Scouting Wisconsin: The Badgers Are As Badger-y As Ever

By Nick Polak on November 8, 2018 at 9:00 am
Nov 3, 2018; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor (23) rushes with the football during the third quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Camp Randall Stadium.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

To this point in 2018, Wisconsin's offense has been nearly exactly what you would expect out of a Wisconsin offense. They can run the ball as well, or better, than anyone in the country, and they're as average as they come through the air. Very on-brand, indeed.

When looking at how the Badgers have gone about their business in 2018, you needn't look any further than success rate. The Badgers rank fourth-best in the country when it comes to picking up necessary yardage on any given play (success rate is defined as gaining 50 percent of the necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down). That number combined with their eighth-ranked marginal efficiency (the difference between your success rate and that of the average play on any given down) show how tough Wisconsin has been to stop. Still, those gaudy rankings are somewhat deceiving thanks to what is one of the most efficient rushing attacks in the country.

Wisconsin Rushing Offense
Rushing S&P+ 1
Marginal Efficiency 3
Marginal Explosiveness 71
Opportunity Rate 1
Stuff Rate 1

As you would imagine would be the case when you have an offensive line chocked full of top-tier NFL talent, and a running back as skilled as Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers can run the football with the best of them. In fact, they rank as the absolute best rushing offense in the land according to S&P+. That is thanks in large part to a ridiculously high rate of success compared to the average. In fact, the Wisconsin run game has been a ridiculous 7.5 percent more successful on any given run play than the league average. For comparison, Penn State and their 15th-ranked rushing attack have been 5.1 percent LESS successful on any given run play. Fueling those gaudy numbers is a season-long dominant effort from the guys up front. That has given Taylor, Taiwan Deal, and Garrett Groshek plenty of holes to run through and have done an excellent job of keeping opposing defenders out of the backfield. They have struggled to generate explosive run plays, but when you're as efficient as they are, that matters a lot less. It is odd though, considering how many times Taylor was seen sprinting away from defenses in 2017.

As I alluded to at the top, however, there is a downside to this offense- the passing game. I'll dive into the numbers to give context in a moment, but consider this: Wisconsin's passing offense ranks exactly one spot lower in overall passing S&P+ than Penn State's. The average defensive S&P+ ranking of Wisconsin's previous opponents is 61.67, and Penn State's is 52.56. Considering how terrible Penn State's passing offense has looked for the majority of this season, for a variety reasons, should give you an idea of what Wisconsin's passing offense has achieved.

Wisconsin Passing Offense
Passing S&P+ 64
Marginal Efficiency 88
Marginal Explosiveness 93
Completion Rate 81
Sack Rate 64

There simply isn't anything they do terribly well through the air. They're average-to-below-average in every notable passing category, and the majority of those numbers have come with Alex Hornibrook under center. It sounds as if the senior will not clear concussion protocol before Saturday's game, meaning backup Jack Coan will once again be pressed into action. Coan started and played the entire game in Wisconsin's 14-point loss to Northwestern, going 20-for-31 with just 158 yards and a score. The Penn State defensive line will be licking their chops to get after Coan, as the Badger offensive line, for all of their skill as run-blockers, have been rather pedestrian when it comes to keeping their quarterback's jersey clean in 2018. Of course, a mostly uninspiring receiving unit plays a part in that, as well.

Wisconsin Blitz Down Offense
Success Rate 6
Big-Play Rate 4
Sack Rate 13

Still, Brent Pry won't want to get too blitz happy on Saturday, as the Badgers have performed very well against the blitz. I won't pretend that I've watched every Wisconsin game this season, but I'd be willing to bet that their line's experience and ability to pick up extra rushers play a large role in their impressive blitz down performance, as well as Taylor's ability to gash defenses on delayed handoffs in third-and-long situations.

In a nutshell- Wisconsin is as Wisconsin as ever. Taylor moonlighted as a big-play generator in 2017, but the offense has reverted back to their painfully efficient ways this season. They'll keep the ball on the ground, throw when they have to, and hope that's enough to lead them to victory. What does that mean for Penn State's defense and how they'll look to contain the Badgers? We'll get into that tomorrow.