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Wisconsin Football: Unmasking the Badgers ONE Missing Ingredient

Beyond the Score: Wisconsin Football Has Just ONE Missing Piece…



Wisconsin Badgers football head coach Luke Fickell walks the sideline vs. Rutgers
Oct 7, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell looks on during the fourth quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We’re still waiting for complete and utter dominance from the Wisconsin Badgers Football team in 2023.

Given the expectations coming into this season, the lack of that dominating performance start-finish is concerning without a doubt. Especially given their weak schedule to this point, and even more so given they have their toughest test since Week 2 with Iowa coming to Camp Randall next week!

But as you’ll see, this Badgers team is missing just ONE piece to the puzzle, and if we can find it…this team will run the table in the Big Ten West and find itself in Indy. With a chance to get a NY6 Bowl Berth!!! OR BETTER!!!

With that, I’ll get into the game “Beyond the Score” giving you rich insights and analytics that drive our performance.

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!!

Wisconsin Football Team Play Calling Distribution & EPA:

Play Calls:

Wisconsin Badgers football vs. Rutgers analytics breakdown

We saw a good dose of PA/RPO Passes on 1st Down All Game…the execution of those plays was the struggle!!

Wisconsin Badgers football vs. Rutgers analytics breakdown

On 2nd Down, we saw a flip in PA/RPO to Straight DB usage and a slight increase in Run Plays!

Wisconsin Badgers football vs. Rutgers analytics breakdown

On 3rd Down, Phil Longo ditched the PA/RPO game and had a pretty even split between Run Plays & Straight Dropbacks!


Wisconsin Badgers football vs. Rutgers analytics breakdown

Wisconsin Badgers football vs. Rutgers analytics breakdown

Wisconsin Badgers football vs. Rutgers analytics breakdown

You can see on 1st Down no play was “successful” on an EPA/Play basis. On 2nd Down, the Wisconsin football passing game was much more impactful from an EPA basis than the Run-Game.

Our Run Plays on 3rd Down were the Most Successful from an EPA/Play basis. 5.67 EPA was generated on 3rd Down Run-Plays!!

This is the 2nd Game in a row where we have been very good on 3rd Downs (53% Conversion) due largely to the many 3rd and “manageable” situations we left ourselves!!!

Wisconsin Badgers football vs. Rutgers analytics breakdown

Over 78% in a “manageable” situation. So, when you average it out, you get 4.17 AVG Yards-To-Go. But in reality, 78% of the Badgers 3rd downs were in a very “manageable” position. When you average those situations, you get 2.64 AVG Yards-To-Go.

So it’s no wonder Wisconsin was so good on 3rd Down, which ultimately really helps your EPA/Play.

If you can recall from my EPA Primer, moving the chains and getting a fresh set of downs with a better field position is the whole idea of the EPA Model. And it gives you a general understanding of which plays & players add the most value to WINNING!!!

This is also why our RUN EPA on 3rd Down is so much higher. Because we saw most of our 3rd Downs in 3rd & Short Situations, we decided to run the ball, which the Wisconsin Badgers converted at a high clip.

Passing the ball on 3rd down, we struggled, converting only 33% of our opportunities!!

EPA/Play x Half & Game:

There is no other way to put it: Wisconsin football struggled in the PA/RPO game all day. Drops, errant throws via pressure, and lack of chunk plays really impacted these numbers.

Wait I thought you said our Run-Game was good. Why is our EPA negative???

Well, this is due to Braelon Allen & his 1H Fumble (-4.5 EPA) and the failed 4th Down Conversion from Jackson Acker (-4.29 EPA).

Our Straight DB Passing Game was a true bright spot, which, like the Run-Game, was severely impacted with Rucci’s Fumble late in the 4th Quarter.

Here’s what these EPA numbers look like taking out these impactful plays!!

