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Ohio State-Michigan 2014 advanced stats review: The Game

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

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously the biggest news of the day was that the Buckeyes' stoic leader, J.T. Barrett, was injured and is now out for the Big Ten Championship and the bowl game. However, before he broke his ankle, Barrett led the Buckeyes to a closer-than-expected win in The Game.

So while we'll have plenty to talk about for the Big Ten Championship and beyond later this week, first let's break down why Michigan's Drake Johnson was able to rush for nearly five yards per carry, why Devin Gardner completed 69% of his passes at 7.3 yards per pass, and why the Wolverines defense held the Buckeyes in check for most of the afternoon.

Limited opportunities

The Michigan gameplan was obvious: limit the Buckeyes' offensive opportunities, lean on the defense, and keep it close until the fourth quarter. The Wolverines were successful at this for over three quarters of the game, but ultimately the Wolverine offense undid the defense's work. First it was an interception on the second play of the game that the Buckeyes turned in to a Nick Vannett touchdown, and then later in the fourth it was a Darron Lee fumble recovery for a touchdown to put the game away.

The Wolverines numbers speak to how well the they controlled the game:

Time of possession Yards per play Points per play Points per possession Long drives
OSU 25:55 6.6 .56 3.89 2
UM 34:05 5.2 .39 2.8 5

The Buckeye offense was more efficient on both a per-play and per-drive basis, but the teams were equal for most of the game because the Wolverines successfully limited the Buckeyes' offensive opportunities and the Buckeye defense couldn't keep the Wolverines off the field. The two key stats in the chart above are the time of possession and long drives columns. The Wolverines had five drives of either 9+ plays or 75+ yards. On those five possessions, they used up 24 minutes and 45 seconds, or almost as much clock as the Buckeyes had throughout their nine possessions. On those five drives, the Wolverines scored all four of their touchdowns, and punted on the fifth (a nine play, 41-yard drive in the fourth quarter).

A big reason why the Wolverines stayed on the field was because of successful third down conversions, where they went 6/11. They weren't explosive -- the Buckeyes only allowed three explosive plays, and two of those were a 15- and a 16-yard run -- but they were methodical, driving the ball streadily down the field and taking their sweet time doing it.

The Buckeyes against the run

The big defensive concern this season has been defending the run. The Buckeyes were 47th in Defensive Rushing S&P+ entering the game, but Michigan's rushing offense was mediocre enough that it didn't look like it would be a major factor in the game. While the Buckeyes held Michigan to 3.2 yards per carry and 47% rushing efficiency, Drake Johnson and Devin Gardner were efficient enough to extend drives or give the passing game manageable third downs. On the Wolverines' four scoring drives, they averaged just 3.25 yards to go on third down, which was exactly the position they wanted to be in.

Pressuring Gardner

The advanced stats suggested that the Buckeyes would have an advantage in pass rush against the Wolverines, who were 58th in Adjusted Sack Rate, while the Buckeyes were 17th. This actually turned out to be a huge advantage for the Buckeyes, who didn't allow a single sack of their own. The Buckeyes recorded five total sacks, including two by atypically mistake-prone Joey Bosa, and forced a fumble. The Wolverines lost 41 yards and a touchdown on those five sacks.

The offense looking forward

J.T. Barrett, in case you missed it during the broadcast, broke a tie with Drew Brees for most touchdowns responsible for in a single season in the Big Ten with 43. The Buckeyes also were far more successful running the ball inside against Michigan (even though it might not have seemed like it) than any other team has been this season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry compared to 3.8 by Michigan's other opponents.

However, the Buckeyes were also, for the third game in a row, pretty streaky with their possessions. The Buckeyes got off to fast starts in each half (again, that's their M.O.), but had a streak of three punts in a row in the first half. Especially early on, the Buckeyes were very focused on establishing that inside run game, and they ran on 62% of their offensive snaps. Whether it was a run-based gameplan that didn't (or couldn't) tak advantage of a run-stopping Michigan defense or not, the Buckeyes scored on roughly every other drive, which may not be good enough next week.

This will be a much different offense with Cardale Jones at the helm. Jones attempted three passes during his brief stint against Michigan, but averaged just 2.3 yards per pass. As things stand now, Jones definitely does not get past his first read before tucking and running, even if he is an efficient runner. Jones also has a big arm, but he lacks J.T.'s accuracy. Unless Meyer and Herman are able to develop a great gameplan full of short passes for Cardale (I'm thinking plenty of touch passes to Marshall, swing passes to Elliott, receiver and running back screens, and five yard slants), the Buckeyes' run game will suffer against Wisconsin.

But for now, let's celebrate beating Michigan again.