Back in August, when the media gave their annual Big Ten division predictions, Wisconsin was an afterthought. The Badgers had to replace longtime QB Joel Stave, his favorite wide-out Alex Erikson and defensive standouts Joe Schobert, Mike Caputo, Darius Hillary, and Tanner McEvoy.
Due to those key losses, the questions surrounding the QB position, and the brutal schedule that saw Wisconsin facing LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State before week 8, it wasn’t too surprising when the Badgers were picked to finish third in the Big Ten West behind Iowa and Nebraska.
The Badgers displayed toughness all season long, rallying to win their final six games en route to their fourth trip to Indianapolis in the last six seasons.
Today, it is time to look at some of the key stats that will play a pivotal role in the Badgers’ match up with the Penn State Nittany Lions, whose season has surpassed everyone’s expectations as well.
Here are some of the key stats that are worth looking into before the Saturday night’s Big Ten Championship game.
— 15: Wisconsin has given up 15 points combined in first quarters during the regular season.
Wisconsin’s defense has been spectacular all season long, but in the opening 15 minutes of games the Badgers D has been straight up dominant, only allowing a combined 15 points in the first quarters of games all regular season.
The Badgers will be facing a potent Penn State scoring offense on Saturday. The Nittany Lions average 36.6 points per game, good enough to rank in the top 25 nationally. Penn State will be the third highest scoring team that Wisconsin has faced this season behind two top five teams in Ohio State and Michigan. In those two games, Wisconsin held Ohio State and Michigan to 30 and 14 points respectively, for an average of 22 points given up against the two top five opponents.
If Wisconsin’s defense is able to hold Penn State to under 20 points on Saturday night it will go a long way toward improving their overall chances of winning the Big Ten Championship.
— 201.5: That is the amount of rushing yards that Wisconsin averages per game this season
Wisconsin has been an improved running team as of late. Traditionally, Wisconsin is a team that wants to establish the run and control the game clock, but that wasn’t always happening early on in the 2016 season.
In Wisconsin’s 14-7 loss to Michigan earlier in the year, the Badgers rushed for just 71 yards. Since that game, Wisconsin has run for 200-plus yards in five of seven games. That includes 236 yards against Ohio State and an average of 230 yards per game over that stretch.
Penn State is giving up an average of 146.3 rushing yards per game this season. It is safe to say that Wisconsin will experience some success on the ground come Saturday. The question is, how successful can the Badgers rushing attack be, and can it keep the potent Penn State offense off the field in order to give Wisconsin’s defense crucial rest?
— 21: That is the number of interceptions that the Wisconsin defense has forced this season.
Wisconsin’s defense leads the nation in interceptions this season with 21 through 12 games (1.75 per game average). The Badgers defense has been piling up interceptions the last few weeks, after recording four against Illinois, three against Purdue, and four more against Minnesota.
If Wisconsin is able to force a few errant throws from Trace McSorley, who currently holds a 21:5 touchdown to interception ratio on the season, it would give Wisconsin vital extra possessions that could swing the game in its favor Saturday night.
Penn State has only tossed five interceptions on the season, so it will be a tough task for the Badgers defense to come up with a couple of takeaways. But if there is a defense capable of doing so this season, it is the nation leading Badgers interception happy defense.
— 43.1%: That is the percentage of 3rd down conversions that Wisconsin has converted on the season.
Wisconsin has converted 78 of the team’s 181 third down opportunities this season. That is good for a 43.1 percent conversion rate, which is solid, placing the Badgers at No. 43 in the nation in that category. Meanwhile Penn State comes in eighth in the Big Ten and 38th nationally in opponent third down conversion rate.
Clearly something is going to have to give between these two similar teams on third down. Wisconsin will want to establish the run game in order to put the offense in good early down positions to operate out of. If Paul Chryst and company are able to accomplish early down success it will put the offense in advantageous third down positions, which will benefit Wisconsin’s third down conversion rate on Saturday night.