Unquestionably, one of the keys to the success of the 2010 Wisconsin Badgers was it’s incredible ability to protect the football. The Badgers offense only committed nine total turnovers in 13 games, the lowest mark in the NCAA by a full two turnovers, and four fewer than third place Virginia Tech.
The Badgers running backs were remarkably secure with the football, losing only three fumbles despite Paul Chryst’s heavy reliance on the running game. The Badgers may not be able to rely on such security out of their running corps next year, given how random fumble recovery tends to be. However, the team has much more control over turnovers through the air. Scott Tolzien threw only six interceptions on his way to winning the Unitas Award, tied for 10th fewest in the country.
Russell Wilson threw over twice as many interceptions for the N.C. State Wolfpack, with his 14 picks checking in at a tie for 85th in Division I out of 98 qualified quarterbacks. For as much explosiveness as Wilson promises to bring to the Badgers, there may be a concern that his penchant for the turnover could eliminate much of Wisconsin’s advantage.
This concern is likely overblown. As I mentioned last week, it’s important to remember just how often Wilson was forced to throw the ball for the Wolfpack. His 40 attempts per game dwarfs Tolzien’s mark of 20. With that knowledge it should be hardly shocking that the two quarterbacks are quite close in terms of interception rate — the percentage of passes which were intercepted. According to Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall (a fantastic site), Scott Tolzien ranked 26th with a 2.3% interception rate, with Wilson hardly far behind at 2.7% (ranked 43rd). As I expect Wilson’s efficiency to increase as his share of the offense decreases at Wisconsin, I would also expect his interception rate to decline.
It’s also worth noting that Wilson’s struggles with the interception were minimal in his first two seasons at N.C. State, as he threw a combined 12 interceptions in his first 653 attempts, a 1.8% rate. Wilson should be able to make his 14-interception season of 2010 an afterthought with the Badgers.