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No. 19 Badgers vs. Washington State offensive grades: Run game struggles in loss

Here are the offensive grades from Wisconsin’s 31-22 loss to Washington State on Saturday.

After kicking off the Luke Fickell era with a 38-17 win over the Buffalo Bulls, the Wisconsin Badgers struggled in their first road game, ultimately losing 31-22 to the Washington State Cougars.

Tanner Mordecai improved, but the run game struggled, and the offense couldn’t overcome a slow start in the loss.

Here are the offensive grades from the No. 19 Badgers 31-22 loss to Washington State.

Quarterback: B-

Tanner Mordecai’s first outing as a Badger was shaky, placing pressure on him to improve in Week 2, and he did.

Was Mordecai perfect? Not close to it, but the quarterback displayed some much-needed downfield aggressiveness, and showcased his underrated mobility and off-schedule ability.

Mordecai completed 25/40 passes for 278 yards and one touchdown, clearly operating under a different gameplan than Week 1, airing it out for over 15 yards 12 times, but only completing four of those passes.

Overall, Mordecai settled in, making some nice throws, including two 41-yard passes, as well as a 16-yard touchdown to Skyler Bell while facing pressure and rolling to his left.

It was a better day for the Badgers quarterback, but his performance gets knocked for the number of missed deep throws on 1-on-1 opportunities.

Mordecai slightly missed on several throws, making the right read, but missing with his accuracy too far on a few plays. Nonetheless, a miss is a miss, so Mordecai earns a ‘B-’ for his performance Saturday.

Running Backs: C

After the running backs dominated in Week 1, it was a quiet day for the ground-and-pound in Week 2 for Wisconsin, as Braelon Allen rushed for just 20 yards on seven attempts, while Chez Mellusi got 49 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts.

The Badgers couldn't get anything going on the ground, as the Cougars held contain well on the edges, while linebackers and safety Jaden Hicks triggered quickly to stop plays over the middle.

In Week 1, the Badgers were able to utilize their spread offense to create opportunities on the ground, allowing their backs to work in space at the second level, generating chunk plays.

However, in Week 2, the Badgers were outmatched early on the ground, and then game flow took over, as Wisconsin fell behind, forcing a higher volume from the passing attack.

Additionally, Chez Mellusi recorded a controversial fumble that wasn't overruled due to a lack of evidence to overrule. While I may not have agreed with the call, it certainly changed the direction of the game.

Braelon Allen did get another six catches through the air, although they generated just 12 total yards, while the running back dropped a pass as well.

Thus, the Badgers’ running backs earn a ‘C’ on the day.

Wide Receivers: B+

The wide receivers were the group to watch on Saturday, as the Badgers implemented more of a downfield passing attack, allowing for increased opportunities for Will Pauling, Chimere Dike, and Bryson Green.

Once again, Pauling paced the team in yards, earning five catches for 78 yards, while Dike came second with four catches and 75 yards. Green got two catches, but totaled 54 yards on the day, including a deep 41-yard pass from Mordecai.

While Mordecai was 4/12 on passes exceeding 15+ air yards, the quarterback succeeded over the intermediate range, completing 9/12 passes between 5-14 air yards, and each receiver benefitted from that accuracy.

Skyler Bell bounced back from a crucial drop last week to put up five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown as well.

The reason that the Badgers receivers don’t earn an A?

There were a few instances on downfield attempts that they could've gotten a little more separation, or got away with an uncalled push-off, but it was nonetheless a strong day for the group, hence the ‘B+’ grade.

Tight Ends: C-

In 2023, don’t expect the tight ends to command much volume in the passing game.

For the second consecutive week, the position group was more of an afterthought, earning two total targets, with Hayden Rucci securing the lone catch for five yards, as Tucker Ashcraft dropped his only opportunity.

With the receiving game not being as much of a threat for the tight end unit, you would've liked to potentially see some more chips towards the defensive ends to help Mordecai out more, but the Badgers didn't adjust and had two fumbles as a result.

Does this group have some potential? Sure. But, with the talent in the receiver room, the tight ends may not see much volume in 2023.

Offensive Line: D

Last week, I provided the offensive line an ‘A’ for their performance. It was a complete flip in Week 2, as the Badgers’ unit couldn't gain much traction in the running game, while the tackles had a rough day with their pass-blocking.

Of course, the main storyline is Jack Nelson, who arguably had one of his worst games in a Badgers’ uniform, giving up two sacks to Ron Stone Jr., who strip-sacked Tanner Mordecai on both plays, with one resulting in a return for a touchdown.

Nelson finished the game with five pressures allowed, the most for the Badgers on the day.

But, throughout the game, Stone and defensive end Brennan Jackson had their way on the edges, limiting the Badgers’ in the run game, while the former had five pressures in a dominant game.

The Badgers’ offensive line had some good spurts throughout the game, but ultimately, their struggles in the run game, as well as the turnovers from the passing game resulted in the worst grade for any position group on Saturday.