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Ohio State found a red zone offense and new defensive concerns vs. Maryland

Ohio State's offense is now kicking into gear, but is it happening just as their defense shows new flaws?

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Buckeyes had two primary goals last week and for the most part accomplished both of them: fix the red zone offense and work on not turning the ball over. Urban called himself a "raving lunatic" this week about the turnovers issues that plagued Ohio State in their narrow win over Indiana last week, but apparently it was effective -- the Buckeyes didn't lose the ball once and ended +2 in the turnover margin.

It wasn't all perfect for Ohio State against Maryland. Like the numbers predicted, Ohio State gave up big plays through the air and on the ground to Maryland quarterback Perry Hills, who rushed for 170 yards.

The offense: Big plays and red zone efficiency, but what about the run game?

3rd down % Exp. pass Exp. rush Scoring opps 3-and-outs Rush success Rush opp rate Cardale pass success Sacks
45% 2 4 7 (54%) 2 (15%) 67% 38% 57%

  • The biggest take away for me was the red zone efficinecy. Ohio State notably gave J.T. his own offensive package once Ohio State got in the red zone, and it was deadly effective. Barrett didn't necessarily do too much that Cardale couldn't have done (Barrett likely ran better than Cardale would have in the second half especially, but early his runs were more short-yardage), but he operated the offense efficiently and completed both of his passes for 26 yards. The Buckeyes scored 42 points on seven scoring opportunities, averaging six points per scoring opportunity. Ohio State only had six red zone touchdowns coming in to today. Where in the Indiana game the Buckeyes used big plays for scores, Ohio State used mostly efficient drives and short-yardage explosive plays to score this week.
  • It wasn't like Maryland was abysmal in red zone defense, either. They ranked 51st in defensive finishing drives, typically allowing 4.18 points per scoring opportunity.
  • The Buckeyes had a fairly low percentage scoring opportunities (54%). Of the Buckeyes' 13 drives, seven generated scoring opportunities, one was an explosive touchdown outside of the Maryland 40,and two were three-and-outs.
  • The above rushing success rate above is for Elliott, Barrett had a 58% success rate.
  • That is also my second takeaway from the offense. There was a huge difference between the Elliott's rushing success rate and his opportunity rate. That means that while 2/3 of his carries were successful towards getting a first down, only 38% totaled at least five yards. Elliott barely crossed the 100-yard mark and recorded just five yards per carry average as well. Maryland was 62nd in rushing S&P+ and 98th in rushing success rate coming in to the game. Elliott had several explosive carries, but they were for 16 or 19 yards instead of the 75-yard carries we're used to at this point. Elliott had an effective day even if it was far from flashy.
  • Cardale quietly had one of his best days throwing the ball as a starting quarterback. I'm sure it doesn't feel great to be pulled in the red zone, but Jones finally gave Michael Thomas a 100+ receiving yard day as the offense focused on its playmakers instead of distributing the ball to too many players. Thomas, Braxton, and Jalin Marshall -- the clear top three receivers -- all had at least four catches for 70+ yards. And Elliott had six catches of his own as a reliable check down target.

The defense: Are explosive plays and running quarterbacks an issue?

3rd down % Exp. pass Exp. rush Scoring opps 3-and-outs Rush success Rush opp rate Pass success Sacks
36% 1 3 4 (31%) 2 (15%) 59% 54% 30% 5

The defense has been one of the best surprises this season. The Silver Bullets have been aggressive up front and generated several defensive touchdowns of their own. But there were signs of wear and tear against Maryland, and for his part, Randy Edsall exploited Ohio State's weaknesses well: with a running quarterback and an efficient run game.

  • The Buckeyes defense was fairly inefficient against the run last season, but has fared well this year albeit against limited running back talent. However, and mainly due to quarterback Perry Hills, the Buckeyes allowed Maryland to run with a 59% success rate and 54% opportunity rate. That's an extremely high clip -- especially for Hills, who more than tripled the number of carries relative to the second-leading rusher on the team. Without Hills' running abilities, this game would have been an incredible blowout.
  • So looking at Ohio State's schedule, who else can exploit an apparent weakness against the quarterback run game? Illinois could use freshman Chayce Crouch in that role. And Michigan State's Connor Cook isn't a track star, but he's fairly slippery and mobile. But no other team has a quarterback like Hills, who averaged 8.3 highlight yards per opportunity and a 63.6% opportunity rate even before this weekend.
  • The Terps scored three touchdowns on four scoring opportunities, or 5.25 points per opportunity. That's a new concern for Ohio State -- allowing red zone touchdowns. The explosive play where no one covered D.J. Moore looked like a blown assignment. But the Terps found fairly consistent red zone success against the Ohio State defense.
  • A positive takeaway? Besides containing the quarterback run, Ohio State's front four dominated the passing game, once again forcing an opposing quarterback in to a sub-50% completion rate and Hills in to a 30% success rate. If he wasn't actually sacked then he was often hurried -- Hills rarely had a clean pocket to step up in to and make a throw, so he would have been incredibly ineffective if not for his scrambling ability.