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Maryland-Wisconsin football preview: Breaking down the stats

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Can Maryland slow down Melvin Gordon? Are the Badgers really as good as their stats suggest?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland travels to Camp Randall Stadium Saturday, as ten point underdogs.  Wisconsin's bruising offensive line and generally stout defense present a difficult test for the Terps.  The Badgers are 4-2, but have played a pretty soft schedule thus far (apart from LSU).  Wisconsin's strength of schedule is 99 (according to Sagarin rankings).  Maryland's strength of schedule is 40 (per Sagarin rankings).  Perception points to a Terps loss, but what do the cold hard stats say?

Maryland Offense vs. Wisconsin Defense (all statistics are per game)

Points

Total Yards

3rd down conversions

Time of possession

Passing yards

Completion Percentage

Rushing yards

Turnovers

Maryland Offense

35.1

402.3

38%

28:30

251.7

57.9%

150.6

2

Wisconsin Defense

17.7

286

29%

26:12

169.2

50%

116.8

1.3

Wisconsin's soft schedule has flattered their defense thus far.  The Badgers are among the conference leaders in just about every statistical category.  As Wisconsin enters the meat of their schedule, I expect their stats to revert to closer to their 2013 averages.  As strong as their defense looks on paper, the Badger's did surrender 28 points to a 3-4 Illinois squad.  That silver lining is a bit misleading though, Wisconsin lead 38-14 in the 4th quarter and surrendered a few garbage scores.

Maryland's offense is probably the second best unit Wisconsin has faced, after LSU.  The Terps have struggled at times on the offensive line, but Wisconsin's defensive line is not imposing on paper (6-2, 268; 6-3, 290; 6-3, 277).  Maryland's game plans have generally been effective this season at maximizing attributes, and masking deficiencies.  I expect Mike Locksley to put together another solid game plan, and the Terps should score close to their season average in points.  The Terps must make the most of each possession, as the Badger's offense tends to dominate time of possession.

Maryland Defense vs. Wisconsin Offense

Points

Total Yards

3rd down conversions

Time of possession

Passing yards

Completion percentage

Rushing yards

Turnovers per game

Wisconsin Offense

34.7

484

37%

33:48

141

54.4%

343

1.83

Maryland  Defense

26

448.6

39%

31:30

250.3

54.8%

198.3

2

How to evaluate Maryland's defense?  The unit does not excel in any statistical category.  Additionally, the Terps have a bad habit of starting slowly and allowing opponents to put up early points before making the necessary adjustments to slow them down.  Winning on the road is difficult.  Winning in Camp Randall in front of 80,321 rabid fans is even more challenging.  Maryland probably cannot win this game if it has to come from behind, so a fast start by the visitors will be crucial for success.

Melvin Gordon - get used to hearing the name a lot on Saturday.  Alex Kirshner's article on Wisconsin's offense explains just what makes Gordon so unstoppable.  Gordon's partners in crime are a burly group of offensive linemen averaging 321 pounds, and ranging between 6'3" and 6'8".  This game will be won or lost at the point of attack.  Maryland's front seven must slow down Gordon and come up with a key turnover or two.

Special Teams

Field goals

Field goal conversion %

Punts per game

Penalties per game

Return Yards (Punt/KO)

Maryland

12-12(long of 57)

100%

6.2

5.7 (53.1 YPG)

19 / 22.3

Wisconsin

6-9 (long of 51)

66.6%

4

4.3 (42.7 YPG)

11.4 / 21.4

Brad Craddock, Will Likely, Stefon Diggs - the trio of special teams playmakers that will have to make plays on Saturday.  According to ESPN, Maryland's special teams ranks 4th and contributes 4.11 points per game.  Wisconsin's special teams, by contrast, ranks 114 surrendering 2.54 points per game.  If those trends hold, a 7 point swing on the special teams front would go a long way to negating Wisconsin's rushing juggernaut.

Conclusion

Let's be frank: my track record at predicting Terrapin wins and losses this season is not good.  Out of 7 games, I have only predicted 3 games correctly (and 2 of them were gimme games against JMU and South Florida).  Statistics are not especially helpful when analyzing this game due to the weakness of Wisconsin's schedule.  That said, it's impossible to overlook the size of the Badger's offensive line and the speed of Gordon.  I think the Terps keep it close, but ultimately come up a touchdown short against Wisconsin: Badgers 35, Terps 31.

Sources: umterps.com; uwbadgers.com; Sagarin rankings; espn.com