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Wisconsin Football Season Derailed by Injuries, Identity Crisis

Let’s talk about the numbers coming out of the Wisconsin football loss to Iowa.



Wisconsin Badgers Football quarterback Bradedyn Locke vs. Iowa
Oct 14, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Braedyn Locke (18) fumbles the ball after being hit by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Aaron Graves (95) during the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Given the Badgers expectations coming into this season, this was a truly heart-breaking loss for Wisconsin Football. Especially given their weak schedule past this game

There’s not much to say, that hasn’t been said across Social Media. But I’ll take you “Beyond the Score” giving you rich insights and analytics that drove our performance vs. Iowa.

If you’re looking for even more detailed Analytics, check out my “DEEP DIVE” series, where I dive into Player-Tracking Data and more!!

Alright, let’s jump into it!!

Play Call Distribution & EPA:

Play Calls:

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

We saw a good dose of PA/RPO Passes on 1st Down All Game. As it was vs. Rutgers, the execution of those plays was the struggle!!

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

This is the Play-Calling that was perplexing. We went to the Straight DB Passing Game, early and often on 2nd Down. Overshadowing the Run-Game & the PA/RPO Passing Game. As you’ll see this was the true blunder of Longo’s Play-Calling vs. Iowa. We left a lot on the table, deploying this strategy!

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

Based on our 2nd Downeffectiveness, we found ourselves in far too many 3rd & Medium-to-Long situations.

This forced our hand into a few more Passes on 3rd Down, but there were plenty of opportunities to run the ball more on 3rd Down, and as you can see we opted out of that A LOT!

Wisconsin Football Success Rate:

A new stat we’re tracking is Sucess Rate.

What is Success Rate? If you’re at all in tune with the NCAAF/NFL Analytics community, you’ve surely seen it. But what the hell does it mean???

Success Rate – much like EPA, is a metric designed to parse out the noise of YPA into a more thoughtful approach to Offensive or Defensive “Efficiency”.

A play is defined as “successful” if:

  • 50% of the Yards-to-Go are achieved on 1st Down
  • 70% of Yards-to-Go are achieved on 2nd Down
  • 100% of Yards-to-Go are achieved on 3rd/4th Down

So…Success Rate is the number of plays where those parameters are achieved divided by the total offensive or defensive plays.

This cuts out the noise that EPA can generate on those “Explosive” Plays both Positive and Negative. And is more of a metric of Drive x Drive Efficiency regardless of Field Position.

As we can see, in the 1st Half on 1st Down we had a much better “Success Rate” passing the ball. That script was flipped on 2nd Down with Run “Success Rate” by 19%!

On 3rd Down we had no “Succesful” Plays, meaning no 3rd Down conversions!


In the 2nd Half we saw some improvement in the overall “Success Rate”, on all Downs, and in all facets. Pass-Game Success improved as did our Run-Game Success.

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

When we look at the Full-Game, we begin to see some of what I was talking about earlier. The amount of 2nd Down Passing Wisconsin football did and how unsuccessful we were really was the killer. And it was such a gigantic switch from where we had been:

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

On Average, we’ve been split pretty evenly 45%-65% Runs on 2nd Down. And we were 29% Saturday!

Not sure what the thought process was?

  1. Buck our tendencies – Why?
  2. Try to get back ahead of the “Sticks” – Didn’t Work
  3. Take advantage of a “Heavy” Box – If True (Don’t have Data) is pretty damming of our WRs

For once the “Run-The-Ball” crowd is right…

We’ve thrived so far this year by maintaining a healthy dose of 3rd and Manageable situations. That wasn’t the case on Saturday!

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

We had been seeing upwards of 80% of our 3rd Downs in a 3rd & Manageable (Medium & Short). On Saturday only 55% of our 3rd Downs were “Manageable”.

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

For some context. ~78% of our 3rd Downs were in a “manageable” situation. When you average out those situations, you get 2.64 AVG Yards-To-Go. Overall our Average 3rd Down Distance was 4.41 vs. Rutgers.

But, even with lower levels of 3rd & “manageable” situations. Wisconsin football still dropped the ball with our Run v. Pass mix IMO:

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

In 3rd & Shorts, we went 83% Pass in those situations!!! With a Conversion Rate of only 20%. Why, why, why?

Wisconsin Badgers Football analytics breakdown vs. Iowa

It’s mindboggling, considering we were a perfect 1/1 in converting 3rd & Shorts into 1st Downs. A huge miss there, and yet another area where we bucked the identity we’ve been starting to build.

