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Ohio State vs. Hawaii advanced stats review: Disappointment after a 38-point shutout win?

I'll hedge and argue that it all depends on the Buckeyes' performances over the next few games.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to look at a shut out win and be dissatisfied, but that was definitely my first instinct. On the one hand:

  1. Hawaii was ranked 105th in the F/+ rankings going in to the game, even after upsetting Colorado.
  2. Ohio's State's S&P+ win probability was 99.7% with a projected margin of 47.1 points.
  3. The Buckeyes' opening line was OSU -38 (good job, bookies).
On the other hand:
  1. Yes, there was a quick turnaround from a big win on Monday night. Definitely fits the trap game bill schedule-wise, if not opponent strength-wise.
  2. It's the second game of the season, so there's plenty of time to work out the kinks.
  3. And it was a much better performance than last year's second game of the season.
  4. One game does not make a trend.
But still. Don't say "a win is a win." The Playoff Selection Committee won't think so, and neither do the advanced stats. Yes, it's amazingly ironic when Bielema and half of the SEC head coaches criticize the Buckeyes' schedule only to lose to or narrowly escape their own cupcakes, but 1. the schedule is easy and 2. repeat sub-par performances could be indicative of real issues that could pop up down the line.

Inefficient once again?

Ohio State won a championship last season through incredible efficiency, which is why it was a surprise when they beat up on Virginia Tech through highlight reel explosive plays instead. I assumed Hawaii would get them back on the efficiency track. First is a look at the Buckeyes' per-play efficiency:

Elliott success rate Elliott opp. rate Team rush success rate Team rush opp. rate Team pass success rate
50% 40% 52% 44% 50%

Then their drive efficiency:

Total Drives Scoring Opportunities Red zone attempts Red zone TDs Wasted Drives
11 5 (45%) 5 (45%) 4 (80%) 2 (18%)

Note: Wasted drives are three-and-outs.

For reference, the Buckeyes led the country in team rushing opportunity rate last season at 49.5%. But the problem is that that statistic isn't opponent-adjusted. That means that across Ohio State's entire season -- including Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon -- the Buckeyes rushed more efficiently on average than they did tonight against Hawaii (67th last season in rushing S&P+). That's... not ideal. The success rates were better than the opportunity rates, but the problem I saw was that Ohio State's base run plays seemed far less effective than they were last season. Inside zone, counter trey, wham, inverted veer -- Elliott was gobbled up on far too many of these staple run plays against Hawaii.

The possession efficiency, and especially the red zone/scoring opportunity efficiency, were solid, but the issue was that the Buckeye offense could have created more scoring opportunities than they did. Cardale and J.T. didn't differ significantly in their effectiveness, but the team overall turned only 45% of their drives in to scoring opportunities. On the flip side, of eleven full drives (discounting the garbage time game-ender and the one to end the half), the Buckeyes only had two three-and-outs. Both three-and-outs were at the beginning of the second quarter, so far giving Ohio State terrible second quarter efficiency to start the year.

So what gives? Why are the base run plays less effective and the offense so sluggish in the second quarter? My guess, and I'd have to check the tape and do some charting to say for sure, is that Warinner and Meyer are trying a lot of things to both identify go-to guys and go-to plays -- oh, and find a go-to quarterback. This switching drive-to-drive thing disrupts quarterbacks' flow and incentivizes risk-aversion. In response to using both quarterbacks, Meyer said as much, "I'm evaluating how we're doing that and what's the best opportunity to go down the field and score." Beyond settling on which playmakers to turn to when needed, the line -- especially the interior -- have to perform better than they did, particularly under pressure.

Not nearly as explosive as last week

The Buckeyes didn't break off nearly as many explosive plays as last week. Going by the 15-yard rush and 25-yard pass markers for explosive plays, the Buckeyes only had a single explosive play out of 83 total plays -- and that was Cardale's first 24-yard rush! There were two near-explosive plays, a Jalin Marshall 24-yard reception and a Braxton 14-yard run, but even counting those, that's still just a 3.6% explosive play rate.

Even looking at mid-range explosive plays (of 10+ yards), there were just six explosive runs (out of 49 attempts, or 12%) and nine explosive passes (out of 34 attempts, or 26%). The passing explosiveness was fairly decent then -- the issue was that there weren't any really deep completions and there were too many overall incompletions. Neither quarterback (and a few wide receivers) seemed on their game against the Rainbow Warriors.

The defense, though

But if you wanted a vintage Silver Bullets performance, the Buckeyes delivered that against Hawaii. Granted, this was the 121st offensive S&P+ team last season, but still -- Max Wittek was held to a 29% completion percentage and turned the ball over three times. Vonn Bell and Darron Lee added some highlight-worthy turnovers and explosive defensive plays, and young guys like Sam Hubbard, Raekwon McMillan, and Gareon Conley all made some noise. Obviously the Rainbow Warriors were shut out, but the defense also forced four three-and-outs and held them to 2.3 yards per rush.

All in all, the Buckeyes were less efficient than expected against a bad defense, and didn't connect on as many explosive plays as last week to compensate for a merely "good" offensive performance in terms of efficiency. The defense won the day, but the Buckeyes must improve their consistency in both passing accuracy and in the base run game for Ohio State to continue both dominating cupcakes and beating the tougher teams at the end of the schedule.