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Analytics: Recap of Wisconsin Football vs. Buffalo



Wisconsin Badgers Football

A win is a win, and for Wisconsin Football, that is no different for their Week 1 Performance vs. Buffalo. It certainly wasn’t as clean and dominant a win as some were expecting. The Offense struggled in the 1st half, with 4/6 Drives ending with No Scores & 3/6 not getting into Buffalo territory. The Defense was solid, but again, just like with the Offense, it wasn’t DOMINANT. They gave up an easy scoring drive following UW’s first score and let up a FG going into halftime that, coupled with Buffalo receiving the 2H kickoff, definitely sapped some gaining UW momentum.

The Second Half was a much different picture. UW outscored Buffalo 24-7, and that 7 Points was due to a late 4Q INT from Tanner Mordecai, leaving the Bulls with a fantastic starting field position inside the UW 15. Outside of that, Wisconsin played phenomenally in the 2H and the 3Q in particular. They had 217 Rushing Yards in the 2H, by my count, to go along with 3 Rushing TDs! And 4/7 drives resulted in scores, almost a complete inverse of the first half.

Without that late pick from Mordecai, I believe the narrative would be very different about this Week 1 Performance. Instead of a hair-on-fire attitude about Mordecai and a narrative building that him and this offense aren’t up to snub, we’d be singing a much different tune.

Alas…he threw it, and everyone is thinking about pulling out their hair preemptively. So, let’s dive into the analytics to potentially rid you of that thought!!

Play Calling Distribution:

1st Down:

Wisconsin football analytics
  • Didn’t see a ton of PA/RPO passes on 1st Down, and I think this speaks to what the gameplan was offensively. Very vanilla. Pretty basic concepts.


2nd Down:

Wisconsin football analytics
  • Copy and paste through each down and the Play Calling looked similar from a Play-Type standpoint. We didn’t see a ton of PA/RPO passes on any down. Very vanilla, very basic concepts, and we still put up 38 Points!!!

3rd Down:

Wisconsin football analytics
  • A little more Passing on 3rd down, which makes sense as our AVG Yards-To-Go was 7.33 on 3rd Down. We’re not going to run the ball often in those situations. We didn’t see a ton of PA/RPO passes. This makes sense with 3rd & Longs because it won’t have the same intended impact.

EPA x Down For Wisconsin Football:

1st Down:

2nd Down:

3rd Down:

UW Ran the heck out of the Football, as you can see here. Only on 3rd downs, which we know were 3rd & Longs mostly, and runs on those downs without picking up the 1st quite negatively impact EPA. Running the ball was our greatest asset as an offense!!

But ask yourself, why might that be???


So, there was an issue with the data provider I use specifically around Box Heaviness/Play. Which I used to highlight why Braelon & Chez would run wild, much like they did Saturday afternoon. I don’t have that data yet, but I can use a proxy and make some “assumptions” about what our Box Heaviness faced would have been. This is rough, but should help illustrate what makes Longo’s offense so special.

We can see from the above chart that UW ran the ball 32 times out of 11 & 10 Personnel. Here is a brief description & visualization of personnel packages! We ran the ball only 7 of our 39 attempts out of 12 Personnel. 12 Personnel is 1RB, 2TEs, and 2WRs, and would have been our “Heaviest” Formation. I’m assuming for this analysis that in 11 Personnel & 10 Personnel, we would have faced a “Light Box” (6 or less), and for 12 Personnel, we would have faced a “Heavy Box”.

That assumes Braelon & Chez faced a “Light Box” 82% of the time, and the results…well…they speak for themselves!!!

Stuff Rate x Player & Personnel:

Overall, Wisconsin was Stuffed on less than 20% of their Runs. Add on top of that, Mordecai and Acker account for 50% of our Stuffed Runs, meaning Chez and Braelon had a combined Stuff Rate of only 10%!!! That is absolutely massive. And as I’ve tried to convey in my Pre-Season series. TEAMS WILL HAVE TO CHOOSE. Load the Box and risk it against the Air-Raid, or let Braelon and Chez Mellusi run all over their defense. Take your pick.

Because we saw what happens when you don’t! Braelon and Chez had a positive EPA/ATT in each personnel package!!

Wisconsin football analytics

But did most of their overall damage vs. “Light Boxes” in 10 & 11 Personnel!!!



Wisconsin Football EPA Leaders – Week 1

Passing EPA (Mordecai):

The big storyline it seems, is Mordecai and the fact he had two INTs. Do we send him packing? No, absolutely not! Let’s put both of them into context.

