Hidden key to Wisconsin's offense? Paul Chryst on 4th down.

Today, I was poking around CFB Stats and seeing where Wisconsin landed in various national categories. One that jumped out to me? 24th in the nation in points per game. How does a team that throws as many interceptions as Wisconsin, that fumbles as much as Wisconsin, still manage to pull that off with a plodding run-heavy offense?

First, let's start with the obvious: Wisconsin converts over 50% on third down. Methodical, ball-control offenses have been the Badger calling card, and grinding out yardage in small chunks consistently is the devil in the details. Keeping the ball moving gets you 7 points in the end zone. Simple.

Except third down conversion doesn't really have much to do with interceptions and fumbles. Can we get closer to the issue of how Wisconsin turns the ball over relative to other teams while still putting up points? Yes, I believe we can.

First order of business - teasing percentages out of data built around's reliance on counting data. I downloaded all the details on how a drive could end - total scoring (for touchdowns and field goal makes), field goals (for field goal attempts), turnover margin (for offensive interceptions and fumbles lost), 4th down conversions attempts, and punting (B1G).

Summing that together brought me here: CFB Drive Results. Now we're cooking.

Yes, I see you already trying to sort by interception % and fumble %, so I'll spoil it for you - they are both higher than average. In college football this year, 6.72% of drives ended with a pick. Wisconsin? 10.3%. The fumble numbers aren't as jarring, at 5.31% in CFB to 6% for the Badgers, but above average is above average.

Punting, hey now that's a positive sign! With 40% of drives ending in a punt, the Badgers manage to shave quite a bit off at only 31.9%. But we sort of knew that already, didn't we? Third down conversions mean we don't punt as much.

It's the other three ways that Wisconsin really makes a difference in a game: field goal attempts, misses, and 4th down conversions. There is nothing wrong about a field goal attempt - three points is three points. Three points is also less than seven points, so Wisconsin only trying a field goal about 10% of the time, good for around 40th, is a fine thing. Even better is Gags converting the overwhelming majority - we've only ended drives on a field goal miss 1.7% of the time, top 25 in the country.

Now, for the part that blew my mind when I noticed it. Wisconsin is currently four of five on fourth down attempts, and only Alabama's 12 for 12 is a better rate. (Roll Tide). Which is exactly what you'd expect out of Chryst. Don't take unnecessary risks! Ball control offense! Field position!

Then, you look at everyone else in NCAA and gasp at the horror. Only 4% of drives ending on a failed fourth down gets a team near Top 25 status. There are so many times a coach will listen to the drunk in the stands screaming GO FOR IT and regretting it that I never noticed across college football. It's there we find the difference.

Chryst doesn't willingly give up field position, and knows when he can either continue a drive on fourth down, rely on an excellent college kicker to come away with some points, or punting away. I added a column to honor this, CoachingTurnover% - how many times did the coach make the wrong decision in retrospect? There we find the turnovers that other teams pile up that Wisconsin doesn't. Only 2.6% of drives end because Chryst trusted his offense or kicker too much. Those decisions allow Wisconsin to be a few percentage points under the NCAA average drive turnover of 21.42%.

We've drawn our connection. Wisconsin turns the ball over on fumbles and interceptions, not on field goal misses and failed fourth downs.

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