This was the story of yesterday’s game. The Badgers were really strong in a couple of areas. But the impact of a few plays really shifted the outcome of this game. There’s an interesting chart that gets shared weekly by a great CFB Analytics Guru on X/Twitter you can find him at statsowar, where he discusses an interesting topic.

“Did We Really Get Beat THAT BAD??”

Well, we beat the hell out of Rutgers. I’m using a different data source than he does, so there is a potential these could be different. But what he’s looking at is the Net Success Rate.

What is “Success Rate”?

  1. 50% of Yards To Go on 1st Down | Getting 2nd & 5 – OR BETTER
  2. 70% of Yards To Go on 2nd Down | Getting 3rd & – OR BETTER
  3. 3rd/4th Down is Converted

On Saturday, Wisconsin Football’s “Success Rate” was 55% to Rutgers’ 33%.

That is a 22% Net Success Margin. Which would have been the 2nd Best Net Success Rate based on those Week 5 Matchups in his Graph.

So why didn’t the score reflect that?!?:

For reference, Michigan had a 34% Net Success Margin vs. Minnesota and won 52-10. Meanwhile, Ohio State had only a 5% Net Sucess Margin and won 37-17.

The Key Difference in their outperformance? Turnover Margin & Explosiveness

  1. Wisconsin | -1 TO Margin
  2. Michigan | +2 TO Margin
  3. Ohio State | +2 TO Margin

Ultimately, we’re probably close to -10 due to the Turnover Margin!

We probably lost another -7 due to our drops (Explosiveness)

  1. Wisconsin | 0.75 Explosiveness Rating
  2. Michigan | 1.16 Explosiveness Rating
  3. Ohio State | 1.34 Explosiveness Rating

I haven’t looked at any correlations between Scoring Margin and Net Success Rate, but that would probably be a great way to view how much we’re letting those explosive/detrimental plays impact us! My guess is we’re woefully underperforming our Net Sucess Rate!!!

Wisconsin Football EPA Leaders:

Tanner Mordecai (Passing):

It’s not ELITE, but certainly not mediocre, when you consider that he’s getting NO HELP from his WRs!

I’ll Explain:

Below is a Histogram that shows Adjusted Completion % – Actual Completion %.

In other words, it displays how much of an impact DROPs & Throwaways have on a QBs Completion %.

Mordecai has the 30th Highest Adjusted COMP % vs. Actual COMP % among QBs with Min. 100 ATTs! What this means is that the Wisconsin football WRs are not helping him!

This rate is 1.3% OVER AVG., which equates to about 2 Extra Completions over the Season so far.

What’s worse, and what you very well already know is that these DROPS have been far more impactful than your average completion. These DROPS impacting this Metric have been catchable Deep Passes.

And when you look at a similar stat, Catchable % vs. COMP % on Deep Passes (Air Yards > 20 YDS):

This really highlights where Mordecai is losing from his WRs. It’s on these Deep Passes where they are flat-out not making the plays they need to be for the sixth year QB. It’s severely impacting his QB Efficiency and EPA!!

Rushing/Receiving EPA Leaders:

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

Jackson Acker came and stepped fully into the Role vacated by Chez Mellusi! He actually had an outsized role versus Chez, with 21% Usage vs. Chez who was at about 18% on the Season!

The other player who saw his workload increase was Will Pauling who saw his usage jump by 33% vs. his Season Average!!

I think we all thought it was going to be a group effort to fill the void left by Chez. But given Jackson’s and Will’s performances, I think it could joint effort on behalf of the two of them to fill Chez’s void!!

EPA Totals x Player:

Hayden Rucci had a tough Saturday, losing over 5.4 EPA! Acker was severely impacted from an EPA Totals basis with his 4-Play Drive in which he lost 5.35 EPA on that singular 4-Play Sequence. Removing that sequence, it was an excellent day for Jackson. Just think if he had converted that 4th Down Run he would have have added 6.25 incremental EPA to his outing.

Which would have put him as the most positively impactful player for Wisconsin football on Saturday. The RB was everything we needed him to be and more!!!

