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What do the analytics say needs to happen for Wisconsin to get the upset?

The Badgers are easily Ohio State’s best opponent so far and the only team that has a truly threatening offense to match their defense.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

We’re finally at the Wisconsin game — Ohio State’s first opponent that is capable of challenging the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball.

Cincinnati, Michigan State, and Northwestern all were strong defensively, but didn’t have the offense to keep pace. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is second in defensive SP+ and 22nd in offensive SP+. As you can see from the expected points added (EPA) data below, the Badgers are in kind of a unique tier of teams:

Going by offensive and defensive EPA, the Badgers are in the top tier of teams with Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, and Oklahoma, but are pretty much the inverse of the Sooners by emphasizing their defense.


Is the Badgers defense really as good as their final scores suggest?

OSU offense vs. UW defense

Stat Ohio State Wisconsin
Stat Ohio State Wisconsin
Avg EPA 95% 97%
EPA SR 90% 98%
Rushing EPA 89% 82%
Rushing EPA SR 76% 92%
Short Rush EPA 59% 50%
Passing EPA 92% 95%
Passing EPA SR 96% 98%
RZ EPA 94% 93%
RZ EPA SR 89% 97%
Std Down EPA 77% 97%
Pass Down EPA 76% 86%
  • I am probably a little more interested in the matchup between Ohio State’s offense and the Wisconsin defense. The Badgers are in the top 97% and 98% in EPA success rate and average EPA, with opponents averaging -0.29 EPA per play and with a 29.9% EPA success rate (both best in the country).
  • That said, it’s worth repeating what Bud Elliott said about the Badgers’ defense last week -- that their average opponent offensive SP+ rating was 92nd before facing Illinois. The EPA data only reinforces this -- the Badgers’ opponents average EPA is -0.8 (43rd percentile), and only Kent State has a positive average EPA on the season (0.05, which is in the 75th percentile).
  • While it’s obvious that the Badgers haven’t seen anyone like Ohio State offensively, it is still worth noting that Wisconsin has performed as well as humanly possible against the schedule they’ve faced to this point. And that does mean something. It’s just that now they will see an offense that can actually, you know, throw the ball.
  • Wisconsin is a little worse against the run than against the pass (82% to 95% in EPA per play), although as mentioned, they have faced some pretty terrible passing games. Wisconsin’s opponents average passing EPA per play is -0.1, which is in the 42nd percentile. I don’t think the stats necessarily tell us a ton about how well Ohio State will be able to throw on the Badgers, other than the fact that the Buckeyes are on another planet in terms of passing offense. Interestingly, opponents have really de-emphasized the run against Wisconsin, as opponents have run on an average of 49% of standard downs, which is 121st in the country. It’s at least worth noting that the weather is definitely a wildcard here, as the rain could negatively affect the Buckeyes’ ability to throw.
  • The Badgers success against the pass is likely due to their extreme havoc rate, as they create a havoc play on 32 — nearly one in 3! — snaps. The key really may be whether Ohio State’s line can hold up against a fierce pass rush. I would guess that Day will emphasize the short passing game in order to negate the rush and minimize risk given the weather.
  • The Badgers are allowing explosive runs on 7.4% of rush attempts, which doesn’t sound high but is actually only 40th in the country. Ohio State has been more explosive than efficient on the ground this season, as seen in the fact that they are in the 79th % for rushing EPA success rate, but in the 89th % in average EPA. This suggests that we could be in for more of what we saw last week where Northwestern slowed the Buckeyes run game fairly well on a per play basis but Dobbins, Teague and company were able to create more than a few really big runs.
  • The doomsday scenario for Ohio State offensively then is that the weather is poor enough that Fields and the receivers aren’t able to maintain any consistency through the air. In that scenario, Wisconsin could load the box more and the Buckeyes would need to hope to wear down the Badgers front enough throughout the game to create just a few explosive runs. Based on comments from Day on Wednesday, I would be surprised if the passing game is completely shut down.

Can Wisconsin wear down the OSU front?

UW offense vs. OSU defense

Stat Wisconsin Ohio State
Stat Wisconsin Ohio State
Avg EPA 83% 95%
EPA SR 85% 97%
Rushing EPA 73% 71%
Rushing EPA SR 70% 91%
Short Rush EPA 69% 39%
Passing EPA 84% 96%
Passing EPA SR 95% 97%
RZ EPA 61% 91%
RZ EPA SR 76% 97%
Std Down EPA 80% 53%
Pass Down EPA 50% 89%
  • Similar to the Badgers defense, the Wisconsin offense is roughly as explosive as it is efficient.
  • Despite Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers are in the 73rd % and 70th % in average rushing EPA and rushing EPA success rate. In fact, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Illinois all held the Badgers to a negative rushing EPA, with Illinois actually holding the Badgers to a season low of -0.4 rushing EPA. That was actually the 79th-worst average rush EPA performance of the season out of 916 matchups, a bottom 9% performance.
  • They are also 26th in stuff rate, with about 16% of runs getting stopped at or behind the line. Further, about half of their runs are 3 yards or less, as they rank 45th in rushing opportunity rate. However, they rarely allow havoc plays, ranking 3rd in fewest havoc plays allowed.
  • Here are all FBS running backs by EPA success rate and average EPA (approximately showing efficiency and explosiveness):
  • As you can see above, Jonathan Taylor has an absurdly high success rate but his average EPA is actually a little under what you would expect given his efficiency. Dobbins is less efficient, but more explosive — you can just barely make out he and Teague above the trend line.
  • Wisconsin’s Jack Coan has been astoundingly efficient, as the Badgers are in the top 5% of passing EPA success rate. Part of that is because they throw so little, ranking 8th overall in standard downs rush rate. They are predictably excellent on early downs, with an average of only 6.1 yards to go on third down (11th), so they can generally pick their spots to throw, and Coan has been efficient when asked to step up. But when forced to throw, they have been less impressive, ranking only in the top 50% in passing downs EPA after being in the top 20% in standard downs EPA.
  • So the lesson here is easy -- slow down Taylor, especially on early downs, and then put Coan in passing situations that he’s rarely been in this season.

Broadly, my sense is that Ohio State wins this game maybe 70% of the time (SP+ gives OSU a 74% win probability). I would be surprised if Ohio State blows out the Badgers, but a 10-17 point win seems the most likely outcome in my opinion.