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State Street Stats: There is no conceivable way NU beats UW (right?)

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I’ve made so many bad predictions around Northwestern already, so I’m ready to turn the page

Michigan State v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

All data in this article was supplied by Sports Source Analytics. Credit and gratitude to Zane Murfitt of CougCenter for creating the template for these interactive graphics through Tableau. Readers on a mobile device, Google AMP or Apple News may have difficulties reading the embedded interactive graphics.

I made some zany predictions at the beginning of the year about Northwestern. I’m kind of hazy on what I exactly predicted.

Bob: Northwestern. Solid transfer QB, Hunter Johnson, coming in, good defense, great coaching. I think I heard a rumor the Wildcats won the Big Ten West last season? Is that true? Even though last year was a success, I think there’s a good chance NU will be legitimately arguing for a playoff spot at least once this season. The breakout will be more in their perception than actual achievement, in my opinion. I think Johnson will have a good enough season, combined with coverage from Northwestern J-school grads (Editor’s note: like our fearless leader and Medill grad, Spencer Hall), to sneak into Heisman consideration as a dark-horse feel-good story.

WHO PUT THAT THERE! I thought that was officially scrubbed from the internet. I paid good money to some tech-savvy fellow I met on Craigslist.

Anyways, it’s not all bad, I have officially gained a reputation as a bit of a bad omen. I almost thought about picking Northwestern this Saturday to jinx them again, but what if I reverse-jinx the Wildcats?

Listen, the Northwestern Wildcats (1-2) are not who I thought they were. Heck, the Wisconsin Badgers (3-0) are not who I thought they were. I am, therefore, going to get in front of the reverse-jinx and explain why the data says Northwestern has no chance of beating Wisconsin.

Also, let’s hope that I don’t reverse-reverse-jinx the Wildcats here.

Oh, and let’s review some definitions:

According to Football Study Hall, havoc is “[the] percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up).” Also, according to Football Study Hall, stuff rate is “This is the percentage of runs where the runner is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.” For both havoc rate and stuff rate, offenses want to minimize them. Conversely, defenses want a higher rate.

When Wisconsin has the ball

If the table does not load properly, click here to view. Mobile viewers should view horizontally for the best experience.

First, I point you to the overall success rate at the top of the interactive graphic. The Badgers have been extraordinarily successful through the passing attack, and Northwestern has been generally unsuccessful at stopping the pass.

Next, Northwestern is No. 103 at yards per carry defense, giving up 5.37 ypc. This will be an excellent opportunity for Wisconsin to boost its team ypc stat; I am frankly surprised UW’s offense is still only No. 43 in yards per carry (5.60 ypc).

Northwestern is slightly above average in explosive rate defense, while Wisconsin is above average in that category. This should be about a wash, as should havoc rate and stuff rate.

Northwestern’s only real strength on defense is red zone TD % allowed, but that is also a strength for the Badgers (No. 11). Stanford (No. 40 in red zone TD%), Michigan State (No. 34), and UNLV (No. 18) are all at least passable in red zone offense, but the Wildcats have still performed well in this area.

When Northwestern has the ball

If the table does not load properly, click here to view. Mobile viewers should view horizontally for the best experience.

Let’s play a game of “let’s say something nice about Northwestern’s offense.”

Well, Northwestern’s offensive stuff rate is only 14% and ranks No. 20 in the country. And sometimes it scores touchdowns in the red zone. It’s also slightly above average in yards per carry.

And that’s it.

Listen, Central Michigan’s offensive stats are almost exclusively better than Northwestern up and down the board, and that data includes the 61-0 loss to Wisconsin.

Finally, Northwestern’s offense is a mess with respect to havoc. The Wildcats yield havoc in an astonishing 24% of plays. That means, for every Northwestern drive, you can expect a tackle for loss, forced fumble, interception, or pass deflection. Expect the Badgers defense to feast.

What does this mean?

First of all, the data does not suggest Northwestern will be able to stop Wisconsin on third down. Wisconsin does not give up havoc, and Northwestern does not cause it. Further, Northwestern is one of the worst run defenses when it comes to yards per carry. Wisconsin will continue to get into third-and-short situations, and it will convert. Yes, stuff rate is a concern for the Badgers on offense (Badgers are No. 81 in the country), but Northwestern is not the team to take advantage of this (it is No. 76 in stuff rate defense).

And, when it doesn’t, apparently Paul Chryst is okay with going for it on fourth down! What a time to be alive.

It will be interesting how the first-half suspensions of Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson impact Wisconsin’s defensive performances. One would think an explosive offense could take advantage of two reserve safeties; however, Northwestern is a below-average explosive offense.