It is time for the 2022 Wisconsin Badgers football season preview extravaganza to begin! Over the next (almost) two months we will be preparing you for the upcoming football season. We’ve got previews of every team on Wisconsin’s schedule, we’ve got positional breakdowns of each group at UW, we’ll have predictions for the full conference, rankings of the top units in the Big Ten as well as a couple of larger features that we think are interesting.
Up next, the Badgers’ most difficult test of the non-conference schedule, Washington State.
Team: Washington State Cougars
Head coach: Jake Dickert, 2nd season, 3-3
2021 record: 7-6 overall, 6-3 Pac-12 Conference
Game info: Saturday, Sept. 10, 2:30 p.m. CT, Fox, Camp Randall Stadium
Top returning players
- Sophomore, WR De’Zhaun Stribling, 44 catches, 471 receiving yards, five touchdowns
- Junior, DE Ron Stone Jr., 64 total tackles, five sacks, one forced fumble
- Junior, DE Brennan Jackson, 46 total tackles, five sacks, one interception
- Senior, CB Armani Marsh, 70 total tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles
- Sophomore, QB Cameron Ward, transfer from Incarnate Word, 4,648 passing yards, 47 passing touchdowns, 2021 Walter Payton Award Finalist (FCS Heisman)
- Junior, WR Zeriah Beason, transfer from Oregon State, appeared in 10 games as a sophomore last season, 20 catches, 236 receiving yards
- Senior, OT Grant Stephens, transfer from Northern Colorado, started 12 games at right tackle in 2021
- Senior, LB Daiyan Henley, transfer from Nevada, 103 total tackles, four interceptions, 2021 All-Mountain West Second Team
2021 season review
It was a rollercoaster season for the Cougars last year, who went through a coaching change midseason but still managed to finish second in the Pac-12 North and earn a Sun Bowl berth. Head coach Nick Rolovich began the season in charge, but was fired in October after refusing to comply with the state of Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert stepped in as the head coach and guided the Cougars to a 3-3 record, including a 40-13 win at Washington in the Apple Cup. Dickert, a Wisconsin native who played at UW-Stevens Point, was named the permanent head coach after the regular season.
The Cougars began the year losing three of their first four games, including the season opener to Utah State. Rolovich then lead Wazzu on a three-game conference winning streak with victories over Cal, Oregon State and Stanford before being fired after seven games.
Washington State went on to earn a birth in the Sun Bowl, where they were defeated by Central Michigan. After a Covid-shortened season two years ago and a 2021 season filled with drama and changes, the Cougars still managed to have a pretty successful year on the field. The team finished second in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game and finished fifth in points allowed per game.
2022 season preview
The 38-year old Dickert will look to keep the momentum going into 2022 after righting the ship following Rolovich’s firing last year. He brought in new offensive coordinator Eric Morris who comes to Pullman after four seasons as the head coach of Incarnate Word. Joining him from Incarnate Ward to run his pass-heavy offense will be incoming transfer quarterback Cameron Ward.
Ward was a dynamic player in the FCS last season, throwing for 47 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, and could thrive at the FBS-level in an offense that he’s already familiar with. Luckily, Wisconsin will see Ward in just his second game with the Cougars, where he will face his first tough road environment in Madison.
Ward won’t have a ton to work with out of the backfield as last year’s leading rushers Max Borghi (880 yards, 12 TDs) and Deon McIntosh (532 yards, three TDs) have graduated. Ex-Wisconsin running back Nakia Watson is likely to be the starter to begin the season, after serving as their third-string back last year.
The Cougars also lose their top two wide receivers from a year ago, but sophomore De’Zhaun Stribling is ready to take the next step after a stellar true freshman season and super senior Renard Bell returns after missing last season with a torn ACL. Oregon State transfer Zeriah Beason also figures to be a factor in an offense that will start three wideouts. With a talented passer like Ward under center, I’d expect the Cougars to come out throwing early and often against the Badgers.
The offensive line is clearly Wazzu’s weak spot on offense heading into the fall. They must replace three starters from a year ago and their is a limited amount of experience on the roster. The difference maker could be Grant Stephens, who transferred in from Northern Colorado and could become an All-Pac 12 level lineman in his senior season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougars are backed by two strong pass rushers but the secondary is a bit of a question mark. Dickert’s defense figures to at least have a solid defensive line in place heading into the fall. Talented edge rushers Ron Stone Jr. (five sacks in 2021) and Brennan Jackson (five sacks in 2021) return this season and will be a tough task for Wisconsin’s offensive line. The run defense should improve after finishing No. 7 in the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed last season and I don’t foresee this being a defensive line that Wisconsin and Braelon Allen can just run all over.
The Cougars lose longtime starters Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers at linebacker, and their leadership and reliability will be tough to replace. Nevada transfer Daiyan Henley should pick up some of the slack though, after finishing with 103 tackles and earning All-Mountain West honors for the Wolf Pack last season.
In the secondary, two starters return but it remains to be seen just how good this group will be. Senior cornerbacks Armani Marsh and Derrick Langford Jr. will need to step up in bigger roles, while another Nevada transfer, safety Jordan Lee, will look to make a splash at one of the starting safety spots.
The Cougars will not be a pushover in this game, but I expect the Badgers to beat them by two scores in Madison. Most of the outcome of this matchup will depend on if Ward is truly a special quarterback like he was at the FCS-level and isn’t fazed by the tough road environment. I just think Wisconsin is too physical up front on the defensive side of the ball and will dominate the Cougars’ shaky offensive line...look for Keeanu Benton to have a monster game here.
Washington State’s defense should get better as the season progresses, but a young secondary will be tested against the Badgers. However, Wisconsin’s offensive line better come to play in this one, as Wazzu boasts some serious pass rushing talent. I could see this being a game where Graham Mertz needs to throw a bit more than usual, but the Badgers should take care of business at home against the Cougars.