It’s been some time, but we’re back with another roundtable, as the Wisconsin Badgers dropped a rough game to the Indiana Hoosiers in a 20-14 loss, providing the latter with their first conference win of the season.
There were several takeaways from the loss, including thoughts on the loss itself, Braedyn Locke, and the season overall.
For this roundtable, I combined with our football writer Scary Alvarez once again to answer some critical questions.
Q: Reaction to the loss to Indiana?
Rohan: That was easily the worst loss of the Badgers season, and, like Scary says, it was reminiscent of Wisconsin’s 2022 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini.
You can make excuses, but the Badgers quite frankly should’ve won that game, and consistently didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.
Give credit to Indiana for their poise and overall performance, as top players like Aaron Casey showed up in big moments.
But, this game leaves the Badgers with several questions heading into the end of the season, both for the present and the future.
Scary: That was a truly stunning defeat, borne of simply not wanting it as badly as your overmatched opponent.
It was easily the worst performance for the Badgers since Illinois in 2022, and I’m not even willing to use Wisconsin needing to play RB 3 and 4 and a QB starting his third game as an excuse. This was some “go take a good, hard look in the mirror” stuff, and I suspect that every man in that locker room was disgusted afterward.
Yes, this same Indiana team was deadlocked with #9 Penn State a week earlier in Happy Valley with 3:00 left in the game, but that’s little comfort when the Hoosiers simply looked like they wanted to win more than Wisconsin did for much of the afternoon.
This was just brutal stuff that will test the mettle of this team with a feisty Northwestern waiting in the wings.
Q: What’s your evaluation of Braedyn Locke at QB?
Rohan: Earlier this season, both prior to Braedyn Locke’s first action at Illinois and during the preseason, I made the bold take that Locke would not be Wisconsin’s starting quarterback in 2024.
Through a few games of action, we’ve now seen Locke’s talent unfold and I’m remaining firm on my take, believing the Badgers will hit the transfer portal once again and give their young corps of quarterbacks an extra year of development.
I do think there are several questions around Locke: does he have the requisite arm strength needed to complete all the throws in Phil Longo’s system? Is his limited athleticism an issue? Can he overcome the physical limitations with his accuracy, which has wavered through four appearances?
It’s way too early to tell about future projections, but it’s clear right now that the Badgers do have a work-in-progress with their redshirt freshman quarterback. With an infusion of talent coming to the Big Ten next season, I’m not sure if that’ll be enough to remain competitive on a weekly basis.
Scary: I think I’m higher on Locke right now than most people. He was not particularly good vs the Hoosiers, and had some truly awful throws, but this was still an inexperienced Freshman on the road down some big time weapons.
On Twitter, I made a comparison to Jack Coan’s early starts for Wisconsin, which were pretty rough back in 2018, pointing out that Coan turned out solidly for the Badgers. I’m not making a future projection that Locke is the next Jack Coan (I happen to think his ceiling is higher than what Coan’s was, certainly in terms of arm talent), as much as proceeding with some caution while evaluating a player who is very much an early work in progress after stepping into a very tough situation.
Seeing so many Badger fans write this kid off already has been really disappointing, although not shocking. I suspect that Locke will enter spring practice in 2024 as the starter, but the competition will be open, including early enrollee Mabrey Mettauer and all of the QBs currently in the room who remain at Wisconsin.
The X-Factor will be if Fickell hits the portal again for a signal caller, which is certainly possible with his pressure to win ramped up a bit after this tough season.
Q: What makes 2023 a successful season?
Rohan: To make this season a successful one, the Badgers have to win out. Why? Because, at the beginning of the season, when highlighting his expectations for 2023, head coach Luke Fickell detailed that he expected his program to play better in November and December than at the beginning of the transition.
Currently, Wisconsin’s trending in the wrong direction, but an 8-4 finish to the season, especially given the obstacles they’ve faced, would be a win for the program and a good stepping stone for 2024. I’m absolutely on the Fickell and Longo train going forward and think that any talk around them being fired is both ignorant and emotional.
But, at the moment, the Badgers need to turn things around. They have the talent to do so, but need to improve on discipline and consistency to win out. Unfortunately, at this point, it does seem that the Big Ten West title is out of reach, which isn’t ideal, given how tough it will be to make the Big Ten Championship in coming years.
But, this season is certainly salvageable with few more conference wins and a bowl game victory.
Scary: Grading on a “what is considered successful from this point on” curve, I’d say winning out while seeing progress from the Defense, WR room, and Locke would be great. Finishing with wins over Northwestern, Nebraska, and at Minnesota to cap an 8-4 regular season (and possibly even a Big Ten West title) would feel pretty damn good considering where the team is now, although Wisconsin could be a favorite in every game.
Capping the season with a bowl win and 9-4 record, while not what any of us were hoping for preseason, would be a solid year one for Fickell and might silence some of the over-the-top critics who seem to be multiplying presently.
But, make no mistake about it—Wisconsin will have to play a lot better to run the 2023 table, and could potentially lose any of these games.
If I had to pick the most important one to win, I’d say Minnesota. Getting the Axe back is a huge deal, and I’ve been saying since August. We simply can’t let PJ win three in a row.