  • INT #1 3 & 6: Flat out a missed throw to the inside on a deep cross form Tucker Ashcraft! Whether he should have thrown it a half second earlier or more outside, can’t be a mistake like on our side of the field. However, two plays earlier, on 1 & 10 he dropped a DIME 45 yards downfield, hitting Skyler Bell in FULL STRIDE…and he dropped a would-be TD. Should have never been in a position to throw that 1st pick!
  • INT #2 3 & 4: A missed protection allowed instant pressure off the Left Side of the O-Line. Mordecai sees the pressure and makes a split decision to throw over the middle to a crossing Vinny Anthony unbeknownst to him, the BUF LB had dropped right into that zone! Cleanup in Pass Protection Call or execution + using his feet to avoid that pressure could have avoided that INT.

This is why EPA/Play really suffered on 3rd down here for Mordecai. Also the PA/RPO game wasn’t very “successful” in terms of EPA generated. INTs hurt that on 3rd down, but the RPO game had a lot of gives to the RBs, who ran wild on those due to the DE/OLBs not crashing hard.

Why Didn’t Wisconsin Football Throw More Deep Passes?:

Coverages Faced:

Wisconsin & Tanner Mordecai faced a ton of Cover 2 on Saturday, which should lend itself to some deep passes. We didn’t see a whole lot of that, however. Or did we? The next highest Coverages were Cover 3 & Cover 1, which we expected to see a lot of based on our Buffalo Preview.

When facing Cover 2 & Combination Coverags, we did try to attack downfield. Against Cover 4, Cover 1, and Cover 3 we certainly reduced our downfield attack. But overall, the only Coverage Mordecai really struggled with was Cover 1. You’ll see that below:

Against Cover 1, Mordecai had his worst On-TGT % of 33.33%. On everything else, he was 70% or HIGHER. We’ll see what Wazzu, shows on film but certainly, some things vs. Cover 1 gave Mordecai and those play-calls fits. Something that will have to be addressed heading into the remainder of the season!

Let’s shift gears back to EPA!

Rushing/Receiving EPA:

  1. Chez Mellusi – 2 TDs (89 YD TD = HUGE EPA)
  2. Will Pauling – Lots of 1st Down Catches = Big EPA benefit
  3. Keontez Lewis – 1 Catch for 1st Down = Big EPA benefit
  4. Braelon Allen – 2 TDs + High Workload = increased EPA losing plays


Looking at who got the bulk of the workload, it was Braelon & Chez. Braelon led the way with 24 Total Touches! Chez in a comfortable 2nd with 13 touches, Pauling led the WRs with 7 Targets, and Skyler Bell and Bryson Green each had 4 respectively.

So when you account for EPA/Play, things start to shake out a bit differently.

  1. Braelon & Chez with such a high workload, were still positive on a EPA/Play basis, which is OUTSTANDING
  2. Will Pauling was the most impactful from an EPA/Play basis if you don’t include Keontez Lewis’ one reception late.
  3. Ashcraft & Anthony get EPA reduced on their Targets (I’ll remove those losses on the next Graph



Here, we can see who the EPA Leaders are when you strip TDs and INT/FUMBLE, which can cause significant noise in representing EPA for a Player. Ultimately Will Pauling, Keontez Lewis, and Tucker Ashcraft were the most impactful players.

This shows the true importance of moving the chains, and those 3 players were the primary guys Mordecai found in the passing game to move the chains, so they get a lot of that benefit when looking at EPA.

Conversely, CJ Williams, Chimere Dike, and Skyler Bell bore the brunt of the other side of that coin, especially Chimere, whose biggest contribution was the 29YD TD which I’m stripping out of this analysis! Outside of that those players really didn’t help UW from an Expected Points Added perspective on Non-Scoring/Turnover Plays!!


Wisconsin Football Defense:


Wisconsin football analytics

UW played a TON of Cover 1 vs. Buffalo. Which showed because our defenders were out on an Island. Now, they performed really well for the most part, but you can see what happens when guys lose eye discipline or get rubbed/picked:

  1. Smith 51-Yard Pass Reception Allowed of Rub Wheel Route
  2. Latu 7 7-yard TD Reception off a Post Corner
  3. Blaylock 3-Yard TD Reception off Rub Wheel Route

If we’re going to play this much Cover 1 vs. WSU, communication + awareness on those Rub Routes will have to be a big focus. Otherwise, I’d expect to see a healthier dose of Cover 3 vs. WSU!!

STUFF RATE vs. Buffalo:

UW Stuffed Buffalo on about 20% of their Runs. But that is somewhat misleading because it’s inflated on the two 4 & 1 stops. When you look at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down, UW only Stuffed 14.3% of Buffalo runs. That’s not great, especially when our Hit at Line % (Carries on which the ballcarrier was contacted at or before the line of scrimmage) was at 39.3%, meaning Wisconsin football had the potential for about 25% more Stuffed Runs. That must get cleaned up, especially moving into B1G Play!!!

