Everything is condensed this week because the TV Gods require content, and that means college football on high school football night. I am writing this article under protest.
11 Personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR)
10 Personnel (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WR)
Ground Based Spread
Players to Know
Purple Circle - #8 - Tanner Mordecai - Quarterback
The former Oklahoma and SMU quarterback was brought in by Luke Fickell and Phil Longo to help the transition from Wisconsin’s traditional smash mouth, to Longo’s spread offense. There’s not much the 6th year senior hasn’t experienced on the football field.
It’s been a mixed bag for the veteran quarterback thus far. He’s completing a solid percentage of his passes (68/101 - 67.3%) but they’re not going very far (7.0 yards per attempt), and not getting into the end zone (2 TDs), and are occasionally going to the other team (2 interceptions). Last season at SMU, Mordecai threw for 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but he was playing in an established spread/air raid attack. The Badgers are a team in transition on offense, and things aren’t nearly as automatic for Mordecai this season, like they were for him at SMU. He knows where he wants to put the ball, but the receivers haven’t made it to those spots on occasion,
In Wisconsin’s 31 - 22 loss to Washington State, I was surprised by the pressure the Cougars got on Mordecai. This is an offense designed to get the ball out quick, but if you can throw off the early timing, the quarterback has to hold the ball, and Badgers have struggled stopping speed rushers off the edge. That bodes well for Purdue if they can get into the receivers and make Mordecai stand in the pocket and wait for deeper routes to develop.
One aspect of his game that concerns me is his scrambling ability. Don’t freak out too much, he’s not Garrett Shrader, but he is a solid athlete with decent pocket presence. After struggling with Georgia Southern in the first half, Mordecai’s ability to escape the pocket and pick up first downs and a touchdown with his legs was crucial for the Badgers second half dominance.
All-in-all, he’s more of a system quarterback. His arm strength is solid, but not exceptional and he struggles when the defense moves him off his spot or hurries his process. His accuracy suffers when he’s not getting the ball out quick on slants and outs because he tends to throw off his back foot when he has to wait. Purdue needs to surround him with their pass rush and make him step into the pocket and make throws. They can’t let him step out of the pocket, because he’s a good enough athlete to hurt you on scrambles. He’s not the best quarterback Purdue will face this season, but he’s solid and experienced.
Green Circle - #0 - Braelon Allen / #1 - Chez Mellusi - Running Back
Allen is pictured above but this is a time share backfield. On the season, Allen has 36 carries and Mellusi has 40. While Wisconsin is experimenting with more 11 and 10 personnel groupings under Phil Longo, when they need a play, they revert back to their smash mouth roots. That was evident in their game against Georgia Southern. After only putting up 7 points in the first half, they leaned heavily on the run game (and Georgia Southern’s 5 interceptions) to pull away in the second half.
We’re all familiar with Allen. He’s a 6’2, 240 pound beast with enough speed to break the big one when he has a full head of steam. Last season he steamrolled Purdue for 113 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Purdue needs to get to him early, because once he gets going, second level defenders bounce off of him. Against Georgia Southern, the Badgers often pulled their backside guard and tackle to lead the way for Allen. When those guys pull, it’s important for the backside guys to follow them to the ball, but not over commit and give Allen the backside cut back.
I’m familiar with Mellusi because at one point, he played for Clemson. At 5’11, 205, the former 4* back isn’t exactly lighting option in the duo, he's more like quiet thunder. He’s quicker than Allen and was recruited to play in the spread offense at Clemson. If anything, he’s Mockobee with an extra gear in the open field. Like Allen, he’s capable of hitting the big one if he gets into the second level. While Allen runs more of the power game, Mellusi does a good job in the read option, and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. I expect the Badgers to come out throwing, but if things get tough, they’ll lean on their running backs and offensive line to pull things through.
Yellow Circle - #11 - Skyler Bell - Slot Receiver
Syracuse didn’t throw the ball much last week, which meant their slot receiver didn’t victimize the Boilermakers. Bell, a redshirt sophomore, leads Wisconsin in receptions and is Mordecai’s quick option. Hopefully Purdue has figured out the quick slant to the slot receiver, because Bell likes to run it and Mordecai likes to throw it. The good news is Bell, while fast, isn’t the typical jitterbug slot receiver like Purdue faced against Fresno State. At 6’0” and close to 200 pounds, he’s more of a physical inside receiver, and if Purdue ends up using Cam Allen on him, it makes for a better match-up.
I’m looking for Long to try and get Mordecai in a rhythm early with quick passes, and that means Bell should get plenty of work. If Purdue can disrupt him at the line with a physical defensive back, I think they’ll have a better shot of containing the short passing game.
This isn’t the Wisconsin offense you’re familiar with, but they tend to revert to their old power run tendencies when the passing game isn’t paying dividends. They’ve struggled to find the right mix of running and passing so far this season. Their best players are on the offensive line and at tailback, but like Purdue’s defense they’re in a transition year. Their best players don’t 100% fit the system they want to run, and it’s made things look clunky in Madison.
Wisconsin is looking for confidence on offense, and it would behoove Purdue to come out fast on defense and not give them anything to feel good about. At some point this offense is going to click. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen on Friday night.