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The Ohio State offense found its groove against Rutgers

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Ohio State was efficient and found big plays against Rutgers, but are defensive explosive plays a concern?

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of a fumble on J.T.'s first possession, the Ohio State offense was nearly unstoppable against an overmatched Rutgers team. The defense was maybe even better.

We'll get in to just how Ohio State was able to be both explosive and efficient on offense, and completely shut-down on defense, but a couple of notes first.

  1. There are two arguments about J.T.'s first start. You could argue that J.T.'s efficient day is evidence that he should've been starting all along. That seemed to be roughly Kirk Herbstreit's take. You could instead argue that Cardale would've been as efficient as J.T. was against a clearly over-matched Rutgers defense. It's tough to prove either way, but what seemed clear to me was that the offense had a much clearer identity with J.T. at the helm. The quarterback run game opened up plenty of one-on-one receiver matchups for J.T. to exploit. It was kind of ironic: Cardale's main strength was his proficiency in the deep passing game, but due to a number of factors -- including offensive line play, lack of a deep threat at receiver, a short leash for getting benched, play calling, and Cardale being less of a threat to run -- the Buckeyes weren't as explosive in the passing game as last season. The Buckeyes took some positive steps against Rutgers.
  2. You could also argue that this performance doesn't mean much because it was just Rutgers. While they're only the 92nd-ranked S&P+ team in the country, I'd argue it was still a step forward for Ohio State because the Buckeyes weren't blowing out similarly-poor competition earlier in the season.
Alright, let's get to the numbers.

A complete performance

3rd down % Exp. pass Exp. rush Scoring opps 3-and-outs Rush success Rush opp rate Pass success Sacks
50% 3 4 6 (86%) 1 66% 47% 72% 1
  • Note: These numbers don't include garbage time stats. So, the drives at the end of both halves as well as Cardale's series aren't included.
  • First of all, it was a mostly mistake-free night for Ohio State without penalties, only one turnover, and one sack allowed.
  • Elliott had a 63% rushing success rate, but a 39% rushing opportunity rate with two explosive runs. This means that Elliott's carries were mostly hard-fought gains for first downs even if they weren't five-yard carries. Elliott excelled in short-yardage situations, which elevated his success rate even if it hurt his oportunity rate. Elliott was extremely reliable in short-yardage situations.
  • Urban may have wanted to go away from the quarterback run game early in the season, but it was clear that J.T. running is too dangerous to not be a big part of the strategy. Barrett had a 69% success rate with a 58% opportunity rate and two explosive carries.
  • In the preview I argued that Barrett should pass fairly often against Rutgers because that's what has been effective in the past. While J.T. passed fairly frequently, he wasn't throwing too many short yardage routes like I expected from the Rutgers defense's passing success rate -- instead it was a lot of big plays. J.T. connected on three explosive pass plays and several others that were close because that's what the Rutgers defense was showing.
  • The Buckeyes offensive line allowed only a single sack, but six tackles for loss. Again, that's a function of the Rutgers defense doing everything it could to shut down the Buckeyes' run game (Elliott in particular) and trying to force Barrett to pass. With a fully-functional quarterback run game, opposing defenses should be playing whack-a-mole against Ohio State: try and take away Elliott, which allows Barrett and the passing game to open up; take away the passing game, and the run game goes wild; zero in on Barrett on the ground, and Elliott has opportunities in the middle.
  • Shoutout to "Zone 6", where three receivers had explosive plays and highlight catches, including Braxton's acrobatic catch on the ground, Michael Thomas' catch-stiff arm-run away from the Rutgers secondary, and Curtis Samuel's touchdown reception.
  • One of the most impressive things to me was the incredible drive efficiency. Ohio State created nine scoring opportunities in nine drives. Two of the non-scoring opportunity drives were explosive touchdowns from outside of the Rutgers' 40-yard line. The final drive was the lone punt, a three-and-out in the first quarter. The offense scored touchdowns on five of their scoring opportunities, averaging 5.8 points per opportunity, with the only non-touchdown scoring opportunity drive being the opening fumble. This included four-straight touchdown drives to open the second half.

An excellent defensive performance

  • We said that there probably wouldn't be too many sacks from either team in the preview, and Ohio State only managed two sacks on the night.
  • The Silver Bullets shut out Rutgers until the backups came in during garbage time in the fourth quarter. They forced four three-and-outs and held Chris Laviano to a 50% completion percentage -- another thing that was in the cards from the advanced stats.
  • Rutgers was poor situationally, converting just 33% of their third downs. While Rutgers was fairly efficient running the ball, they quickly got behind and needed to pass more frequently.
  • Rutgers managed four explosive plays -- which is actually a little concerning for the defense -- but the Buckeyes were incredibly efficient otherwise. Leonte Carroo was likely still a little slowed by injury, but was held to just three catches for 55 yards. Right now I'd say this is the biggest concern for the entire team -- whether an opposing offense can exploit some holes in the defense for explosive plays.