Ohio State-Penn State: Fun with numbers

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State's poll and BCS rankings aren't the only numbers Ohio State fans should consider this week.

After the first release of the BCS rankings, the reaction of Buckeye fans ranged from cautious optimism (surely Oregon and Florida State can lose once, right?) to resigned depression (ugh, we're gonna go undefeated for nothing AGAIN), to outright panic/proclaiming another victory for the worldwide anti-Buckeye conspiracy (PAWWWWWWLLL). That's all fine and good, and should Alabama, Oregon and Florida State go undefeated another week, watching the ensuing meltdowns will be kind of fun. Also, depressing.

But did you know that Ohio State's season isn't over right now? Despite allegations that the Buckeyes will conclude play with games against local YMCA squads, Westerville Central High School, and Mayor Coleman and a gaggle of interns, Ohio State has a game against a real-life FBS major college football program on Friday. They're playing Penn State. You may have remember their recent work against Michigan, in a 4OT thriller.

In an effort to take your minds off whatever Florida State's BCS ranking is, let's take a closer look at some of the more interesting numbers in the upcoming Ohio State/Penn State football game.

* One of the big problems in the Iowa game was Ohio State's inability to get their defense off the field. The Hawkeyes were 8-13 on third down, which not only allowed them to extend drives and convert them to points, but also ate up clock and kept Ohio State's explosive offense off the field. That is less likely to be a concern against Penn State, if current trends continue. The Nittany Lions are a woeful 118th in 3rd down conversion percentage, at 27.78%, just ahead of Kansas. Penn State has only converted 25/90 attempts on 3rd down. They've been a little better over their two Big Ten games, at 15/40, or 37.5%, but that would still be a sub-90 ranking, and nobody deserves a medal for sustaining drives against Indiana's defense.

* Somewhat of a silver lining for Penn State fans would be their ability to convert 4th down situations. Penn State is 10/17 on the year, which means they're tied for 11th in the country for attempts, 6th for total conversions, and 35th at conversion percentage, at 58.82%. Ohio State actually has an even better 4th down conversion rate, at 68.75%, which is good for 17th overall. Still, if you combine Penn State's 4th down conversion attempts with their 3rd downs, you get a 32.7% conversion rate, which is still really bad. Ohio State should have more success in preventing long, clock-eating drives, and if either team has a drive stall near the 40, they're probably going for it.

* If methodical, dink and dunk drives are less likely, then big play ability, and big play defense, become even more important. Ohio State is perhaps the best team in the country at preventing big plays on the ground. The Buckeyes are the only team in the country so far that have yet to give up a single rush for 20 yards or more this year, and are 4th in the country at preventing rushes of 10 yards or more (with 16). Given that Penn State's running back corps of Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton are unlikely to be confused for Adrian Petersen anytime soon, it's probable that the streak continues for at least another week. Penn State is 80th in the country at generating rushes of 10 yards or more (33), and 76th in rushes of 30 yards or more. The Nittany Lions have also failed to crack 100 team rushing yards in either of their Big Ten games...and when one of those games is against Indiana, that may be a cause for concern. For what it's worth, Ohio State is 5th in rushes of 10 or more (64), and 18th in 30 yards or more.

* What about passing? Penn State is only 72nd in the country in passing plays of 30 yards or more, and is hovering around 50-75 for most other big passing play metrics. Ohio State is surprisingly worse, clocking in at 87th. Both teams have quarterbacks who are more than capable of tossing a deep ball to a talented wideout though. Penn State's Allen Robinson must be accounted for, as he's 10th overall in the country in receiving yards per game, at 117.5. Robinson has 705 yards and 5 TDs on 43 catches, and if Ohio State's performance so far with their secondary is any indication, he could have another huge game.

* Both teams paint an interesting picture when it comes to big play defense. In terms of preventing medium-sized gains from scrimmage, Ohio State is one of the best. The Buckeyes are 4th in the country at preventing gains larger than 20 yards, having only given up 18. Penn State is 38th, at 26. If you open that up though, the Buckeyes are near the very bottom of the country at stopping plays of 60 yards or more, clocking in at 105th. Penn State has not allowed any. Don't be surprised, again, to see Robinson get behind the coverage at least once to bust open a huge play.

* When you're the underdog, your ability to play without making crippling mistakes is critical. Penn State is one of the least penalized teams in the country, ranked 4th in total penalty yardage. Ohio State is around average, at 53rd. Where the Nittany Lions struggle a little is with turnovers. Penn State is 100th in the country in turnover margin, at -4. A big part of that comes from their bad luck in recovering fumbles (98th in the country at fumbles lost). The Buckeyes are much better at taking care of the football, 21st in turnover margin, at +5.

More detailed breakdowns of this matchup will drop later this week, but for now, we can all feel a little better that there are least some numbers that are favorable for the Buckeyes. At least for this week.

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