Wisconsin Football: Three Things to Know Before the Season Kickoff Against Illinois State 

Badger quarterback Graham Mertz and running back Braelon Allen embrace. (Photo courtesy of Asher Low of Badgers Wire – USA TODAY)

By: Krissy Birdsall

The University of Wisconsin-Madison football team begins their 2022 regular season on Saturday, September 3rd against Illinois State at Camp Randall. Before the first kickoff, here are three things to know about the Badgers heading into the 2022 season:

Wisconsin’s Offense May Look Different Under New Offensive Coordinator Bobby Engram

Following the 2021 season, the University of Wisconsin replaced longtime offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph with Bobby Engram. This coaching change will look to improve the passing attack of the Badger’s offense, who oftentimes struggled to generate big plays in the air during the 2021 season.

Engram has experience at both the collegiate and professional level of offensive coaching, formerly serving as a wide receivers and tight ends coach for the Baltimore Ravens and the University of Pittsburgh. As an accomplished wide receiver during his time at Penn State, the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, Engram will look to bring his experience as a player and coach to mentor third-year quarterback Graham Mertz and a young core of receivers at Wisconsin. The way this change in coordinators will impact the passing attack of the Badgers’ offense will be on full display during Saturday’s matchup against Illinois State.

Braelon Allen Headlines a Explosive Core of Running Backs

Although Braelon Allen only carried the ball twelve times throughout the first four games of the season last year, the tailback went on to have a stellar freshman campaign, finishing with 1,268 rushing yards and 12 TDs, which included a seven-game streak of rushing over 100-yards. Now heading into his sophomore year, Allen will lead a talented group of running backs, which include the returns of Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo

Chez Mellusi started in nine games in the Badgers’ backfield before going down with a season-ending knee injury against Rutgers on November 6. Prior to the injury, Mellusi produced 815 rushing yards and five scores, which included four games of rushing over 100 yards. 

Also returning the Badgers’ squad is senior Isaac Guerendo, who played four games in 2021 before his season was cut short by an injury. Guerendo rushed 23 times for 160 yards last year and looks to expand his impact on special-teams as the starting kick returner for the Badgers.

Allen, Mellusi and Guerendo will seek to carry on the tradition of talented tailbacks for Wisconsin, which include notable alumni Jonathan Taylor, Melvin Gordon, and Ron Dayne.

Heading into the first game of the 2022 season, Braelen Allen and Chez Mellusi were both featured on the Doak Walker preseason watch list, an award given to the best running back in the NCAA. This trio of tailbacks will lead the ground game for the Badgers throughout the 2022 season.

Position Turnover: How will Players Fill in the Shoes of Last Year’s Stars?

During the 2021-2022 offseason, the University of Wisconsin-Madison lost six players to the NFL including, inside linebackers Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor, tight end Jake Ferguson, and offensive lineman Logan Bruss.

The biggest loss for the Badgers heading into the 2022 season was at inside linebacker. Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn headlined this position throughout the season, combining for 205 tackles, 33 TFLs and 13 sacks before being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears respectively. This position will be filled by junior Maema Njongmeta and sophomore Jordan Turner. Both linebackers saw limited play last season, with Njongmeta logging 58 snaps while Turner was on the field for 24 defensive plays. Although they’ll have to step into larger roles, Njongmeta and Turner seem destined to be the next batch of highly-productive interior linebackers for the Badgers.

Another big loss for Wisconsin after the 2021 season was within Badgers’ receiving core. With departures of wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor, as well as tight end Jake Ferguson, a new younger core that features Chimere Dike, Skyler Bell, and Clay Cundiff will look to fill in for last year’s playmakers. Cundiff, a tight end, appeared in five games in 2021 before missing the remainder of the season due to injury. In those five games, Cundiff caught three passes for 86 yards and a score. Chimere Dike has the most experience of the young wideout core for Wisconsin, playing in all 13 games during the 2021 campaign, where he caught 19 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown. Skyler Bell will look to expand his impact at the receiver position this season, as the redshirt freshman played only one game in 2021, catching one pass for 15 yards at the Las Vegas Bowl.

Logan Bruss started in 25 games at right tackle throughout his career, and earned a consensus pick at All-Big Ten second team in his final year for the Badgers. He will be replaced by Riley Mahlman, a 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman making his starting debut for Wisconsin. Mahlman has only played one game in his collegiate career so far, making his debut against Rutgers last November.

The Badgers kick off their 2022 campaign at Camp Randall on Saturday, September 3rd against Illinois State at 6:00 P.M. CST. The WSUM Sports Team will be broadcasting the game live from Camp Randall.