MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin is replacing one of the nation’s more experienced college quarterbacks with a guy who had thrown just one career pass before Saturday.
Braedyn Locke is Wisconsin’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future with sixth-year senior Tanner Mordecai out indefinitely after breaking his hand in a 15-6 loss to Iowa. Locke had appeared in just one college game before playing the entire second half against Iowa.
“I would say there’s definitely a little bit different level of pressure, but at the same time a little comfort because you have all week to prepare,” Locke said. “You know the situation you’re going to be thrust into. You know what’s going to be asked of you. Last week was kind of on the fly.”
Locke generally has the type of study habits that prevent him from needing to do much on the fly.
Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell said this week “there’s nobody that’s here more, that spends more time in here in the office and breaking and watching film, and learning and studying.”
“Maybe Tanner would be the only other one that pushes the envelope to you’ve got to kick them out of here,” Fickell added.
Locke’s teammates tell a similar story. Offensive tackle Jack Nelson calls the Mississippi State transfer an “extremely, extremely hard worker.”
“It’s kind of just part of who I’ve always been,” Locke said. “I take a lot of pride in being a smart player and knowing where to go with the ball. My mind has always been my advantage on the field.”
He needs that dedication to help Wisconsin make up for the experience lost with Mordecai’s injury.
Mordecai had made 30 career starts and thrown 1,146 career passes during a career that previously included stops at Oklahoma and SMU. Locke makes his first career start Saturday when Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) visits Illinois (3-4, 1-3).
Even so, the Badgers say they aren’t expecting to make major adjustments to their offense in Mordecai’s absence.
“From what I’ve seen so far, there won’t be any changes,” Allen said.
Locke said Mordecai is helping him through this.
“Even before the injury, me and him would talk and bounce ideas off each other,” Locke said. “He’d let me know what he sees. I’d let him know what I see. Nothing’s really changing with that dynamic there. It’s just kind of on the flip side here.”
Locke’s performance against Iowa showed promise before revealing his inexperience. After entering the game late in the second quarter, Locke led 60-yard drives that resulted in field goals on each of Wisconsin’s first two second-half possessions.
But he threw an interception and fumbled twice during Wisconsin’s last four series, with one of the fumbles causing a safety and the other resulting in a turnover.
“The turnovers really killed us,” Locke said. “We were in position to win the game or at least within striking distance for the entire 60 minutes, right until the very end.”
This was the type of challenge Locke wanted when he decided to come to Wisconsin.
After working in an Air Raid offense at Rockwall (Texas) High School, Locke signed with Mississippi State but also considered North Carolina, where Phil Longo was working as offensive coordinator. Once he entered the transfer portal, Locke chose Wisconsin in part because of Longo, who’s now running the Badgers’ offense.
“I just really liked that he was super honest,” Locke said. “There’s a lot of people out there who are going to kind of bluff you on things and tell you what you want to hear. He was very honest, very up front. We kind of just meshed from the get-go, talking football and things like that.”
The Locke family’s belief in this staff is evident from the fact that Braedyn’s younger brother Landyn, a junior at Rockwall, already has verbally committed to Wisconsin. Rockwall’s off this week, so Landyn is expected to join his parents in the stands for the Wisconsin-Illinois game.
Landyn’s college decision had Wisconsin fans expecting to see a Locke behind center often in the future.
It’s just happening a little sooner than expected.