It's a beautiful time to be alive for people writing about sports. This is not only because we are witnessing the evolution of the American athlete to the point where we are practically bored by the kinds of feats that would have dropped jaws a quarter-century ago: it's also because we have new and improved ways to quantify those feats, statistical measures that let us dive deeper into the minute differences between players, teams, and eras.
It's entirely possible that you're the kind of person who values most highly the things that can't possibly be measured: heart, teamwork, indomitable spirit. You're not wrong to do so! We remember triumphs, moments of joy, agonizing heartbreaks, far longer than we remember a third or fourth decimal place of some obscure stat. But for those sports fans who like their data as hard as the noses of their offensive linemen, well, there's plenty for them, too.
At SBNation, we're fortunate enough to house the kind of gurus who are somehow able to combine absurd athletic performance with solid, multi-faceted data points to give clear pictures of dominance from every possible angle. The statistical measure that might make or break Ohio State's performance against Illinois, which we'll delve into here, is the beautifully-named "Havoc rate." And that brings us to Joey Bosa.
Weight: 275 lbs.
Current Stat Line: 28.0 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 4 pass breakups
In eight games, Bosa hasn't shown up in the stat sheet in the way that most people expected. Last season, Bosa led the Big Ten in sacks, finishing tied for third in the country with 13.5. That number has come back down to earth this year. That's not to say that Bosa hasn't been one of the most impactful players on the Buckeye defense.
Havoc rate is defined as "the percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up)." The Havoc rate for Ohio State's defensive line is 12th in the country, and Joey Bosa is the biggest reason why. Look at the numbers posted above. He's making an absurd amount of Havoc plays, doing everything from blowing up runners for TFLs to breaking up passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. No one else on the Buckeyes come particularly close to Bosa when accounting for those kinds of plays.
The game situation
Advanced stats giveth, and advanced stats taketh away. Just a few weeks ago, the numbers liked Illinois almost as much as they liked Ohio State. The Illini were 4-1, Ohio State lacked an offensive identity, and this game was shaping up to be a dark horse troublemaker for the Buckeyes. Fast forward to Week 10. Illinois, perhaps haunted by Tim Beckman's ghost, have dropped three of their last four games, including an appearance as one of Iowa's victims.
The one thing that it seems like the Illini have done particularly well is protect their quarterback. The offense as a whole has been pretty miserable -- 97th in efficiency, 99th in finishing drives -- but they have posted an adjusted sack rate that's ninth-best in the country. The offensive line isn't especially stout, but Wes Lunt has time to throw, and the Illini big men also open up the occasional gaping hole for running backs Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Josh Ferguson, which has led to a team rank of 37th in explosive rushing plays.
Otherwise? This offense is as pedestrian as they come. The Illini's best performance against a team in the top 90 in S&P+ rating was a 27-point 'outburst' against Middle Tennessee State. Beyond that they've raked a few cupcakes over the coals and been handled by the likes of Penn State (39-0), Iowa (29-20), and Wisconsin (24-13).
What to watch for
Given that data, it seems pretty safe to say that Ohio State's secondary will hold up against Illinois' passing game. Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan will more than likely continue their Herculean feats of strength and record a half-dozen tackles a piece. (Darron Lee will probably continue to watch opposing running backs head in the opposite direction, and the opposing quarterback probably won't throw his way, either.) So one of the only remaining questions is how well Joey Bosa will be able to wreak havoc against a team that will be scheming to prevent him from doing just that.
One of Bosa's main tasks -- other than hunting down Wes Lunt -- will be containing senior running back Josh Ferguson. Ferguson returned last week from an injury that had sidelined him for the previous three games, and the Illini ran right over the Purdue defense in a 48-14 smackdown. Ferguson is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and has found the end zone three times so far in 2015. If Joey Bosa can bring him down in the backfield and slow his explosive potential, Illinois could be in for a long afternoon.
J.T. Barrett is officially back as Ohio State's starting quarterback, appearing as the No. 1 on this week's depth chart. He'll be tasked with taking on a really solid Illinois defense, a unit that ranks 10th in the country by S&P+. Ohio State's biggest concern will be finding the offensive rhythm that seemed so well-established three weeks ago when the Buckeyes mauled the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Barrett will be able to lean on Ezekiel Elliott, but when the inevitable third-and-medium/third-and-long scenarios arise, he's going to need to hit his targets with more precision -- or at least more emphatically -- than Cardale Jones did against a good Minnesota defense.
That said, no matter how stingy the Illini get on defense, the Buckeyes are going to find some points. It's hard to envision an offense as middling as Illinois' keeping pace with them. This is especially true given that the Buckeyes have been world-destroyers in a number of defensive categories this year, including passing S&P+ (2nd), passing success rate (1st), defensive field position (1st), and points allowed (6th). Overall, they're the ninth-best defense by S&P+, one spot ahead of the Illini.
This game has all the makings of a defensive slugfest punctuated by an explosive play here and there. A final score in the neighborhood of 24-7 feels about right for this one, and Buckeye fans will have to wait -- yet again -- for the display of offensive fireworks that they feel has been a long time coming.