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Ohio State-Maryland 2014: Advanced stats preview

Previewing the Buckeyes' matchup with the Terrapins using advanced stats.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

If you would have told me that Ohio State was 15th in Passing S&P going in to the Maryland game, I would've thought that the Buckeyes were undefeated and ranked in the top four. Much like we thought at the beginning of the season, the offense has been fine even after losing both Braxton and just looks a little bit different than it used to. The Rushing and Passing S&P rankings have essentially flipped from last year.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State on offense Defense Offense
S&P+ 33 13
Efficiency 27 12
Rushing S&P 32 31
Passing S&P 25 15

However, it's important to remember that apart from the S&P+, FEI, and Overall F/+ scores, these statistics are still not opponent-adjusted. The only good defense that Ohio State has faced this season also happened to be the Buckeyes' only loss, so let's not anoint J.T. Barrett starter for life just yet (even though it's really hard to deny his improvement qualitatively).

The Maryland defense is actually decent, too. Maryland's toughest opponent so far was the 2-2 West Virginia Mountaineers, so again, it's good to remember that most of these numbers aren't opponent-adjusted. In fact, Indiana is the only team that the Terps have faced with a halfway-decent offense, but that game is worth looking at. Indiana managed only 15 points because the Terps tightened up in the red zone and forced three field goal attempts. That's kind of been Maryland's strength all season, as they are 16th in the country with a 41% opponent red zone touchdown conversion percentage and a decent Defensive Efficiency score as well. In fact, they're pretty solid all the way around with no glaring statistical deficiencies - all of their defensive efficiency rankings tend to fall in the mid-30s. In fact, they're averaging seven tackles for loss per game, which is tied for 26th in the country.

I'm not saying that it's an unbeatable unit here, but there just aren't obvious points of weakness looking solely at the numbers. So you might expect a balanced approach from Herman on offense: Get Elliot rolling up the middle, Dontre and Marshall hitting outside creases, and then moving to the play action pass game with Michael Thomas (your new starter) and Devin Smith once the Terps cheat towards the line of scrimmage.

When Maryland has the ball

Maryland on offense Offense Defense
S&P+ 66 36
Efficiency 27 17
Rushing S&P 72 83
Passing S&P 49 71

The biggest story in the run up to this game is how the Ohio State secondary will handle elite receivers like Stefon Diggs and Deon Long when the unit gave up four explosive pass plays for touchdowns against Cincinnati. That's understandable because the Buckeye secondary had a nasty problem last season turning opposing quarterbacks into one-game superstars. But Maryland's offense - even its passing S&P looks very average on paper. At 66th overall per play and 72nd and 49th rushing and passing, respectively, those aren't the kind of rankings you might expect when it's all anyone wants to talk about during game previews.

However, two things should make Buckeye fans wary. First, the Maryland Offensive Efficiency ranking is closer to where you would expect at 27th. Second, the two explosiveness rankings - IsoPPP, which is per-play, and Explosive Drives - have the Terps 35th and 30th respectively.

Currently the Buckeyes' 95th-ranked Defensive IsoPPP unit doesn't inspire much confidence. Meyer and Ash have promised that was Item No. 1 on their agenda this week during practice, but that should have been Item No. 1 all season anyway. At least the defensive strategy is cohesive this season, with no bouncing between coverages week-to-week and sometimes drive-to-drive like last year. If the Buckeye secondary can correct a few missed reads and personnel issues from Cincinnati, then we'd be feeling pretty good about the defense (as Urban said this week, four plays accounted for over 250 of the Bearcats' total yards!). Another positive note is that Buckeye defenders are largely flying to the underneath stuff, where they didn't diagnose screens as well as most high school teams last year.

My Prediction

Overall Maryland Ohio State
Overall F/+ 33 17
Field Position Advantage 25 20
S&P+ 45 20
FEI 27 17

I don't expect this to be a very easy win for the Buckeyes. The secondary would have to have turned a very big corner in practice this week to expect anything more than a touchdown win. Barrett and Elliot's numbers should be solid if unspectacular, while the sold out crowd should make for a pretty exciting game. Despite it being almost a cliché at this point, the keys really will be in the Buckeyes' ability to limit Diggs and Long to non-explosive plays. They'll get their yards. The secondary doesn't currently have a corner I'd trust to win a one-on-one matchup throughout the entire game. But what they can do is limit big plays for touchdowns.