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Why the Badgers were more conservative in Week 1

Luke Fickell explained his decision-making in Week 1 to be more conservative in certain areas.

The Wisconsin Badgers cruised to a comfortable 38-17 win over the Buffalo Bulls in Week 1, pulling away in the second half after leading just 14-10 heading into halftime.

It was an up-and-down day for the offense, as quarterback Tanner Mordecai had a shaky two-interception start to his Badgers career, while the running game flourished to the tune of 298 yards and four touchdowns.

However, another area of conversation was some of the decisions from head coach Luke Fickell to be more conservative, rather than attempt some fourth-down situations with the offense.

Specifically, the Badgers elected to punt on a 4th & 3 at the Buffalo 42-yard line before throwing a 1-yard screen later on 3rd & 6 and then kicking a field goal at the Buffalo 19-yard line on 4th & 5.

When I asked Fickell postgame about his decision to punt, the head coach gave a non-committal answer, failing to remember that moment, but did share some insight on the field goal decision.

“I don’t remember which one it was,” Fickell said in reference to the punt. “By nature, we’re going to be aggressive. But there’s a feel for a game and the situations we had.”

Fickell pointed to the field goal situation, sharing that it was a valuable time to get his kicker some early opportunities in the season that had low pressure, allowing Nathanial Vakos to establish some rhythm.

“I don’t remember that one. I can’t recall exactly the time on it. I know this; I’m not sure we would have kicked a field goal every time when we did, but I thought it was an opportunity for us to get our field goal kicker out there on the field and get him into some rhythm too, as well, because we know we’re going to need him as well.”

“That might be an area where I’ll look back and say if we’re going to be an aggressive team, if we’re going to take our shots at things, those are the areas where, when it’s fourth-and-3 inside that 25-yard line, we’re going to have to be aggressive. I just felt like at that time it was the right thing to do to give (Nathanial) Vakos a chance to kick.”

Vakos appreciated the motion from Fickell, sharing the differences of kicking at Camp Randall and why the early reps were valuable.

“It’s obviously a lot bigger from where I was before, but it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it, and I’m just glad I could help out the teams, put some points after the game,” Vakos said. “Usually going in, I try not to get too nervous. I mean, some I do every day. So going in for an extra point at first, it should be money every time. And getting my first field goal to my belt is kind of nice, so I’m glad I got it under my belt.”

Now, the acclimation to Camp Randall came quick for Vakos, who acknowledged the difference in kicking conditions, as well as the windy weather on Saturday.

“Obviously, [at Camp Randall], it’s less warm-up space. A lot of people on those sidelines fields kind of it’s really slanted just because [of how the turf is],” Vakos said. “But yeah, I guess just figuring out a good routine to warm up on the sidelines, getting myself some space and then adjusting to the weather here. It’s really tricky kicking in here. Obviously, the game was super windy, so you could see it affect some kicks in there, obviously. So it’s just kind of staying on top of it.”

In Week 1, the Badgers can afford to be a little more conservative, given how they comfortably won the game, which allows for opportunities to get their kicker and punter acclimated to the new environment, given it was each of their first games at Camp Randall Stadium.

However, head coach Luke Fickell knows that there’ll be a time when aggressiveness will be required during the season. We’ll see when that adjustment occurs this year.