On a day that turned college football upside down, it almost feels ungrateful to even have constructive criticism since the Buckeyes got the win.
But amidst all of the turmoil in every conference around the country, the Buckeyes have a significant opportunity to grow into legitimate playoff contenders. There are just two teams standing in their way. First is Michigan State, obviously. The Huskers played tough with the Spartans, but star running back Ameer Abdullah was held to just 1.9 yards per carry in the loss. The Buckeyes' November 8th matchup with the Spartans has become the early B1G Championship already.
The other team standing in the way is the Buckeyes themselves. The Buckeyes have undoubtedly grown over the past three wins (scoring no less than 50 points per game) and there is significant opportunity to take advantage of the chaos across the college football landscape, but opposing explosive plays and inconsistency in the red zone can ultimately prevent the Buckeyes from achieving their post season goals.
Before we mentally jump ahead to November 8th, however, there's still a lot of football to played in the meantime (and a win to celebrate!).
Note: none of the stats below include any numbers from the fourth quarter. It seemed pretty clear that the entire quarter was garbage time, so my full game stats are just through the end of the third quarter.
Maryland ultimately didn't have a chance to win this game with four interceptions. A -4 turnover margin is almost impossible to compensate for. But the Buckeyes' fast start to the game -- scoring touchdowns on three of the first four possessions -- also had a lot to do with the Terrapin loss.
Fast starts are critical because not only do early touchdowns create separation between you and your opponent, but they force your opponent to abandon pre-game strategies. When you are down 21-0 you can't afford to have any more wasted possessions, but you also can't rely on an unexplosive ground game to pick up yards, so you turn to lower percentage pass plays to get chunks of yards instead. This in turn can play into a defense's hands (four times over).
As ESPN notes, the Buckeyes have scored touchdowns on their first two possessions in each of the last three games. It's no coincidence that Ohio State's average score has doubled from 28 points in the first two games to 56 over the last three. An early lead helps out for the rest of the game.
The Buckeyes didn't just score quickly, but their possessions themselves were fast, too. The chart below shows the average time per snap over the possessions in the first three quarters, with touchdown drives bolded (and the one-play touchdown drive off Maryland's second quarter turnover omitted):
Over those nine drives the Buckeyes played extremely well on offense:
|Points per play||Points per possession||Yards per possession||Points off turnovers||Red zone TD %||Yards per play|
All of those numbers are fantastic. The Buckeyes averaged four first downs per possession, had eleven drives in three quarters, scored touchdowns on both Maryland turnovers during that span, and picked up touchdowns more often than not. Ezekiel Elliot had a quiet 139 yards wuith 54% efficiency.
However, a few glaring missed opportunities stick out of an otherwise stellar performance:
|Time of possession||End yard line||Plays||Result|
|5:09||MD 31||10||Missed FG|
Those were three possessions ending in just three total points despite ten minutes and three seconds off the clock and near-red zone ending field position each time. Watching those drives you almost got the sense of a lack of urgency with the score in hand, but there will certainly be situations in the future where the Buckeyes will need a score with the game on the line. It's nitpicking now, but that kind of drive inefficiency won't be acceptable against Michigan State.
J.T. is playing like an all star. Accurate and in command of the offense he's now passed for four touchdowns in each of the last four games. Yesterday Barrett threw five explosive (25+ yard pass plays) passes in three quarters of action while completing 78% of his throws for 267 yards and averaging 13.9 yards per completion. That's not to mention the fact that he ran for 71 yards with 64% efficiency and three explosive runs.
It helps to have receivers who aren't dropping passes. The Buckeyes had three receivers with at least three receptions and over 40 yards receiving, including Mike Thomas, Corey Smith, and Dontre Wilson.
And the Defense
Last but not least is the defense that allowed just 17 points in non-garbage time. The defensive performance was highlighted by several huge plays -- four interceptions, three sacks, and six tackles for loss! -- and holding Long and Diggs to just 109 total yards between the pair. These are likely the top two receivers the Buckeyes will face all season.
Obviously several individual performances really stick out, including Raekwon's scoop-and-run and late interception, Darron Lee's interception and PBU, Bosa's sack and 2.5 TFLs, Michael Bennett's sack and TFL, and Rashad Frazier's sack and TFL as well.
But the Buckeyes also only allowed one explosive run and one explosive pass before Jacquille Veii's fourth quarter 60-yard gain. In fact, all of the Terps' three touchdown drives were long drives rather than explosive plays (though the final TD drive came off of that 60-yard reception in the fourth quarter), with 27 total plays and 224 total yards in those three drives. It was like a reverse of last week. Instead of the defense not allowing much of anything besides four big passes, the Buckeyes didn't allow much of anything besides three long drives. It seems like they at least have an identity under Chris Ash, but the execution is still a little variable. Overall though, you can definitely tell where the Buckeyes focused their practice time this week.