Pass Rushing:

Wisconsin football analytics
Wisconsin football analytics


For all the talk about the lack of Pass Rush on Saturday, the data that’s collected by several different sources seems to contradict our eyes. Who’s right and who is wrong, probably both?!? One thing I do know is that Buffalo’s game plan or the actions of QB Cole Synder was, don’t take Sacks under any circumstances!!!

Per PFF:

  • Synder’s TTT (Time To Throw) = 2.28 Seconds

That would be the 17th-quickest TTT among Week 1 QBs. That ball was out in a hurry!!!

  • Synder’s ADOT (Average Depth of Target) = 3.7 Yards Downfield

He got the ball out quickly and wasn’t waiting for guys to get open downfield. That is the IMPACT and or RESPECT the UW Pass Rush demands. If you try to hold the ball looking for something downfield, you will get hit or sacked.

Understand that, just because we aren’t sacking the QB. DOES NOT MEAN we are not severely impacting their ability to hurt us in the passing game. Almost to the contrary, the respect/fear for our Pass Rush made Buffalo extremely conservative in the Passing Game.

Final Wisconsin Badgers Week 1 Thoughts:

I realize why it’s happening, but we need to stop panicking. We must realize our expectations for this Season (Which are High) will be realized in stages. There is a ton of “gelling” that needs to happen. The offensive playbook looked pretty vanilla to me. Which is fine…good even that we were able to put up 38 points (24 2H points) with very basic concepts. I saw some really nice second levels to the RPO Game if DE/OLBs start crashing hard. But they didn’t, and we ran for 312 yards. Which is exactly what this offense is designed to do: give guys the ability to beat you multiple ways on a single play!

I think it’s fair to say Mordecai didn’t make me or anyone drop their jaw Saturday afternoon. But for anyone saying he’s a continuation of mediocre Wisconsin Football QB play is frankly…blind. Blinded by what exactly I don’t know. It’s probably a mixture of unrealistic expectations of what high-level QB Play looks like and a lack of contextual understanding of Football Situations. From his Post-Game Presser, it’s obvious he’s extremely frustrated with his play, and yeah in the history of Tanner Mordecai Performances, this one is one of his worst performances. But let’s take a look at how he stacked up against Other Week 1 QBs on metrics we care about:

Air Yards/ATT x INT Rate:

Quadrant Ranking:

  1. Bottom Right – Ballers (High Air Yards/ATT + Low INT Rate)
  2. Bottom Left – Dink & Dunkers (Low Air Yards/ATT + Low INT Rate)
  3. Top Right – “Gunslingers” (High Air Yards/ATT + High INT Rate)
  4. Top Left – POOR BALL SECURITY (Low Air Yards/ATT + High INT Rate)

Mordecai = Red Dot in Poor Ball Security Quadrant. Less than Ideal, but we’ve talked through those picks. Can’t have them moving forward, but I’m not extremely concerned we will see it!!

Air Yards/ATT x On-TGT %:

Quadrant Ranking:

  1. Top Right – Ballers (High Air Yards/ATT + High On-TGT %)
  2. Top Left – Dink & Dunkers (Low Air Yards/ATT + High On-TGT %)
  3. Bottom Right – “Gunslingers” (High Air Yards/ATT + Low On-TGT %)
  4. Bottom Left – POOR BALL SECURITY (Low Air Yards/ATT + Low On-TGT %)

Mordecai = Red Dot in Dink & Dunkers Quadrant. Overall his On-TGT % is nothing to be concerned with, he threw a lot of Passes right on the money!! Clean up the INTs and he’ll be just fine!!!

ATTs x Net Big Play %:

Quadrant Ranking:

  1. Top Right – “Ballers” (High ATTs + High Net Big Play Rate)
  2. Top Left – “Assassins” (Low ATTS + High Net Big Play Rate)
  3. Bottom Right – “Gunslingers” (High ATTs + Low Net Big Play Rate)
  4. Bottom Left – POOR BALL SECURITY (Low ATTS + Net Big Play Rate)

Mordecai = Red Dot in “Gunslingers” Quadrant. That Bell TD drop really impacted how we view Mordecai and his performance on Saturday. Would flip him into the “Ballers” Quadrant by increasing TD Rate & reducing his INT Rate.

We’ll continue to track these three Metrics as the season moves on and stack him up against other QBs to truly judge where he’s at!!

Closing Thoughts of Wisconsin Football Week 1:

A win is a win. Prettier ones will come, and maybe even some uglier ones. The ultimate goal is to Win and to do so any way you can. As long as Wisconsin football keep’s getting the job done and putting those tallies in the W Column. I won’t lose sleep over how it got done or how pretty it got done. I simply won’t.

We’re 1-0 and onto Pullman, Washington!!

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.