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Explosive plays saved the day for Ohio State against Indiana

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Ohio State was slightly less efficient per play, more explosive, and much less efficient per drive than usual with turnovers and third down woes.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For the second week in a row, explosive plays were the difference in the game, but this time they were almost entirely on the ground. Unlike the 20-point expected margin of victory from S&P+, Ohio State won by only a touchdown.

Concerned? That's fair. The Buckeyes offense was inconsistent again, reeling off an explosive play and then following up with a three-and-out, and almost never converting a third down. Against Indiana. The defense played fairly well, but allowed three touchdowns, including one 80-yard drive, one explosive play, and one short-field touchdown off of a turnover.

In short, you can see the flashes of talent that got the Buckeyes to the playoff last season, but it's inconsistent. And even more concerning, it's less efficient.

To be clear, there's no real need to press the panic button yet. The overall goal is still in sight. Just compared to last season, the Buckeyes rebounded from the loss to Virginia Tech with four-straight games where they scored at least 50 points and had a three-touchdown margin of victory. Everything was clicking on that side of the ball.

That's not the case this season. The defense is playing better, both just using the eye test and looking at the numbers. But the offense has struggled to be explosive, had a slight decline in efficiency, and a plague of turnovers that have killed drives and diminished the effectiveness of Ohio State's talented offensive weapons.

The offense

3rd down % Exp. pass Exp. rush Scoring opps 3-and-outs Rush success Rush opp rate Cardale pass success Sacks
14% 5 (19%) 4 (17%) 6 (35%) 6 (38%) 43% 44% 48% 22%

The numbers in this chart are not good. In general, the Buckeyes were more explosive, less efficient per play, and much less efficient per-drive than they have been this season (and last season).

A couple of things really stick out:

  • Ohio State only generated six scoring opportunities (most of the explosive touchdowns were outside of the range of a scoring opportunity), which was just 35% of their overall drives. The direct cause was three-and-outs, where the Buckeyes had six, or 38% of their overall drives. So, on a little over a third of drives, the Buckeyes drove the ball well enough to get in to Indiana scoring territory. On a second third of drives, the Buckeyes never got off the ground (total yards on those six three-and-outs? 21 yards, or 3.5 yards per drive). Finally, on nearly a third of Ohio State's drives, they had an explosive touchdown run from Elliott from outside of an Indiana scoring opportunity.
  • Once the Buckeyes got in to an Indiana scoring opportunity, the offense became increasingly inefficient, scoring 13 points in those six opportunities. That's 2.17 points per scoring opportunity, or even less than a field goal. That's due to a number of issues. First, the Buckeyes attempted three field goals in the red zone, missing one. Second, Ohio State had turnovers -- a Jalin Marshall fumble and an interception. In a world where Ohio State had perfect efficiency in scoring opportunities, the Buckeyes have 29 more points than they actually scored.
  • The turnovers are an issue. With three turnovers to none forced by the defense this week, the Buckeyes are -4 in overall turnover margin, which is 101st in the country in turnover margin per game.
  • For efficiency issues in scoring opportunities and everywhere else on the field, the main issue seems to be the Buckeyes' effectiveness on third down, where they converted just 14% of attempts (that's a grand total of two!). On those third downs, the Buckeyes had a mean of eight and a median of 6.5 yards to go, so the issues clearly start on standard downs. The number of inefficient runs and incomplete passes on standard downs was astounding. Here's one drive from the first quarter: one yard run, one yard run, 26-yard pass, five yard loss from a sack, 12-yard pass, two yard loss on a run, punt.
  • Elliott had a career day, but his overall rushing totals and his yards per carry average are somewhat deceiving. Overall last season Elliott didn't average significantly higher efficiency (success rate or opportunity rate) than he did against Indiana (his opportunity rate was 46.5% for the whole 2014 season compared to 44% yesterday), but we're used to much higher efficiency from his post-season performances last year. I think the issue for our perception of the offense is that we expected the Buckeyes to continue the trajectory of their post-season performances, when they are playing much more like a slightly less efficient, more turnover-prone version of their regular-season selves.

Indiana was 88th in defensive success rate, 100th in defensive IsoPPP (explosiveness), and 101st in overall defensive S&P+. These issues aren't insurmountable, but Ohio State has to clean up the turnovers and standard downs play calling and execution so that third downs aren't insurmountable and the red zone isn't a black hole for points.

A few notes on the defense

Indiana scored more points than the previous few opponents, but this shouldn't be very alarming. Indiana benefitted from three turnovers and reeled of an explosive run for one of those scores. The Buckeyes still held the Hoosiers to 1.6 points per drive, forced eight three-and-outs (47%), their running backs (outside of Diamont's 79-yard run) averaged two yards per carry, and their quarterbacks completed less than 50% of their passes. The issue was a few uncharacteristic explosive passes (Tyvis Powell seemed to have an off day), the aforementioned explosive run, and the lack of a forced turnover. A few bright spots? Tyquan Lewis had a breakout day with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss, while Bosa managed 2.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups. Also, Adolphus Washington with ten stops? That's insane for a defensive tackle.