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Ohio State-Minnesota 2014 advanced stats review: Moving up

The tenth game of the season is in the rearview. You've watched the game and seen the stats, but what do the advanced numbers say about the Buckeyes?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes hardly won style points from box score-watchers, but as Meyer said post game, "I challenge any team in the country that wants to, go ahead and schedule this one in November whatever it is against a very good team." So the winter conditions made their mark, but the Buckeyes still beat another top-25 opponent in a game that wasn't as close as the score made it seem.

And they did it in record-breaking style. J.T. Barrett has more touchdowns than any other Buckeye quarterback and more than any quarterback in the FBS in their first ten games. Oh, and he also had the longest run for a Buckeye quarterback ever.

Ohio State was the much better team

Minnesota certainly made a game of it, but that was almost entirely due to three critical Buckeye turnovers, all of which led to Gopher touchdowns. Discounting those three turnovers is the same as ignoring the explosive passes the defense allowed from Cincinnati, but the offensive and defensive metrics nonetheless make this look like a blowout:

Rushing yards per play Passing yards per play Points per possession Points per play
Ohio State 7.6 8.0 2.82 .49
Minnesota 5.0 4.3 2 .375

Even in the overall efficiency numbers it is easy to see how the three turnovers impacted the Buckeyes' scoring. Ohio State dominated the yards per play numbers but were much closer to the Gophers in the points statistics. While the offense did have three three-and-outs, the Buckeyes were able to move the ball consistently on almost every other drive.

Neither Elliott nor Barrett were that efficient running the ball (their success rates were 50% and 58% respectively), but the efficient passing and explosive running made up for average rushing efficiency in admittedly sub-optimal conditions.

Third downs didn't make sense

It's easy to win games when you're consistently able to convert third downs and string together methodical drives. The Buckeyes did that easily, going 9 for 13 on third downs, but not how they usually do. The Buckeyes have been pretty consistent on early or standard downs, ranking sixth in the country in S&P+ efficiency, so third downs have usually been short-yardage situations for the Buckeyes. However, against the Gophers, the Buckeyes struggled on early downs and averaged 6.2 yards to go on third down. Six of their drives were third and seven or more.

But the crazy thing is that the Buckeyes lived up to their second-ranking in Passing Downs S&P+ by still converting 9 of those 13 attempts. And some of the Buckeyes most explosive plays happened on third down, including Barrett's 86-yard run, his 57-yard pass to Jalin Marshall, a later Barrett 38-yard run, and the 22-yard Evan Spencer screen. The Gophers brought pressure and Barrett had the awareness (and Herman had the plays) to take advantage.

What about Tresselball?

This was not a game that Jim Tressel would have loved (except for the snow and the winning, that is). The Buckeyes went -1 in turnover margin -- their third time of the year with a negative turnover margin -- averaged 6.2 yards to go on third down, and allowed Minnesota an average starting field position of their own 35 yard line. The Gophers had two drives start in Buckeye territory and scored on both of those drives.

The Buckeyes are clearly rounding in to form, but can be beaten by a well-coached team on a day when the Buckeyes have poor special teams play and lose the turnover battle. 

Stopping the run is hard

Coming in to this game the Buckeyes' defense had improved to eighth in the country in pass defense, and Chris Ash's difference is clearly seen when Mitch Leidner goes 7/19 for 85 yards (4.5 yards per attempt) and two interceptions. Vonn Bell and the Buckeye secondary turned in a solid performance, positioning themselves well for pass-heavy teams that used to be able to dink-and-dunk their way down the field agains the Buckeyes. In that same metric (Defensive Passing S&P+), the Buckeyes ranked 61st at the end of last season.

But the run defense still leaves a lot to be desired. The Buckeyes entered the Minnesota game as the 50th-best in Rushing S&P+ -- after ranking 58th last season -- and allowed David Cobb to average 5.4 yards per carry. It wasn't a very efficient performance, as Cobb had a 48% success rate, but it was fairly explosive. Cobb could inconsistently gain 8-10 yards per rush, and that killed the Buckeye defense by allowing Minnesota to string together drives that would be otherwise stopped in their tracks.

This is a concern both next week against Indiana running back Tevin Coleman. Coleman ran for 307 yards on 32 carries in the Hoosiers' loss to Rutgers on Saturday (how many teams have a running back cross the 300-yard mark and still lose?). The Hoosiers are a bad team, but Coleman is dangerous and the Buckeyes defense struggles allowing 7-10 yard gashes. But that is nothing compared to the threat the Buckeyes will likely face in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin. Melvin Gordon, the new record holder for FBS single game rushing yards, will come hungry against this Buckeye run defense.

But the good news is that the defense is full of playmakers, especially against the pass. Joey Bosa returned to form with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, Vonn Bell had an interception, two pass breakups, and seven tackles, and Steve Miller recorded a sack and tackle for loss.