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Analytics: Is Tanner Mordecai the Perfect Fit for Wisconsin & Phil Longo?



Wisconsin Football Quarterback Tanner Mordecai
Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) answers questions during Wisconsin Badgers football media day at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.

I’m back with Part Five of my Pre-Season Series: TOP 10 Wisconsin Football Stats you need to know for the 2023 Season!

For Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3  | Part 4

We will shift gears away from the running game and focus specifically on Tanner Mordecai and his fit into Phil Longo’s Offensive System. I’ve done this before, because, well. The QB position is the most important in all of Football. At the High School, College, and Pro Levels. So it bears going quite deep into the analysis to ensure your QB is…or ISN’T the guy.

You can read that piece following up on his Spring Game Fiasco here.

But let’s go a little bit deeper with some new data!!!

First, let’s take a peek at RPOs.

All RPOs aren’t the same:

I wanted to look at how Tanner Mordecai performed in the RPO setting and given the robustness of the data I’m using. We can get really detailed into how that might translate into Phil Longo’s system.

Both Mordecai and Longo Pass heavily in RPOs to the “Right Third” of the field. This makes a lot of sense because on those throws, his feet are already set to throw. I also think this is why you see much fewer throws to the “Left Third” because to do that, Mordecai would have to flip his hips 180 degrees before he throws or throw off-base. Both of which are sub-optimal solutions! Middle Passes are the lowest from both Mordecai and Longo, which again makes intuitive sense. On RPOs and pulling to throw, you have a limited window before the middle of the field, which crashing LBs are now backing into. It’s too quick developing play to see a lot of intended throws over the “Middle Third”.

But not all RPOs are created the same, especially with how they attack the defense:

A lot is going on in this chart, so let me break it down clearly:

  1. Column Chart is looking at Air Yards/ATT x Pass Direction
  2. Line Chart is looking at On-Target % (QB Accuracy) x Pass Direction
  3. Left Side is Longo | Right Side is Tanner Mordecai

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s obvious within Rhett Lashlee‘s & Sonny Dykes’ offense Mordecai wasn’t asked to push the ball downfield into tough gaps on RPO throws
    • These were very quick and fast developing – 2.55 Time To Throw (TTT) via PFF on PA/RPOs & 1.35 TTT on Screen Throws
  • Whereas for Longo, those RPOs stretched the defense vertically from an Air Yardage/ATT standpoint!
  • What’s also concerning to me is the fact that given the Air Yard/ATT discrepancy, the On Target % was a little bit lower than I would have expected from Mordecai
    • You would think quick passes that aren’t traveling as far would be much easier to get On Target!
    • When you look at his RPOs > 5 Air Yards/ATT
      • ON-TGT % = 44.35%
      • YPA = 7.59
      • 2 TDs | 0 INTs

We’ll see if Longo looks to add different route concepts into the RPO Game too play into Mordecai’s proven strengths. Or if we’ll see how Mordecai performs with more downfield RPO Route Concepts!

Speaking of Rout Concepts…

What Route Concepts Will Longo Bring to Wisconsin Football:

Now that we know some aspects of the SMU Offense Mordecai was running, we thought, at the surface were similar, but the details showed were not. Especially in the RPO game. We should check out if that rolls into route concepts Longo will be bringing to Wisconsin Football as well. And see any further areas of concern arise?

  • Honestly, if you were to Pareto these route concepts for each “Player” Longo & Mordecai. You wouldn’t have as much variance as you might expect, given what we saw in the RPO game.
    • It just shows there are multiple ways to get the same thing done
  • It’s also why we might not have seen as much consistency from Mordecai through Spring Ball & early Fall Camp, as changing the HOW in getting the ball out on a certain route concept takes time and REPS to master
    • This makes me confident that as he continues through Fall Camp and into the Season. That he’ll continue to get better and more consistent in all Route Concepts!

Because he’s shown over his Career on every single Route Concept that Longo likes to run that he can spin it!!!

  1. I don’t see anything at all that causes any major concern
  2. I also don’t see anything at all that causes me to say WOW either…
  3. What I see is Mordecai is about as efficient in each passing situation as Longo QBs have been (Howell & Maye)

And I’ll tell you, Badger Fans, that’s a damn good place to live. Because Howell & Maye were both OUTSTANDING QBs for Phil Longo!

However, One Thing Concerns me for Mordecai & Wisconsin Football:

When I took a look at Mordecai’s INT Rate by Route Concept, I stumbled on something a tad bit unsettling…

There is an awful lot of Red on this list!!