EPA/Play x Player:

On an EPA/Play basis, you can see Skyler Bell was right on par with Hayden Rucci. However, Rucci was targeted over the course of the game far more!

Braelon Allen and Will Pauling are positive from an EPA/Play basis, and obviously, we know how the 4th down Stuff is impacting Jackson Acker’s numbers. But to have the Badgers 3 Highest USG Players having positive EPA bodes real well for this offense.

Also, Allen being positive despite his costly fumble, again speaks to his high POSITIVE impact on this offense!!!


We targeted him 4 Times, and far too many positives came from it for him not to be getting Pauling-level targets!! If you attribute the PI to his EPA, these Total and EPA/Play Numbers would be even better!!!

Wisconsin’s Defense:

This group is coming into their own!!

UW Defense vs. Rutgers – Run Game:

UW only had a 9.5% Stuff Rate against Rutgers, which is quite bad…and although that CAN severely impact rushing efficiency. It’s more predictive of EPA and forcing teams into throwing situations with which they have little leverage. We did that in a bend-don’t-break capacity by allowing only 2.9 Yards Per Rush to Rutgers. Causing many 3rd and Un-manageable situations, where they rarely converted (17% Conversion Rate)!

This was a fantastic outing by the Wisconsin football defense, with what I would say only gave up 1 Full-Drive Touchdown! The other obviously came from a short field, I’m not sure that’s a metric, but it should be!

Final Thoughts on Badgers vs. Rutgers:

– Deep Passing Game needs to get FIXED…NOW!!!

This is the one thing that is holding back the explosiveness of the offense. Right now our Success Rate is really good 25th in the Nation. But our Scoring Offense is 51st in the Nation. This discrepancy is multi-faceted of course, but a huge component of it is our lack of explosion and those primarily come through the passing game and Passes with Air Yards > 20YDS!!

– The Defense is coming into their Own!

It’s hard to look at this from a statistical sense right now, YPA Rushing & Passing Allowed. Both of which have been Average → Mediocre at best! But looking at scoring defense which at the end of the day is the only thing that matters.

This is a Top-30 Defense! Given where the B1G West is at, especially from a QB Play standpoint…that’s all the Badgers need to get to Indy!

They seemed to have plugged a lot of the gaps we saw through the first four games.

  • Run Gap Alignment/Integrity
  • Secondary Discipline
  • Tackling

I would put Performance Grades on each of these categories at a B or Higher! That’s going to win us a ton of Ball Games this year!

– We have the Scheme and talent to Overcome Mistakes!

When looking at the Success Rate Metrics, for me, that personifies a Team’s Scheme! If you’re able to consistently move the ball downfield against your opponent. Your scheme is good! You also “probably” have better athletes, but I would argue that Explosiveness is a better measure of your Skill/Athleticism Gap. That’s the measure of HOW SUCCESSFUL your successful plays are. For example: Are they 8-Yard 1st Down Yards or 28-Yard Pickups?

The teams that have the “DUDES” bust off those plays at a much higher rate than plodders do! Therefore when you measure the EPA/Successful Plays, the team that has more “Chunk”/”Boom” Plays has a higher Explosiveness Rating.

You compete for National Championships with “DUDES” and a higher Explosiveness rating.

You can win the B1G West with Plodders! Big Difference!

The “DUDES”…are coming…just give Luke Fickell time!!

Last Call:

I can’t wait for Wisconsin football & its matchup vs. Iowa, we get another matchup that will allow our Defense an opportunity to face a team whose scheme & play-calling are in direct opposition to our Strengths Defensively!!!

Where we’ll finally get challenged is running the Football! If our inability to push the ball downfield continues, this will be a DOGFIGHT! I continue to have faith in our SCHEME offensively, because the plays are there to be made. At some point, we’ll make them, or we’ll start losing these ball games… but I don’t think that’s going to happen!! I think this WR Core just needs one, and then I think an Avalanche of Big Plays comes!!

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.