To make matters worse, quarterback Tanner Mordecai was revealed to have suffered a broken hand that could sideline him for the remainder of the season, which forced redshirt freshman Braedyn Locke into action for the Badgers against the Hawkeyes.
Locke finished 15/30 passing for 122 yards and an interception in his first extended action as a Badger, and will have to prepare quickly, as the Mississippi State transfer will be the starting quarterback for Wisconsin against Illinois this weekend.
How does the locker room feel about their backup quarterback?
It was nothing but praise for Locke after his performance on Saturday, as his teammates shared their confidence in their new starting quarterback, which was unbeknownst at the time.
“I thought Braedyn did a really good job. Obviously got in there second quarter, second half, whenever he got in there and faced a little bit of adversity when he got in there, had a little bit of pressure on his face,” Pauling said. “But I feel like he handled the adversity very well and I feel like the more he’s in there, the more confidence he’s going to get, obviously, and the more reps he gets with the first group, the more confidence he’s going to get.”
The toughest part for Locke was the hand he was dealt, as the quarterback was thrust into the game immediately in the second quarter before taking all of the snaps in the second half of the loss.
“Even though today was a tough situation, he was a great player, and I think he did a good job being thrown in there today,” offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini said. “Obviously, it’s a little more difficult when you don’t know if you’re the guy coming into the week, but I thought he did a good job stepping up.”
With a new quarterback coming in the mix, Iowa looked to dial up the pressure and test Locke, which Bortolini felt was well-received by the redshirt freshman.
“I thought Braedyn did a good job at handling [pressure],” Bortolini said. “Kind of wanted to get his feet underneath him.”
With Mordecai going down after an ugly first half offensively for the Badgers, the mood around the stadium was certainly gloomy.
Still, just like any other position, it was a next-man-up mentality for the Badgers at quarterback, with it being Locke’s turn to fill the void at the position.
“I don’t think there was much of a change in game plan or strategy, anything like that. I think after Tanner went down, it was next-man-up mentality,” Pauling said.
“Braedyn was the next man up and all the guys in the locker room ride around Braedyn and we support Braedyn. We trust Braedyn,” Pauling said. “So, I feel like going into next week, if Braedyn’s that guy going in, I feel like I have great trust in my [quarterback]. A lot of [the offense] has great trust.”
The big question around Locke revolves around his ceiling, which is the major unknown, given how raw he is in regard to experience.
Still, that didn't change the unwavering confidence that teammates have in Locke, who raved about his work ethic and poise, which should help in situations like this.
“I’m very confident in him. He does all the right things,” top safety Hunter Wohler said after the loss. “He comes in every day, shows up and takes care of business, and he’s very calm and smart. He doesn’t let things rattle him. I really, truly do have full faith in him.”
“I love the guy. I love the way he works, what he brings to the table. So, if he’s leading us the rest of the season, I can’t wait to watch him play.”
Bortolini anointed Locke as a player who can put his team in winning positions, pointing to the quarterback’s potential as a reason for excitement.
“He did what he needed to do, and I’m proud of [him] for that,” Bortolini said about Locke. “I think going forward, he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to put his team in a position to win. He’s a great player with a lot of potential. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
But, in order for Locke to reach that potential, Bortolini took it upon himself to put a bigger emphasis on the offensive line.
“As an offensive line, we just got to be able to step up, give him time,” Bortolini said after the game. “And I think the biggest thing is that Braedyn’s a really good player and if we give him time to make the play, he’ll make a play. It’s just about giving him time consistently and executing.”
Additionally, Locke will have a bigger responsibility placed on his shoulders, which starts with building chemistry with his receivers in order to get factors like timing and accuracy down.
But, wideout Will Pauling didn't share many concerns in that field, pointing out how the starters and backups consistently mixed in the offseason, providing each other with needed reps.
“Generally speaking, yeah, it takes a bit of time to find that chemistry,” Pauling said. “But I feel like me and [Braedyn], and for most of spring ball, we were in there together, so I feel like B-Locke’s lot’s got a certain feel for what I’m going to do, when I’m gonna do it.”
“I feel like that’s an advantage that me and Braedyn might have in that aspect. But I feel like Braedyn’s got really good chemistry with most of the [receivers]. We all get to throw with both quarterbacks in practice.”
Regardless, in-game reps are what truly matter, and Locke will have to learn on the fly as the weeks go along.
That process has already started for Locke through his time in Madison, as Pauling pointed out the quarterback’s decisiveness is an area that has vastly grown through the offseason and into the season.
“The thing that stuck out to me [the most] that’s improved is probably decisiveness,” Pauling said. “Obviously that just comes from getting more reps in the offense, playing more snaps in the offense. I feel like now that he’s had those practices to improve, now that he’s going to have some more game experience that you can learn from, improve from. I feel like in the future you’re going to get [a much better Braedyn Locke].
Locke’s acclimation period will have to come quickly, however, as the quarterback will be the starter against Illinois, who just upset Maryland 27-24, in a road game.
But, it’s a good sign that the locker room is ready to ride for their new starting quarterback, who has a chance to cement his status as the guy for the future with a solid stretch of games.