You’re just not going to win ballgames with such a low 3rd Down Conversion rate. At least not when you’re offense lacks the explosiveness to overcome Low Success Rates & 3rd Down Conversion Rates!


EPA/Play x Half & Game:

Wisconsin Football EPA Leaders:

Tanner Mordecai (Passing):

Tanner Mordecai was actually quite successful on 1st Down throws. This was overshadowed by the poor 2nd Down Passing we witnessed!

Braedyn Locke (Passing):

Obviously, the 3 TOs impact our view of the young QB and severely impact his EPA Numbers here. But I thought he held his own and threw a number of really great throws.

His Deep Ball to Chimere Dike was a thing of beauty and would have completely changed the game. Placed perfectly where only Dike could get it, some hand-fighting and feet getting tangled inhibited Dike from making the play.

The story of this Wisconsin football season is the lack of big plays in the downfield passing game significantly impacting our offense.

Rushing/Receiving EPA Leaders:

First, let’s take a look at the number of touches/targets by each player!

I think this goes hand in hand but Jackson Acker’s role and the overall decrease of 2nd Down Runs were the biggest surprises to me. I thought Acker did a fantastic job filling the role vacated by Chez Mellusi with 21% Usage vs. Rutgers!

That dwindled to 8% Saturday vs. Iowa. Perplexing.

EPA Totals x Player:

4 Players found themselves in “Positive” EPA territory for Wisconsin Football.

  1. Bryson Green – Green had a monster game w/most Targets all Year (10)
  2. Chimere Dike – 3 Big Time 1st Down Grabs
  3. Will Pauling – Ballplayer: 14 Targets | Only 3 1st Down Grabs = Lots of Unflashy Production
  4. Braelon Allen – He came out STRONG in the 2H | 2.29 EPA on 1st two 2H Drives

EPA/Play x Player:


Wisconsin Badgers Defense:

One bad play…is sometimes all it takes to make or break a game.

UW Defense vs. Iowa – Run Game:

UW had a 20% Stuff Rate against Iowa, a 10.5% increase from Rutgers. Right on par with our Season Average. What killed UW was one play. Not sure who it’s on Wohler or Maitre, but one of them should have filled the backside hole. They didn’t and the RB was able to bust through untouched.

Outside of that one play. We allowed 155 Yards over 61 Plays. Which is ~2.55/Play. One, very costly mistake.

Final Thoughts on Wisconsin Football vs. Iowa:

– The First Time we lost the Field Position Battle!!!

This is the first time our Special Teams got beat. And boy did we get beat badly!

Our average Yards-To-Endzone start was 82.9 Yards. Iowa’s? 55.6.

That’s 27.3 Yards of field position. Or ~0.32 Expected points/drive! Impecable performance by Iowa in the 3rd Phase

– The Defense is coming into their Own!

That’s probably a tough pill to swallow for some. But they only allowed 7 Points on a “Full-Field” (>75 Yards-To-Endzone)…all on one play. The other 6 Points allowed, were off FGs. With an average of 22.5 Yards Allowed on those possessions.

They didn’t lose us this game, but they didn’t win it for us either. But that was Iowa’s gameplan. They only put the ball in jeopardy a couple of times. Which is easy to do when you only Pass 14 times.

This Defense isn’t flashy, but it seems to get the job done…

– Where Do We Go From Here?

With Wisconsin football starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai out, and our 1B (A?!?) RB out. We have to reset our expectations completely. This team isn’t 11-1 Capable or 10-2 capable with Mordecai out for Ohio State.

But even with Braedyn Locke in at QB for the remainder of this Season, I think this team’s expectations are at 9-3.

I thought outside of 3, albeit crucial plays, he showed tremendous poise given the situation. Given the reps he’ll be getting all week in plays that highlight his strengths. Plus, the obvious mindset shift in knowing you’re going to be in. Those changes, I believe, will excise those mistakes we saw from Locke Saturday.

We’re also going to need more from Jackson Acker, and a reliance on our Run-Game. Not just because Mordecai is out but because shying away from our biggest strength impacted us tremendously vs. Iowa.

The Good News….our schedule gets significantly easier down the stretch.

As always…On Wisconsin!

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Gard Your Fickell is a leading authority on Wisconsin Badgers analytics, specializing in dissecting the intricate data behind football and basketball. With a deep passion for the game and an analytical mindset, Gard Your Fickell offers readers a unique perspective on the Badgers performance.