Let’s take a peek at a scatter plot by “Route Type” and “Air Yards/Att”:

  • What I see here is that Mordecai really seems to struggle with ball security on Route Types that attack that Intermediate area of the field
  • But I also see that he THRIVES from a ball security standpoint on Route Types that attack the BLOS, Short, and Deep areas of the field

But how bad is his overall ball security?

Well, I took a look at where he falls when you look at the 200 Best QBs “Statistically” from 2016-2022 on this metric:

  • He’s damn near average when it comes to Ball security and Air Yards/Att
  • But this is for the TOP QBs of the last 7 years…Mahomes/Burrow/Stroud/Williams/Haskins/Corrall/Minshew/Rogers, and the list goes on.
    • So in comparison to that list of guys, Mordecai is “AVERAGE” but let’s not get it twisted; it’s an ELITE group I just measured him against!
    • So while we’d love to have seen him in that Bottom Right Box…that Box has the likes of Fields, Young, Lawrence, Tagovailoa, Bennett, Jones, Stroud, and Burrow (Catch my drift) Heisman Level QBs.
  • But that’s his bar!!! We need that to beat the PSUs OSUs, Michigans, etc.
    • So for Mordecai, if we can see him fall firmly below that 2.25% INT Rate while creeping up to Longo’s 4.5-5.0 Air Yards/ATT

How will he get there? Here are my thoughts on how! We know with a New System & a new QB in that system. Plus 100% of the WRs new to the system Longo is sure to rely on the bread-and-butter schemes he and his QB have had success on. So let’s dig into those concepts!

How will Mordecai perform for Wisconsin Football on the NEW Bread-and-Butter Route Concepts?:

  • He is right on par with what Longo is used to getting from his QB on those necessary Bread-and-Butter Route Concepts

    • Screens
    • Curls
    • Slants
    • Outs

Let’s Look at YPA:

  • Whether it be scheme, player YAC, etc. the YPA Efficiency was not there for Mordecai compared to Phil Longo and what he’s gotten out of these Bread-and-Butter Routes!!

Finally, Let’s Look at the INT Rate:

This could be some of the concerns going into this year. Mordecai put up great numbers in his two years at SMU but he also put up double-digit INTs in each of his years at SMU.

I’ve watched some film of his games; some of those INTs weren’t his fault but a nature of slips/trips & miss communications. But given the nature of the offense, that’s a major component that plays into it. And you can also see that 56% of his INTs came in only 25% of his games. This is what we saw in the Spring Game. When it rains, it pours!! Mordecai went 2-4 in those 6 games…

Final Thoughts On Mordecai’s Fit into Longo’s New Look Wisconsin Football Offense:

So, while there isn’t a “Perfect Fit” plus the obvious areas of concern I’ve just highlighted with Mordecai. We must give some time and grace before the transition to UW/Longo System can fully blossom for Mordecai and the WR group. In large part, the struggles we’ve seen and heard through Spring Ball and early camp, in my opinion, will be transitory. It’s something brand new to a lot of people on this offensive roster. And so we must temper our expectations that this team will put 45+ PPG in the 1st three games. I’d love it happened, but I certainly won’t be expecting it…and neither should you!

I think the great news for Tanner is he’s got Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi behind him that he can hand it off to 30-35 times a game. So what we need from the QB Position are a few simple things:

  • A QB who can execute at a high level in the RPO game – Check!
  • A QB who can execute those Bread-and-Butter Longo Route Concepts | Screens, Curls, Slants, Outs – Check!
  • A QB who can take care of the ball – This is the only question mark I may have with Mordecai!

But with such a dynamic backfield coupled with a scheme that just needs to move the ball with Bread-and-Butter Route Concepts that he’s proven he can execute at a high level on. And doing so in the RPO game as well. I think will make this the most dynamic Offense we’ve seen since 2010-2011! It’ll just take some time to get to that ultimate level!

I’m not sure it will be gaudy stuff from Mordecai, i.e., 3,000 YDS + 30 TDs, or maybe it will be. I just don’t think that will be what’s asked of him! Getting those types of numbers and pushing the ball that far downfield consistently comes at a price! INT Rate for one. And I don’t think he’ll be asked to do that in positions that come from necessity! Being down big and in desperation mode. I think we’ll see Mordecai stretch the field often, only in times when we have the momentum to be aggressive and punishing towards the opposing defense!

As always, with something new and different. Time will tell us as to how well Mordecai will fit. My intuition and surface-level reasoning suggest to me he’ll be the highest-performing QB since Wilson/Tolzien, but I’d be remiss not to share that with you after further examination, there are certainly trouble spots to be aware of!

But the overwhelming signs lead me and my soul to believe. That with Mordecai under Longo’s guidance. And being surrounded by an EXTREMELY talented Badger Offense. We are primed for a BIG YEAR!

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.