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Luke Fickell’s New Look Wisconsin

Luke Fickell

Out with the old, in with the really new! As in something the University of Wisconsin hasn’t had in 10 years. Wisconsin for the most part, hasn’t had an explosive offense in the 2010s. Explosive rushing attacks? Yes, but both the passing game and the running game clicking on all cylinders for the full season? No. With new head coach Luke Fickell and super offensive coordinator Phil Longo, they just might have it for this upcoming season.

Who is Luke Fickell?

The former Ohio State nose guard from 1992–1996 became a defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes years after his playing days. He got his first taste as head coach in 2011 for Ohio State on an interim basis in place of Jim Tressel for one season. They went 6-6 with no bowl game. However, Fickell did win a national championship at Ohio State in 2014, controlling the defense. He was impressive enough that he was hired as the head coach at the University of Cincinnati. He led the Bearcats to their first back-to-back 11-win seasons in school history.  During that second 11-win season, the school made its first appearance in the college football playoffs.

One of Luke Fickell’s main attributes is recruiting. At Ohio State, he had the pleasure of nabbing several big-time recruits.  Joey Bosa, Justin Hillard, Dorian Bell, Noah Spence, and Corey Brown were all huge factors in Ohio State’s dominance during his tenure. Those were the recruits who turned into college superstars.

Fickell was also able to get some notable recruits who were big names during past recruiting cycles. Those players just didn’t become household names in college, but a few names may ring a bell. Andrew Sweat, a 4-star recruit, was the 10th-ranked outside linebacker in 2008. Linebacker Thaddeus Gibson was ranked the number three outside linebacker in the 2006 class. Five-star linebacker Baron Browning, was ranked the number nine player in the 2017 class. Now you can say the “Ohio State” brand is what attracts the recruits, but Fickell was the coach sitting at the dinner table with mom and dad for those guys, and he had a case as the best recruiter in the Big Ten.

Phil Longo

Phil Longo is a master of air raid offenses. He was the offensive coordinator at Sam Houston State from 2014–2016. In 2015, his offense led the nation in total offense with 531 yards per game and ranked fifth in scoring at 41.1 points per game. That team also had 7,907 yards, which was third all-time in FCS history. In 2016, they repeated as the nation’s top offense while scoring 49.5 points per game. For comparison, Wisconsin ranked 74th in points per game and 89th in yards per game last season.

He took over as the Ole Miss offensive coordinator in 2017. During his two seasons at Ole Miss, Longo’s offenses were ranked in the top 20 offensively. The 2018 offense was ranked ninth nationally at 510.5 yards per game. Most importantly for Wisconsin fans looking forward, the passing game ranked fifth with 346.4 yards per game. If you pay attention to college football, can you name two quarterbacks from Ole Miss from the past five seasons? Longo’s offense creates quarterbacks. Not only that, but he managed to recruit AJ Brown and DK Metcalf to stay in the state.

During Longo’s tenure at North Carolina, his offenses were nothing short of spectacular. The Tar Heels are better known for their six national championships in men’s basketball. The football team, however, gained notoriety in the ACC for its prolific offense. In his first year with North Carolina, freshman quarterback Sam Howell (now with the Washington Commanders) set freshman records with 3,600 yards and almost 40 touchdown passes. In 2020, North Carolina’s offense was even more dominant with the starting running back and leading receiver got All-American honors. Wisconsin hasn’t had an All-American wide receiver since Lee Evans. Badgers fans would love it if Longo’s offense could turn senior Chimere Dike and USC transfer CJ Williams into All-Americans. Let’s not forget that this past season, Longo’s offense put rising NFL prospect quarterback Drake Maye on the map. Maye threw for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns.

Defense Expectations

Luke Fickell is most notably known for his defenses. He brings in a notable last name in the Big Ten in Mike Tressel, the nephew of Jim. At Cincy, Fickell’s defense was phenomenal, and it was led by Tressel. He started at UC, went to Michigan State, and then returned to the University of Cincinnati. The past few seasons, besides the run game, Wisconsin’s defense has been something they can hang its hat on. Under former defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, the defense was pretty good. In 2017, 19, 20, and 21, the defense was in the top 10 in the country. The only down year was 2018.

Tressel’s resume includes engineering one of the best defenses in the country at Cincinnati. They were the only undefeated regular-season team in the country in 2022, and his defense sent six players to the NFL, including New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner. Cincinnati’s defense ranked fifth nationally in scoring and 10th in total defense. Tressel runs a 3-3-5 scheme (three down linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs). This upcoming season, Tressel would have loved to come into a defense with the likes of all-conference performers Keanu Benton and Nick Herbig, both drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of weeks ago. What he did inherit was former D2 All-American cornerback Nyzier Fourqurean from the transfer portal, third-team All-Big Ten linebacker Maema Njongmeta, and graduate linebacker C.J. Goetz.


Luke Fickell

Photo courtesy: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports


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