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Ohio State-Virginia Tech 2014 advanced stats preview

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

Rob Carr

The Buckeyes open their home slate against a Virginia Tech squad that looks to give the Buckeyes an old-fashioned defensive struggle. Tressel would love it. Woody would love it.

But I'm not too sure Urban shares their (would-be) enthusiasm. On the one hand, I'm sure Urban, Luke Fickell, and Chris Ash are excited to play a team that has a normal blocking scheme, a normal rush:pass ratio, and a normal offensive strategy. This is an opposing team that will hopefully demonstrate the strength of the defensive front seven. As in sacks, tackles for loss, and not setting records for opponent rushing yards.

However, the defensive coordinators' excitement is probably outweighed by the strength of Bud Foster's own defense. Just what Urban needs -- the projected second-ranked Defensive F/+ team coming to town in primetime against his redshirt freshman quarterback making his second career start and the four green offensive linemen in front of him.

Actually, that's probably exactly the kind of thing that gets Meyer going in the morning.

When Ohio State has the ball

The Buckeyes averaged .62 points per play, 7.64 yards per play, and 3.78 points per possession last week. All decent numbers, but none close to the production we witnessed week in and week out last season. That was to be expected given the losses on offense, but I nonetheless expected the Buckeyes to find more success against a small and slow(er) Midshipmen defense that performed very poorly last season.

In contrast, Virginia Tech held their cupcake William and Mary to three field goals, .18 points per play, 3.78 yards per play, 19.3 yards per possession, and just .9 points per possession. Sure, that's a dominating performance, but it is really pretty impossible to say what that means against an opponent with a heartbeat.

However, there's not a drop off when looking over last season's numbers. The Hokies were third overall in Defensive F/+, near where Alabama and Michigan State ended up. Like Pat Narduzzi, Bud Foster has a reputation for slowing spread-to-run offenses like Ohio State's.

But it's not all doom and gloom! The Hokies had two non-offense weaknesses last season: field position and a relative susceptibility to explosive plays. Virginia Tech was second in the country in limiting play-by-play efficiency through Defensive Success Rate+ (which measures the ability of defenses to limit offenses progressing towards first downs), but 72nd in IsoPPP+, a measure of explosiveness. Look for Herman to dial up play action in the second half for big strikes once again.

When Ohio State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 25 14
2013 FEI 4 3
2013 Rushing S&P+ 5 1
2013 Passing S&P+ 2 17

When Virginia Tech has the ball

Virginia Tech's offense, however, was abysmal last season. 85th overall in Offensive F/+ with the 105th Rushing S&P+ score is not a way to win your division. The Hokies found some success against William in Mary to the tune of 3.09 points per possession and 44.4 yards per possession. Averaging four first downs per possession isn't too shabby (afterall, Urban always says that the minimum goal for an offense in terms of maintaining field position is two first downs), but the Buckeyes are a little more stout than William and Mary.

In particular, the Hokies will likely still struggle to run against the Buckeye front seven. With the 105th rushing offense last season, the Buckeyes will likely look to improve their rushing defensive statistics from the Navy game. While the total numbers were ugly, Navy still wasn't too efficient on a possession basis. The Buckeyes will try to improve on bend-but-not-break by not bending at all against the Hokies. If they can make the Hokies one dimensional, then new Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer may get to know Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington on a first name basis.

The aerial matchup is definitely the most worrisome, as I have no doubt that all fans remember all number of screens and short passes for first downs against last season's passive coverage. The good news is that the Hokies were both extremely inefficient on a play-by-play basis (bad for long drives) and bad in the red zone (110th in Red Zone S&P+).

When Virginia Tech has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 28 38
2013 FEI 78 42
2013 Rushing S&P+ 105 58
2013 Passing S&P+ 65 61

My Prediction

While it could turn into a low-scoring game because of the Buckeyes' offensive inexperience, the Virginia Tech defensive prowess, and the Hokie offensive sloppiness, I expect point totals in the high-20s or mid-30s, with the Buckeyes likely winning by ten to fourteen points.

Overall VT OSU
Overall F/+ 26 13
Projected Offensive F/+ 89 8
Projected Defensive F/+ 2 31
2013 Special Teams F/+ 75 5
Overall S&P+ 19 13
Overall FEI 37 11