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Expect plenty of passing in Ohio State vs. Western Michigan, according to the advanced stats

If there was every a game that looks like it will be a scrimmage -- for an offense that needs it -- the Western Michigan game looks like the one.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After two weeks of unexpectedly sub-par offensive performances, Western Michigan is just what the doctor ordered for Ohio State. Despite ranking 89th in the F/+, Western Michigan should help answer two big questions for Ohio State:

  1. Can Urban Meyer and the offensive coaching staff fix the problems with the offensive line and the passing game?
  2. Are the Buckeyes really deserving of the top passing and opponent-adjusted overall defense in the country according to the S&P+ rankings?

This is because Western Michigan both throws the ball more than almost every team in the country and doesn't have much in the way of a defense. So if the Ohio State offense still has problems against the Broncos, then the issues run much deeper than we could have expected in the preseason and there may be reason to readjust our expectations for Ohio State.

Let's jump right in to the numbers:

The Ohio State offense versus the Western Michigan defense

Note: All numbers are rankings except for the average field position and points per scoring opportunity, where the rank follows in parentheses. Only the S&P+ and adjusted stats below are opponent-adjusted. Others, like success rate and IsoPPP (an explosiveness measure) are currently unadjusted for opponents.

S&P+ Success rate IsoPPP Avg. field pos. Pts/scoring opp RushingS&P+ Passing S&P+ Adj. line yards Adj. sack rate
OSU 33 54 89 34 (22) 4.76 (70) 38 42 87 11
WMU 113 121 90 31.6 (104) 5.26 (108) 125 117 120 125

A lot of words have been written in the last week about the surprisingly lackluster offensive performances over the last few weeks. Here the advanced metrics all seem to agree with Urban's own analysis from the media conferences after the Northern Illinois game: we've seen a total drop off in explosive plays, the offensive line has been confused and unprepared against the 3-4, perimeter receiver blocking has been slack, the quarterbacks have made poor reads, the run game has been steadily less efficient, and Meyer also hinted that there may be issues in play calling based on Warinner being based on the field rather than the booth.

The Broncos defense is very bad. Like, in contention for worst in the country level of bad. But that just means that I'm more interested in what changes the Ohio State offense makes (if any) and how they look, rather than the specific numbers they put up this week.

By all account, the Ohio State offense should find success running the ball against one of the worst run defense and worst defensive lines in the country. They can't stop the run or pressure the quarterback, so I expect Cardale to have plenty of time to dissect the Bronco's defense (even it they come out in a 3-4) and create some explosive plays in the passing game. I'll also be looking for Ohio State to improve their red zone efficiency and get touchdowns out of scoring opportunities, where they currently sit 70th overall.

The Ohio State defense versus Western Michigan offense

S&P+ Success rate IsoPPP Avg. field pos. Pts/scoring opp RushingS&P+ Passing S&P+ Adj. line yards Adj. sack rate
OSU 1 9 16 29.5 (76) 4.11 (43) 14 1 59 17
WMU 55 75 51 27.6 (99) 5.17 (45) 91 88 126 70

Like I mentioned above, few teams throw the ball more than the Broncos. They rank 116th in standard downs run rate and 127th in passing downs run rate -- essentially, they already throw the ball more often than they run on first and second downs, and they only run on 15.4% of passing downs.

The Ohio State defense has come out on fire through the first three games of the season, continuing an excellent playoff run from last year. They currently occupy the top spot in the defensive S&P+ rankings and in passing S&P+, driven by the 17th-best adjusted sack rate and 16th-best overall havoc rate. They win first and second downs (5th in both first and second down S&P+, often leaving opposing offenses looking at third and long.

Despite being one dimensional on offense, the Broncos still have a fairly poor adjusted sack rate. That means that we can expect Sam Hubbard, Joey Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, and Adolphus Washington to spend a good deal of time in the Broncos' backfield. Remember what they did to Hawaii, where Max Wittek completed roughly a third of passes and had multiple turnovers because of the pressure? Expect something to that effect.

The most interesting defensive matchup will be in the secondary, particularly the cornerbacks. Leading receiver Daniel Braverman is their go-to, high percentage threat, picking up nearly 39% of targets in the passing game. Second-leading receiver Corey Davis is less dependable but more explosive, averaging seven more yards per catch (17) than Braverman, but catching 30% fewer balls.

Whether Apple and Conley can keep up their strong play against these two top receivers will go along way solidifying the Buckeyes as an elite defensive team despite the Broncos being subpar offensively otherwise.