinnati teams were built on some of the best defenses in the country, and he’ll look to replicate that success with Wisconsin. But the team will have to fill some holes as some of the defense’s top performers from 2022 are gone.
The Badgers have their top three tacklers from 2022 back this year, in redshirt senior linebacker Maema Njongmeta, redshirt junior linebacker Jordan Turner, and graduate student outside linebacker C.J. Goetz. Njongmeta also finished fifth in the Big Ten last year with 11.5 tackles for loss. Wisconsin’s run defense was one of the strongest in the Big Ten last year, and those three will be key in making that happen again.
UW has a big void to fill in pass rush after Nick Herbig left for the NFL. While it may be difficult to replace his production from last year — Herbig led the Big Ten with 11 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss — the Badgers will hope a couple transfers can step in adequately. Redshirt junior outside linebacker Jeff Pietrowski Jr. had a solid 2021 sophomore season at Michigan State before missing most of last year with an injury. And redshirt junior defensive end Darian Varner finished fifth in the AAC with 7.5 sacks for Temple last year, and he earned first team All-AAC honors.
In the secondary, Wisconsin returns senior safety Kamo’i Latu and graduate student cornerback Alexander Smith. Redshirt sophomore Ricardo Hallman also started eight games at cornerback last year, and could be in line to start opposite Smith again this year. Redshirt senior Jason Maitre started at both safety and cornerback for Boston College in 2020-21, and could be a key part of the Badgers secondary. UW’s pass defense was a little leakier than the run defense last year, but Fickell’s Bearcats teams typically ranked highly in that department.
Returning starters, special teams: kicker Nate Van Zelst, holder Gavin Meyers, long snapper Peter Bowden
Special teams outlook: Van Zelst, a walk-on, took over placekicking duties last season when Vito Calvaruso suffered an injury, and he performed pretty well. Van Zelst went 11 for 14 on field goals and 35 for 35 on extra points. The Badgers did add another kicker in the transfer portal in sophomore Nathaniel Vakos from Ohio, who had a solid season for the Bobcats as well. Punter Andy Vujnovich is gone, so UW could turn to junior Gavin Meyers or freshman Atticus Bertrams. Wisconsin lost both its primary kick and punt returners, and Dike could be a threat in those roles.
Overall Outlook: Of the four new head coaches in the Big Ten this year, Fickell probably has the most to work with. It’s always fair to wonder how a team will adapt to new systems. But Fickell’s defensive reputation at Cincinnati — and at Ohio State before that — makes it seem likely Wisconsin’s defense can improve. And the Badgers have a lot of talent on offense — if Longo can maximize it, look out. Wisconsin should be one of the better teams in the Big Ten West with a real shot to make the conference title game.
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