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Indiana's surprisingly efficient offense will test Ohio State's defense

Both teams enter conference play undefeated, but with drastically different strengths. Is Ohio State at any risk of an upset?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State offense seemed to get back on track last week against Western Michigan, while a couple of  Broncos receivers poked a few holes in what has been a stellar Ohio State defense so far.

Indiana is the third-best team on the Buckeyes' schedule so far according to the S&P+ rankings, but they might have the most dangerous offense that the Silver Bullets have seen so far this year. At 25th in offensive S&P+ and 101st in defensive S&P+, it's clear where the Hoosiers' strengths lie.

This plays well in to the Buckeyes' hands. While the Buckeyes made strides on offense last week against Western Michigan, you would've been worried had they not made some strides, given the state of the Broncos defense. That's the case again this week.

College GameDay missed an opportunity to see two undefeated teams clash in a game that should have plenty of exciting offense.

The Ohio State offense vs. the Indiana defense

OSU Offense IU Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 62 1.36 100 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 45.1% 48 43.3% 88 40.6%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 33.4 25 23.7 5 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.93 62 4.92 87 4.71

Ohio State's offensive numbers are pretty bad. It's worth keeping in mind that the above table has opponent-unadjusted stats, so the rankings may change once that is factored in, but there's no denying that the offense has looked worse than almost everyone expected. But we also know that Ohio State's offensive potential is at the top of the country, assuming the Buckeyes and the coaching staff can fix a number of small things like play calling process (and actual plays), preparation for the 3-4, perimeter blocking, underthrows, and concentrating on a few dependable playmakers. In short -- the Buckeyes need to maintain an offensive identity.

And Indiana's defense is the team to do it with! The Hoosiers' defense is one of the worst in the country in every area except for defensive field position. They prevent explosive running plays relatively well (27th in IsoPPP) compared to their rushing success rate (84th), but their defensive line gets blown off the ball (119th in adjusted line yards) and they're unable to get stops when it really matters (79th in power success rate).

That translates to an efficient but potentially less explosive day for Zeke, which at this point is par for the course. Elliott is averaging an OK 5.3 highlight yards per opportunity, which is respectable but nothing special in terms of turning efficient plays in to explosive plays. This likely has to do with offensive linemen not getting to their second blocks after double teams, or not double teaming at the point of attack well against 3-4 defenses. Curtis Samuel currently averages 8.4 highlight yards per carry, however, so I'd like to see more of what he can do running the ball north-south rather than just on jet sweeps.

The bigger question for many fans is likely the passing game, where Cardale was more explosive last week but missed on several critical underthrows on wide open receivers.

Ohio State currently has just the 64th-best passing S&P+ offense despite owning the 22nd-best adjusted sack rate line, which is far better than the Buckeyes averaged last season. Underthrows will do that, as will lower efficiency and explosiveness averages.

The Hoosiers' passing defense is very not good. They are currently worse at allowing explosive passing plays (106th in passing IsoPPP) than efficient passing attacks, but they're not exactly good in that department either (93rd in passing success rate). While they're actually pretty decent in passing downs efficiency, they're awful in preventing explosive plays on passing downs (36th compared to 94th). This translates to lots of passing attempts on third down for Cardale and company, even on third and short.

The Ohio State defense vs. the Indiana offense

IU Offense OSU Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 98 1.09 23 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 48.9% 24 30.7% 13 40.6%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 28.8 83 27.3 40 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.94 61 3.77

23

4.71

I took two major things away from the Indiana offense's advanced statistical profile. First, they're very efficient, whether you're looking at rushing success rate (31st) or passing (18th). The 25th-ranked S&P+ offense overall, they rely on efficient plays rather than explosive plays (where they rank 98th in IsoPPP). The run game in particular rarely breaks big runs (120th in rushing IsoPPP), but junior running back Jordan Howard has been incredibly consistent for the Hoosiers, grinding out a 47.7% opportunity rate. For comparison, Elliott has a 44.2% opportunity rate this season. And he's been used a ton, averaging nearly nine more carries per game than Elliott so far this season.

The passing game is similarly efficient, with Nate Sudfeld recording 8.8 yards per attempt with a 61.1% completion rate and only one interception. The Buckeyes have had defensive scores in three straight games, but Sudfeld and Howard don't give opposing defenses many opportunities to get on the score board. Of course, no one on their schedule so far has much of an ability to force turnovers, either, so it's not like it will be impossible for Vonn Bell or Darron Lee to get on the scoreboard once again.

Second, Sudfeld has only been sacked twice this season, giving them the eleventh-ranked offensive line in adjusted sack rate. At 36th in adjusted line yards as well, their offensive line coach looks to be due for a raise. So I'll also be watching whether Ohio State's vaunted defensive line (itself 20th in adjusted sack rate) can create some havoc (where Ohio State is 29th overall) and force Sudfeld in to some of his first mistakes of the season. One thing to mention -- Sudfeld has been sacked only twice, but has fumbled three times, losing one. That indicates he's loose with the ball in his hands even when he's carrying the ball (which he's only done 19 times at 2.6 yards per carry). So don't expect too much from Sudfeld as a rushing threat, but go after the ball every time he crosses the line of scrimmage.

Watch for:

  1. The Buckeyes have to hit big passing plays against this passing defense which has been poor all season against explosive passes.
  2. Can Elliott reverse the Hoosiers' defensive trend of shutting down explosive run plays?
  3. Will the Howard and Sudfeld be as efficient against the Buckeyes' defense? If so, will Ohio State tighten up in the red zone, where the Hoosiers have been only middle of the road?
  4. Can the Buckeyes force any turnovers or sacks against a Hoosiers offensive line that hasn't really allowed very many this season?