The Wisconsin Badgers kicked off the Luke Fickell era with a 38-17 win over the Buffalo Bulls in an up-and-down game that eventually led to a comfortable victory to start off the 2023 season.
Much of the eyes were on quarterback Tanner Mordecai and offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s “Air Raid” attack, but it was more so the running game that stood out on Saturday, while the defense was able to withhold the Bulls to 17 points.
Here are the defensive grades from the No. 19 Badgers 38-17 win over Buffalo.
Defensive Line/Outside Linebackers: C-
The Badgers were able to stop a duo of talented running backs in Mike Washington Jr. and Ron Cook to a combined 103 yards on 24 carries, averaging out to 4.3 yards per carry, but it wasn't an overwhelming performance from the front four for Wisconsin on Saturday.
The Badgers never established a pass rush, failing to sack Cole Snyder once, and the secondary bailed them out on a number of occasions with excellent coverage for an extended period of time, forcing a couple of throwaways.
There were some pressures as the game went along, including ones from Darryl Peterson, who recorded two quarterback hits, and Gio Paez, but it was an underwhelming performance in that aspect from this group.
Coming into the game, my ‘X-Factor’ was outside linebacker Jeff Pietrowski, who ended with one quarterback hurry.
While the issue didn't play a big part into Saturday’s win, this is an area that the Badgers need to improve on going forward.
One questionable factor? The lack of playing time for defensive end Darian Varner, who was active for the game, but didn't ever come in.
Varner is the most experienced pass-rusher on the team, and the Badgers may start sprinkling him into the action more to generate some of that value.
The grade is saved for the efforts on the ground, but it wasn’t the best day for the Badgers and their pass rush.
The linebacker group for the Badgers was very active on Saturday, as Jordan Turner led the way with eight tackles, while Jake Chaney had five of his own.
Earlier this offseason, defensive coordinator Mike Tressel proclaimed Chaney as a starting-caliber linebacker, and clearly wasn’t kidding, as the Badgers rotated in the junior with starters Maema Njongmeta and Jordan Turner consistently.
Chaney had one missed tackle, but made some really nice plays, including a key stop on 3rd & 2 in the flat to force a punt, showcasing his quickness and trigger.
Jordan Turner’s solid outing was marred by a targeting penalty in the second half, which will keep him out of next week’s first half.
Turner had a mix of good and poor plays, making four huge stops, but also missing two tackles on an active day, while taking a poor angle on a quarterback keeper elsewhere.
Turner had a knack for some coverage issues in 2022, but defensive coordinator Mike Tressel placed him in comfortable situations, going blitz-heavy with all of his linebackers.
It was a quieter day for Maema Njongmeta, but it was still a positive day overall for the Badgers’ linebackers, who are starting to prove to be one of the stronger position groups on the roster.
After being an issue for the majority of the 2022 season, I honestly thought the secondary held up very well on Saturday in coverage, while different players stood out overall.
First off, as I expected, the Badgers held a rotation at cornerback with Nzyier Fourqueran working alongside Alexander Smith and Ricardo Hallman at times on the outside.
At safety, the Badgers operated with a ton of three-safety looks, incorporating Travian Blaylock in the backend, while Hunter Wohler played a ton near the line of scrimmage.
Coverage-wise, the Badgers had a few rare mishaps, starting with a miscommunication between Alexander Smith and Jake Chaney that led to a huge completion in the second quarter, propelling Buffalo’s first scoring drive after Kamo’i Latu was beaten from the slot on a corner route in the redzone for the score.
The Bulls had momentum at certain portions of the game, but the Badgers excelled in short-distance situations, squashing any significant drives, leading to a 2/15 performance on third down from Buffalo.
Hunter Wohler was the star of the game defensively, racking up 11 tackles and playing fast, consistently showcasing his quick trigger, instincts, and ability to wrap up.
Alexander Smith had a pair of real solid tackles on the boundary as well, with his lone mishap coming off a bad angle on a cornerback blitz.
Kamo’i Latu was the lone inconsistent player of the group, as his tackling issues from last season continued to arise.
Latu missed four tackles, while taking a bad angle on another play.
Not all was bad, as Latu wrapped up well twice, while also nearly picking off Cole Snyder in coverage, but that portion of his game needs to be cleaned up.
The solid day in coverage, as well as Wohler’s big game, leads to a strong grade for the secondary, with Latu’s inconsistencies slightly diminishing the overall performance, hence the ‘B+’ grade.