Statistically Speaking: Don’t Badger Me Edition

Here are the NCAA rankings for Penn State and Wisconsin:

NCAA Stats Comparison
Category: Penn St. Wisconsin
Rushing 83 17
Passing Offense 34 110
Total Offense 48 83
Scoring Offense 56 67
Rushing Defense 23 9
Turnovers Gained 40 107
Passes Had Intercepted 18 9
Pass Defense 52 25
Net Punting 110 68
Punt Returns 87 52
Kickoff Returns 110 77
Turnover Margin 21 48
Fumbles Recovered 21 93
Passes Intercepted 64 97
Fumbles Lost 43 17
Turnovers Lost 16 6
Passing Efficiency 49 61
Pass Efficiency Defense 26 25
Total Defense 30 11
Scoring Defense 22 14
Fewest Penalties Per Game 46 5
Fewest Yards Penalized Per Game 58 9
Punt Return Yardage Defense 105 59
Kickoff Return Yardage Defense 72 28
Offense Third-down Efficiency 50 103
Offense Fourth-down Efficiency 48 56
Defense Third-down Efficiency 52 16
Defense Fourth-down Efficiency 22 92
Tackles for Loss 60 67
Offense Tackles for Loss 3 101
Pass Sacks 13 53
Pass Sacks Allowed 53 80
Time of Possession 30 6
First Downs 38 96
First Downs Allowed 27 7
Red Zone Efficiency 87 53
Red Zone Efficiency – Defense 10 113
Average NCAA Rank: 46.68 52.43
Weighted Avg. Rank: 46.17 44.83

The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but PSU has an edge straight up in all categories.  When you weight those categories (more emphasis for things like total defense and less emphasis for fewest penalties) then the Badgers emerge with a slight edge.  If the two teams play “their game” PSU will need to rely on some intangibles to win the game.

Both teams have good rushing defenses.  Penn State will need to keep Monte Ball from running down hill all day, and in particular, the fourth quarter.  Notice that Wisconsin is ranked higher nationally in time of possession.  The Lions will probably need to win that stat . . . if our defense is on the field a long time, the Wisconsin O-line will likely prevail late in the game.

Unfortunately for Penn State, Wisconsin leads just about every defensive category.  Their passing offense is 110th, but if the weather turns out to be as treacherous (cold, rainy, snowy) as I have heard predicted, this will favor the running game.

I do like the Red Zone defense numbers, with PSU ranked 10th and the Badgers at 113. If we can get the ball to the red zone, I think we prevail. Keep in mind that our red zone offensive performance includes the early games like Virginia where we really struggled to put any points on the board. I think we are actually better in the red zone now than the stats would show.

Penn State is between a 2.5 and 3 point favorite depending on the time of day you look.  Most odds makers and pundits claim a three point advantage for the home team.  Looks like Vegas thinks these two teams are pretty closely matched up.

So what are the intangibles?  Neither team NEEDS to win.  If the Lions lose, the season is over.  The season is over if they win.  Win or lose, Wisconsin has already punched their tickets to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Title game and a possible Rose Bowl Berth.

Penn State’s season is over regardless of the outcome.  They can play like there is no to,morrow, because, well, there isn’t.  Wisconsin on the other hand, can’t afford an injury to a quarterback or Monte Ball.  This isn’t pro ball.  Those key players won’t sit out because the playoff spot is assured.  And if Wisconsin loses the Title game, their record will determine how good of a consolation bowl they land in.

But this is senior day for a very special group of senior players.  Michael Mauti, the very special leader of that special group, will be side-lined with a knee injury.  Emotion will be running high.  That can be good and bad.  Emotion ran high in the opening game against the Bobcats, but spent itself out too quickly and wilted in the heat of a hot afternoon.  We don’t need to worry about heat being a factor, but we don’t want to crash and burn late in the afternoon on too much intensity too quickly.

This is where O’Brien needs help from his coordinators and assistants who have played the college game.  Motivating 18-22 year olds who are not being paid a salary in the millions is different than motivating an NFL team.  I have no doubt that creepy old Bret Bielema will have his team fired up.  Can we match and exceed — and sustain —  that emotion?

The answer to that may determine the outcome of the game.

Let’s go with PENN STATE 31 – WISCONSIN 27.


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