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Analytics: Can Mordecai Bring the Heisman Back to Wisconsin Football?

Can Tanner Mordecai win the Heisman for Wisconsin football?



Wisconsin football; Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai
Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) runs through a drill during fall training camp at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023.

I’m back with Part Six 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 | Part 5

Sorry Folks, I know you might THINK Braelon can bring one back to Wisconsin Football, but if Melvin Gordon and Jonathan Taylor couldn’t win a Heisman. And We’ve only seen 3 RBs win it in the last 23 years. Plus, this isn’t the 90s where we saw 4 RBs in the decade win, capped with our own Ron Dayne!! In the Modern Era of College Football, it’s simply not in the cards for a RB to win this award.

So…I’ll follow up this piece to analyze what Braelon needs to accomplish to be in the Doak Walker Award conversation.

But I think our only hope for a Heisman is to have Tanner Mordecai bring it home again. And what type of year does he need to have to do that?

Well, lets dive in!!

What Level of QB is the Heisman STANDARD:

I’m going to start this off by giving you a lot of charts, so bear with me. But I’ll try to explain what they’ll be and why they matter!

First, we’ll look at Yards/ATT. Which is the single best measure of a QB and how efficient they are at throwing the football!

If you remember Part 4 of my series, I called out that Rushing YPA can actually skew how good a RB & the Running-Game is.

This all has to do with the negative plays that show up. With incompletions, the only negative play would be an incompletion and, therefore, zero yards. So even when you look at Completion %, which you would think would be an equal statistic to STUFF RATE. It isn’t, and YPA is still the best overall measure to judge a QB’s PASSING ability.

And I’ve got some data to prove it…

First COMP% & EPA/ATT:

  • A positive correlation is definitely evident here!
    • But there is certainly some variance in the regression model with Kyler & Mordecai

But check out how YPA & EPA/ATT Correlate:

  • A Much, MUCH stronger correlation here!!!

So it goes to show that the more Yards/ATT you can get passing the football, the more expected points you’ll add to your team. Which makes all the sense in the world, unless you’re getting sacked or throwing INTs passing the ball and the efficiency you contribute through passing the ball can be found in a QBs YPA!

What Other “Key Metrics” do we need to look at?:

Well, you can make those game-breaking throws much more often. That will definitely help your chances!


And on the flip side, don’t EVER put the ball in danger.


These are insanely low INT Rates across the board! But you’ll notice that two QBs don’t really fit the Sub 1.75% INT Rate mold (WHO’VE WON HEISMANS). That would be Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. Murray obviously had one of the best YPA & TD Rates among these Heisman QBs, but they both brought a certain dynamism to the position that really set them apart!

Those two were so much more dynamic with their feet that although they weren’t as polished across the board as passers as the other Heisman QBs.

  • Lamar with Poor YPA/INT Rate
  • Kyler with a Poor INT RATE

They still impacted the game from their position at a Heisman level by using their feet!!

So Mordecai, as we can see from the data, hasn’t been up to that level on YPA & INT Rate; he was really solid in terms of TD Rate in his 2021 Campaign. Right in line with the two reigning Heisman Trophy Winners (Bryce Young & Caleb Williams).  But especially looking at Rush YPG compared to this ELITE cohort, he seemed to lack some dynamism with his feet to make up for his poor YPA & INT RATE.

Now a number of factors that I called out in Part 5 could play a part in this. Like his supporting cast at SMU potentially having some influence on his YPA numbers. Or small number of high INT games is the cause for a HIGHER INT Rate compared to Heisman WINNERS. But let’s take a step back and see how this compare to other UW QBs, specifically those in the Paul Chryst Era.

Mordecai vs. Other Wisconsin Football QBs:

In prior analyses on Mordecai, I’ve talked extensively about how he compares very favorably to past UW QBs in YPA, INT RATE, and in other key metrics. But I’m interested in how he’ll be able to use his feet more to extend plays and limit drive-killing sacks! And also how his ability to do that compares to Paul Chryst Era QBs.

Let’s take a look:

  • ABOVE we can see each QBs Sack Rate (Sacks Taken / Drobacks) & Drobbacks
    • We see Tanner Mordecai well below all other UW QBs in the PC Era
    • I even threw Russell Wilson in there to compare & Mordecai takes on about 2% less Sacks!!!

This tells me that Tanner has an extremely good feel in the pocket and can use that feel to avoid drive-killing sacks. Something most QBs in the PC Era did at about a 6% Rate. Mordecai is well below 4%!! That has massive implications!

But how about using his feet to extend plays and pick up big yards?


  • In that respect, Mordecai isn’t  quite on Russell’s Level
    • However, he is head and shoulders above almost every other UW QB in the PC Era
    • And was very close in his 2021 Campaign

We will finally have someone a little bit more mobile and dynamic as the signal caller for Wisconsin Football!! Someone who will keep things alive when the pocket isn’t absolutely perfect and will not give up too many sacks. And although Mordecai hasn’t shown Kyler Murray/Lamar Jackson level ability to pick up huge yards with his feet. He does so at a level close to Russell Wilson’s, which we saw a little bit in the latest (WI)red featuring Mordecai. And we all know how dynamic that was for the 2011 Wisconsin Offense!!!

What should our expectations be that Mordecai brings the Heisman to Wisconsin Football?:

I think Wisconsin Football fans should expect that if Mordecai has a Russ-type year.

  1. 10.3 YPA
  2. 10.6% TD Rate
  3. 1.29% INT Rate
  4. ~25 Rush Yards/Game

He will have a DAMN good shot at winning the Heisman Trophy.

But ask yourself, why DIDN’T RUSS? Well, it comes down to one thing.

Just Win, Baby Win!:

What killed Russ was that team went 11-2. In no world should that Offense vs. that schedule have gone 11-2 in the Regular Season. This was back in an 8-Game B1G schedule. Also, in those 2 Losses before Heisman Voting, UW scored 30 PPG. That was enough to get the job done on his part. And if you include the Rose Bowl loss, that would be 33 PPG in his 3 Losses.

Final Thoughts:

If Mordecai plays to that level, I’m more confident than I’ve ever been about a UW Defense to be able to back him up with an Undefeated/One-Loss Season. From the personnel (Wohler, Njongmeta/Turner/Chaney, Latu, Peterson, Smith). To the Coaching Staff (Tressel, Hitschler, Scruggs) and the overall swagger the group seems to carry. They know that they are STILL one of the best defensive teams in the country, regardless of who we may have lost as our defensive coordinator!

I believe that ability is within Tanner Mordecai, especially given the situation he’s coming into. On Paper, this is one of the most talented Offensive Lines in the Country. Jack Nelson and Riley Mahlman are both 4-Star guys holding down both Tackle Spots. Bortolini, Renfro, and Huber all have proven their Star Rankings didn’t matter, as they were all very early starters in their career. And the depth behind them is LOADED. Brunner, Rucci, Benzschawel, B. Nelson all being 4 & 5-Star guys. Mordecai has some big guys up-front protecting him!

Take the pressure off with six really good Wideouts & a Two-Headed MONSTER RB duo in Braelon & Chez. This will put defenses in a massive pickle…load the box to stop the run or contain Mordecai. We’ll see who they take their chances with. Either way, the defenses go. I like our odds!! And maybe, just maybe, if they load the box a time or two too often. Mordecai can take advantage and find himself flying out of New York with a Heisman Trophy!

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.