F/+ had Ohio State winning by 31 points with a 96.7% win expectancy. That's ... not how the game went down.
But the great thing about how well Ohio State has recruited and how good the coaching staff is that even when they turn the ball over five times, the Buckeyes still can grind out an ugly. ugly win. This could have been 2009 Purdue-Ohio State all over again. But Ohio State won.
After the game Urban said about picking a quarterbacks, "There might be some truth to that. Not that I'm going to call some armchair [analysts] and ask them what they think..."
Well, we'll do our best anyway.
The good first
For the second straight week in a row, the Silver Bullets held their opponent to under 200 total yards and under 90 yards passing. Yes, Hawaii was 127th in offensive S&P+, but Northern Illinois was actually 19th. The defense flew around, made big plays when they needed to, and forced the Huskies in to only a single explosive play.
Vonn Bell was everywhere once again, leading the team in tackles. Eli Apple barely graces the defensive statistics (with an interception but only four tackles) because opposing quarterback target his receiver so infrequently. Darron Lee always seems to be ready on a sack or to create a big play, scoring once again this week. Joey Bosa added 2.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and three quarterback hurries, while his replacement Sam Hubbard generated three negative plays of his own.
Chris Ash, Luke Fickell, and Larry Johnson have the Buckeyes playing extremely hard on defense. Good enough to put the team on their back, if need be. And it was needed, surprisingly.
Offensive woes continue
|3rd down %||Exp. plays||Turnovers||Scoring opps||3-and-outs||Rush success||Rush opp rate||JT success||Cardale success|
|15%||1 (1.5%)||-3 (5)||5/14 (36%)||5/14 (36%)||59%||44%||42%||22%|
In week one, Ohio State's offensive gameplan seemed tailored perfectly to their opponent. The Buckeyes unleashed explosive play after another because of the Hokies man-press aggressive coverage that allowed Elliott to take his first carry of the season for an 80-yard touchdown after he broke through the first wave of defenders.
But against both Hawaii and Northern Illinois, the Buckeyes have struggled not only with efficiency, but with explosiveness, too. Ohio State had just a single explosive play against the Huskies -- Michael Thomas' 25-yard pass from Cardale. The longest run was just 13 yards, and Braxton had only ten total yards on five touches. Braxton is likely the team's most explosive player, but he was swallowed every time he got the ball, which was usually out of the wildcat. The team felt Devin Smith's absence with only Michael Thomas recording the team's lone explosive play -- and Thomas isn't designed to be the explosive threat. That's not his role.
This was not just an issue of turnovers and sloppiness with the ball, as Ohio State created as many scoring opportunities (5, or 36% of their drives) as they did three-and-outs. Out of those five scoring opportunities, the Buckeyes only created 13 points, or 2.6 points per scoring opportunity. Part of the reason why the Buckeyes had so many three-and-outs was because they averaged seven yards to go on third down (median yards to go was five) due to poor first and second down efficiency.
The thing is that the overall efficiency numbers really aren't all that terrible, particularly the overall rushing success rate at 59%. That's decent. But without any explosive carries too, the offense sputters. Even the rushing opportunity rate at 44% was just 5.5% less than last year's nation-leading season average (44% would put them right around 20th last year in the country in % of runs of at least five yards). So along with no explosive runs, the other issue was a fairly inefficient passing game. Yes, Barrett was better on the day, but he also had the benefit of playing in the second half, when the offense seemed to revert a little bit back to some of the things that made 2014 successful. The coaches gave J.T. more passing opportunities to learn from his mistakes. I'm not necessarily advocating for him as the starter, but it does change how we interpret those efficiency stats.
But the craziest thing, with all of the three-and-outs, the five turnovers, and the low passing success rates, the offensive line didn't allow a single sack and only had one tackle for loss. For how poor the offense was in terms of drive efficiency and creating explosive plays, they only had a single negative play.
So how does that happen?
"Played all odd," Urban Meyer said to the first question of his news conference after Ohio State's 20-13 win over the Huskies. "They changed their defense.
"Last week was all odd and then this week they went to all odd, and we're having trouble with that right now."
So the Buckeyes were physically overpowering, but could open big enough holes with the odd front for the backs to create explosive plays. Similarly, the odd front confused the quarterbacks enough that passing was far less efficient than running the ball, and still not explosive.
I don't think this has to be a year long trend or necessarily lower the Buckeyes' expectations for the year. The problems -- rushing un-explosiveness and passing inefficiency and unexplosiveness -- seem to start at the offensive line and the quarterback, but a lack of deep threat receiver hurts as well, and odd fronts seem to give the Buckeyes the most trouble right now. This isn't damning because better play calling and coaching, particularly against odd fronts (which we're now certain to see again) can get the Buckeyes back on track.