clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The advanced stats predict a close one for Ohio State vs. Penn State

New, 2 comments

Can the Nittany Lions upset Ohio State with defense and an explosive run game?

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State got very close to taking down the Buckeyes last season, if not for J.T. Barrett overcoming efficiency issues and playing hurt. The Nittany Lions managed to stymie the Buckeye offense for the first time since the Virginia Tech debacle.

This is a very similar Penn State team and the Buckeyes haven't been playing the best offensive football lately. The only difference is now the Nittany Lions have an explosive running back in Saquon Barkley.

S&P+ predicts a narrow field goal win over Penn State -- so the margins (finishing drives with touchdowns instead of field goals, turnover margin, and field position) might go a long way in determining whether this turns in to an upset.

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
PSU S&P+ 29.9 61 18.3 17
OSU S&P+ 33.2 42 20.5 26

Penn State shuts down explosive pass plays

OSU Offense PSU Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.38 22 1.07 12 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 45.2% 36 34.6% 22 40.1%
OSU Offense PSU Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 119.5 28 116.6 32 100.0
Rushing Success Rate 46.6% 36 36% 33 42.0%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.23 16 1.04 61 1.08
OSU Offense PSU Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing S&P+ 102.2 72 154.3 4 100.0
Passing Success Rate 43.6% 43 32.9% 22 40.1%
Passing IsoPPP 1.57 44 1.12 4 1.48
Adj. Sack Rate 130.5 40 216.2 2 100

The Buckeyes appear to have corrected the explosiveness issues from the Hawaii and Western Michigan games, ranking 22nd in overall IsoPPP. Elliott has escaped for big rushes in the second halves of the past few games, while Jones and Barrett have hit big passing plays early on.

But efficiency numbers have dropped from late last season. Elliott has been solid but unspectacular in many first halves this season as the gameplan has clearly revolved around opening up the run by working on the passing game.

Penn State will be the biggest defensive challenge the Buckeyes have seen this season, particularly in the passing game. While the Nittany Lions allow an explosive run here and there -- much like Ohio State's defense -- they have shut down opposing passing games, ranking fourth in overall passing S&P+ and preventing explosive pass plays. Lately that's been Ohio State's bread and butter -- big passes to Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, or Braxton Miller. Expect shorter passes and quicker reads to begin with as the Buckeyes attempt to draw the secondary in against quick passes and efficient runs. That's because big passes and play action will likely leave Cardale exposed for the fearsome Penn State pass rush. The nation's sack leader is surprisingly senior former walk-on Carl Nassib, who has been a terror on the defensive line. And he's not the only one capable of pressuring the quarterback, with Austin Johnson also a threat.

The ultimate success of the Ohio State offense will hinge on an efficient run game, however. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions appear to be evenly matched. Elliott will need to be on his A-game, and it's fair to think the offensive coaches may introduce Curtis Samuel and Braxton Miller on more perimeter runs as well.

Watch for:

  1. Whether the Buckeyes come out trying to run the ball and hit quick passes, where they can likely be more efficient. Don't expect too many explosive pass plays against this Penn State defense unless the Buckeye receiving trio can win several one-on-one battles.
  2. So the biggest indicator of how the game will go should be first quarter rushing success rate and opportunity rate.

Watch out for the explosive Saquon Barkley

PSU Offense OSU Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.48 10 1.23 65 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 35.2% 119 31.2% 8 40.1%
PSU Offense OSU Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 110.1 50 109.9 46 100.0
Rushing Success Rate 35.9% 114 36.9% 37 42.0%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.4 6 1.03 58 1.08
PSU Offense OSU Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing S&P+ 83.9 113 157.9 3 100.0
Passing Success Rate 34.5% 110 24.1% 2 40.1%
Passing IsoPPP 1.56 45 1.60 96 1.48
Adj. Sack Rate 63.9 114 139 20 100

Looking at the normal numbers and even the overall S&P+ rankings for the Penn State offense against the Buckeyes defense, you don't get the impression that the Silver Bullets have much to fear. However, the Nittany Lions offense has been surprisingly explosive -- which just happens to be the area where Ohio State's defense is least effective.

Judging by the above advanced stats, the main areas of weakness are rushing IsoPPP, where Ohio State ranks 58th in rushing IsoPPP to Penn State's sixth, and passing IsoPPP, where the Buckeyes are 96th and Penn State is 45th.

Maryland and Western Michigan were able to take advantage of this propensity for Ohio State to give up big plays. For the Broncos, it was primarily passes to Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis. On the other hand, Maryland was able to pick up big gains off of quarterback scrambles. Both Buckeye corners have had excellent years, but nickelback play and safety play remain a concern.

Saquon Barkley is the main concern here. The freshman has proven to be both explosive and efficient in his limited action, displacing Akeel Lynch as the most dangerous ball carrier. While the Penn State offensive line is still far from a run blocking machine (61st in opportunity rate and a scary-bad 120th in power success rate), they've improved enough to allow Barkley sufficient opportunities for big runs. Barkley averages 8.9 yards per rush and gains five yards on nearly 55% of his carries. That's not to discount the passing game. While being far from efficient, is occasionally very explosive. Sophomore Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton average over 12 yards per catch as the primary receiving threats.

However, there are a few things that stand out in favor of the Buckeyes. First, the Buckeyes' run defense troubles should be limited to explosive runs, as the Nittany Lions are 114th in rushing success rate, and even then the Buckeyes have only been gashed by running quarterbacks like Indiana's Zander Diamont and Maryland's Perry Hills. Christian Hackenberg... is not that quarterback. Hackenberg has limited escapability and will not outrun anyone in the Ohio State defense. While it's fair to argue that Saquon Barkley is the most explosive pure running back the Buckeyes have seen, the Ohio State defense also hasn't shown much weakness against running backs (by either efficiency or explosiveness standards). Nevertheless -- Barkley and explosive runs should be the biggest concern for the defense this weekend.

Second, one of the most drastic mismatches is in adjusted sack rate, where the Nittany Lions offensive line is 114th. Ohio State, at 20th in adjusted sack rate and 38th in havoc rate, can really exploit this weakness without fear of the quarterback scrambling for a big gain if the edge rushers overpursue. This should be yet another big game for Adolphus Washington as he helps collapse the pocket, which will allow Sam Hubbard, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, and Tyquan Lewis to head straight for the quarterback.

Finally, despite Hackenberg's immense physical abilities, Penn State is just 110th in passing success rate, while the Buckeyes are second in the country in this area. This likely is due to some innaccuracy on Hackenberg's part as well as his receivers' nearly uniformly poor catch rates. Of his top four receivers, DaeSean Hamilton has the highest catch rate at 56.7%. Buckeye corners should be more than equipped to defend most passes and keep the overall passing success rate abysmally low, adding to the list of opposing quarterbacks who have averaged less than a 50% completion percentage against the Buckeyes.

Watch for:

  1. The number one concern will be explosive runs by Saquon Barkley. Stop Barkley and you stop the Penn State offense.
  2. Preventing explosive passes should be concern #2, so watch the safeties' play -- particularly if Hamilton, Godwin, or explosive sophomore Saeed Blacknall line up in the slot.
  3. Otherwise, expect big sack numbers from the edge rushers on the team.