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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Badgers Football vs Georgia Southern

Column: Air Raid vs. the run game: how have they come together so far?

With new coaching and a new offensive philosophy in town, the Badgers have successfully applied the passing game to a historically run-heavy offense.

For decades, Wisconsin has become known for their accomplished running backs. From leading NCAA FBS rusher Ron Dayne to more recent stars like Jonathan Taylor, the Badger football program has always relied on its running backs to carry an offense. 

For years, the idea was simple: establish dominance at the line of scrimmage, control the clock and wear down defenses. However, a new hire this past offseason changed the team’s mindset.

When new head coach Luke Fickell hired Phil Longo as the offensive coordinator last year, he switched the Badgers offense from their “ground and pound” style that relied heavily on their running backs to a high-octane Air Raid style. This style emphasizes quick passing plays and relies on quarterbacks and receivers to spread opposing defenses thin and wear them out by using the whole field and minimizing time between plays.

With such a big change in how the offense was going to be run, there were some questions coming into the season, especially because Wisconsin has always been known to rely on its running backs to carry the offense. However, four games into the season, it looks like the change is going just fine. 

The Badgers are currently 3-1 and have blown out a majority of their opponents, scoring 35+ points in three of their four games.

While passing constitutes the majority of the Air Raid style, the run game has shined so far in this season. So far, Chez Mellusi has 51 carries for 307 yards and four touchdowns on six yards per carry, and Braelon Allen has 52 carries for 371 yards and six touchdowns on 7.1 yards per carry. The Badgers’ top two running backs have accounted for 10 out of the 16 total touchdowns scored this season. Even with the team’s change in style, the running backs have still been the most productive part of the offense.

However, the rest of the offense has also contributed more than in the past. For starters, quarterback Tanner Mordecai has thrown for 876 yards with a 66.4% completion percentage, albeit mostly on short- and medium-range passes. He has four rushing touchdowns, too. The receivers have also done their job, with Chimere Dike accumulating 228 yards, Will Pauling amassing 175 yards and Skyler Bell having 113 yards.

However, it is important to remember that Air Raid doesn’t necessarily mean passing the ball. 

“Just because there is a connotation of ‘Air Raid’ doesn’t mean that you have to throw the football a ton,” Fickell said in an interview before the season. 

Wisconsin has had 150 rushing attempts compared to 130 passing attempts this season, a  balanced attack that challenges defenders guessing what type of play the offense will run. When receivers are lined out wide, it forces the defense to respect the pass, so they commit less toward the run. This gives the offense a chance to thrive and has led to a much more productive offense this season. 

As the season progresses, all the question marks will eventually be ironed out. The players will only get more familiar with this new style of offense, which should lead to more passing yards and more points. But for now, the transition into a new era of Badger football seems seamless.

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