This likely isn't one that you particularly care to see the advanced stats for. Even Meyer is surprised: "I'm a little bit surprised. I thought our skilled guys would perform better, I thought we'd protect a little better...Coaches don't get surprised, we get disappointed. Obviously, we've just got to work a little harder."
So we can probably split our dissection of what needs to get better into two parts -- what we should have known and genuine surprises.
What we should have known
Bill Connelly: "Week 1 performances were as indicative of full-season performance as those from any other week, more in three of four cases." And here I thought that didn't apply to the Buckeyes after facing a team like Navy in week one.
Seven sacks. "I thought we'd protect a little better" is an understatement, but I suppose you don't just replace four starting offensive linemen from one of the best lines in Ohio State history and expect everything to keep humming along just fine. We did know that Virginia Tech had an excellent defense that was capable of bringing pressure against our young offensive line. We also knew that the Midshipmen were far more effective at pressuring Barrett than they should have been. But I didn't put all of this together to predict last night's outcome, that's for sure.
According to ESPN, the Hokie defense blitzed at least one player on 34 of Barrett's 42 dropbacks. That's an 81% blitz rate and a 17% sack rate for passing downs. Unfortunately those numbers illustrate a strategy Buckeye fans are likely to see often this season. Send as many pass rushers as possible (but leave a single high safety!), because the Buckeyes can only hurt you with the deep ball.
On the other side of the ball, we should have known that the unit wouldn't grow elite overnight. While the defense's effeciency scores are decent (.45 points per play, 4.2 yards per play, 23.1 yards per possession, and 2.5 points per possession), Brewer picked them apart at the wrong moments.
But the problem was that Brewer was never dominating and the scores were never on big plays. For instance, his passing totals (23/36 for 199 yards and 2 interceptions) are pedestrian, and he never had a completion of over 18 yards. Not a single play qualified as explosive through the air.
While we should have known about the offensive line and the pass defense, I am totally shocked about the running game. Ed Warinner took a group of underperformers and some lesser-known recruits and turned them into last year's road graters, so I expected Ohio State's rushing totals to only fall slightly. But apparently Mewhort and Hyde aren't replacable after all!
The Buckeyes rushed for 108 yards on 40 carries, or 2.7 yards per carry. Unfortunately five of those counted as explosive carries of more than 15 yards (with a long of Barrett's 25), so that means that the run game was really boom and bust. Running backs success rates were predictably rough:
Early on it seemed like Barrett was having the most success, but the Hokies quickly adapted once it was clear Barrett was attempting to shoulder too much of the weight on offense. Going forward the Buckeyes had only 42 yards on 14 carries between the tackles, with Hokie defenders tackling at or behind the line on 9 of those 14 carries. The lack of a power rush game is devastating to any kind of offensive balance.
On the flipside, I didn't expect the rushing defense to be mediocre. Sure, last season the Defensive Rushing S&P+ scores were just as bad as the Defensive Passing S&P+ numbers, but I expected an elite front seven and Chris Ash to tighten things down. It's not like they ran by Buckeye defenders all night (averaging three yards per carry and 125 yards overall with two running backs averaging under two yards per carry), but several ill-timed slahes by Deon Newsome and Sam Rodgers hurt the Buckeye defense badly.
But with mediocre offensive totals of their own (324 total yards -- the Buckeyes outgained the Hokies!) the Hokies managed 14 more points mainly due to turnovers and drives that went nowhere:
- The average Buckeye drive went just 23.4 yards while their average starting field position was their own 34 yard line
- The Buckeyes had four three-and-outs
- J.T. Barrett threw three interceptions (and ended with a neutral turnover margin, though)
They say that having more than two three-and-outs is correlated with a huge drop in winning percentage. Add the OSU-VT game as additional evidence.
A few bright spots
OK, so some bright spots to end with. Again we saw some noteworthy flashes from several defenders. Eli Apple and Vonn Bell both had interceptions. Joey Bosa had 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Joshua Perry fought off injury for half a sack and three tackles for loss. Michael Thomas was huge, leading the team with six receptions, 98 receiving yards, and a touchdown.
There is plenty to work on, but loads of talent on this team. Having some offensive consistency -- in both the passing game and any semblance of a run game -- will have positive effects on both sides of the ball. Thankfully a few cupcakes are on the docket to help.