There’s a lot of buzz in Madison this summer. From Luke Fickell and Phil Longo’s hiring, to huge transfers like CJ Williams and Tanner Mordecai, the Wisconsin Badgers are primed for a big year.
Fickell and Longo have already promised to move Wisconsin toward an Air Raid offense, an extreme change for the Badgers’ traditional 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. But with an experienced quarterback in Mordecai and a solid receiving room, more pass options open for play-making running backs Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi.
It also means the Badgers could live and die with Mordecai’s arm.
The senior transfer from SMU put up over 3,500 yards each of the last two years. He threw 33 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in 2022, and 39 scores and 12 picks in 2021. By comparison, former Badger quarterback Graham Mertz amassed 2,100 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2022.
Mordecai compiled those numbers in the AAC though, a mid-major conference not exactly known for defense. So what can Badgers fans expect from their quarterback in 2023?
Expect better Badgers QB play (but not Joe Burrow)
No matter how Mordecai plays, I think it’s fair to say we will see better quarterback play than we did last year with Mertz. I don’t even necessarily think Mertz is that bad, or Mordecai is that good – but with more opportunities to throw the ball, we’ll see more flashes in 2023.
Going through some highlights, Mordecai looks like a pretty typical college quarterback. He can sling the rock 30-40 yards past the line of scrimmage without much problem. He is mobile in the pocket and can scramble with good speed.
He also has a fairly accurate arm, but it’s not world-beating. He can fit the ball into tight windows, though often needed his receivers to make a play. That’s not surprising for a college quarterback, but it will matter when Wisconsin throws the ball 30 times a game.
It’s difficult to judge vision in college quarterbacks who aren’t top-tier, but Mordecai’s seems good enough. He can telegraph his primary receiver, or one side of the field, yet had a completion rate of 65% in 2022. That’s almost 10% better than Mertz was a year ago.
Arm strength in terms of zip is a weakness, however. His downfield balls aren’t bullets. His lack of zip (in my opinion) leads Mordecai to throw a lot of balls outside the hashes. Many don’t attack the middle of the defense, and when they do it’s usually a crosser moving to a sideline.
In the spring game, Mordecai was … let’s just say not amazing. He threw four interceptions and generally looked more like Bart Houston than Russell Wilson. To give Mordecai the benefit of the doubt, his receivers clearly didn’t have chemistry with the transfer and dropped a number of passes.
None of the other quarterbacks stood out, so Mordecai is still the best option in the group.
Wisconsin Badgers football kicks off Sept. 2 against Buffalo in Madison.
By Nathan Denzin, BADGER STRIPES
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