The Buckeyes hit their winning streak scoring average of 56 points and buried a top-25 F/+ team yesterday. As J.T. Barrett said after the win, "I'm focusing on getting the offense better every week and keeping this thing rolling." Well J.T., you're not doing half bad.
Again, this win -- and each win post Virginia Tech -- won't receive too much attention nationally, but Rutgers is a decent team, and this performance deserves some praise.
Starting fast is the Buckeyes' M.O.
The Buckeyes' fast starts have been critical in the past four wins. Ohio State has now scored on the opening drive of the past three games and they scored on the first three possessions against Rutgers.
J.T. opened 8/8 and the Buckeyes averaged 9.65 yards per play, 67% rushing efficiency, and had three explosive plays on those first three drives. Operating in no-huddle, the Buckeyes averaged a play every 25.3 seconds. Across the last four games, the Buckeyes are averaging 35.3 points in the first half of games.
On the first touchdown of the game, Ohio State lined up with trips to the right with just two defenders in the area as Scarlet Knight defenders raced around trying to get repositioned against the Buckeyes' no huddle. The three receivers then ran a triangle route combination, which is a three-man beater; against just two defenders you can go ahead and put six on the board.
As I mentioned last week, once you start fast it completely changes your opponent's strategic calculations. Teams often have to become more one dimensional when playing from behind, which just makes things easier for a defensive coordinator to scheme against.
The other big component to the Buckeyes' winning streak besides fast starts and J.T.'s accuracy and efficiency has been in field position. Already top-15 in Special Teams F/+ and fourth in Field Position Advantage (including the top ranking in opponent starting field position and second place in starting field position), the Buckeyes' average starting field position against Rutgers was their 35 yard line. Rutgers averaged starting on their own 22 yard line. When you average 56 yards per possession, that means each drive would end, on average, on their opponents' nine yard line.
The return of the rushing game
The Buckeyes are a three-headed monster running the ball: J.T. Barrett, Elliott, and whoever else steps up that week. The Buckeyes averaged 8.1 yards per carry with five explosive plays. They even managed to close out the game with two possessions featuring nothing but running plays, all averaging 8.44 yards per carry and 89% efficiency.
Three of J.T.'s seven carries were explosive. That's an insane 43% explosive rate every time he decided to tuck and run. It's hard to make too much of Samuel and Cardale Jones' runs because they all came in the last few drives.
Rutgers is not Oregon or Baylor, but Gary Nova did lead an offense that was 36th in the Offensive F/+ rankings, averaged 10.4 yards per pass attempt, and had a 90.48% red zone scoring rate.
Nova came into the game averaging 16.9 yards per completion, but the Buckeye defense limited opposing explosive plays and yards after catch, holding Nova to just 11.3 yards per completion. Rutgers overall averaged just 1.4 points per possession, .25 points per play, and 5.1 yards per play. Those averages reflect the three three-and-outs and +2 turnover margin that the Buckeye defense forced. Rutgers ended with only four real drives of more than 30 yards.
A big part of that was due to the Buckeyes' defense on first and second down, which put the Knights in bad third down positions. Rutgers averaged 7.7 yards to go on third down. The Buckeyes also had four sacks and nine tackles for loss to go along with their two fumble recoveries and one interception.