It's been a heck of a four game stretch, hasn't it?
From the Big Ten Championship to the Virginia Tech revenge match, the Cardale Era -- which we got confirmation that we're in -- has given us some of the most exciting football we could hope for.
Here we'll dive in to what the advanced stats have to say about how the Buckeyes overcame a first half deficit and exploded in the second half to knock out the Frank Beamer's Hokies.
The offense exploded at times, asleep others
The offense especially rotated between mid-season form and looking like an obvious first game of the season. Averaging just three points and 48 yards per drive, the Buckeyes' base possession stats average out to show that half of the Buckeyes' drives ended in either a punt or turnover and half ended in a touchdown.
But when the offense was on, it was very on. The Buckeyes had three touchdown plays of 50+ yards, including Ezekiel Elliott's third 80+ yard run of his career -- which is also the third in his last four games (the Cardale era has been fun, hasn't it?). And that was the general offensive trend of the night: the Buckeyes were able to move the ball in big chunks -- whether 50+ yard Sportscenter highlight reel plays or 25-yard completions to Curtis Samuel or Michael Thomas -- but rarely moved the ball as efficiently as we've been accustomed.
The overall efficiency numbers (like the above drive averages) are great (10.2 yards per play and .75 points per play) due to the frequency of explosive plays, but they were usually big chunk plays rather than steady efficiency. Efficiency defined the Ohio State offense last year -- second in adjusted line yards, first in rushing opportunity rate, first in overall success rate+ -- so it's interesting to see the Buckeyes shift more towards the explosiveness side of the equation. From my stats preview I wrote:
Will Ezekiel Elliott be able to break any explosive runs since that seems to be the one non-elite advanced stat metric for the Hokies?
The answer was yes.
Ohio State was able to exploit the Hokies man coverage on the edge with multiple Braxton and Michael Thomas catches, and Elliott was untouched at the second level to sprint for his 80 yarder on his first carry.
Also interesting, and which almost certainly factored in to Urban's quarterback decision, according to ESPN's Stats and Information:
Both of Cardale Jones' touchdown passes were on throws of at least 20 yards downfield Monday. Jones has completed 59.2 percent of such passes in his career, 22 percentage points better than J.T. Barrett
Run the dang ball!
Speaking of explosiveness over efficiency, part of that was how few touches Elliott seemed to get. The gameplan seems pretty clearly focused on the wide receivers winning multiple one-on-one battles for big gains and breaking explosive runs (which was the Hokies' one statistical weak area -- defensive rushing IsoPPP+, where they ranked 41st).
But Elliott was great in his eleven carries, which average out to 11.1 yards per attempt. He also scored a 73% success rate and 64% opportunity rate, which are both insanely efficiency rushing averages. So even without his 80-yard burst, Elliott was having an even better night than he averaged last season.
Even Cardale was efficienct rushing (50% opportunity rate, which again is the percentage of runs going at least five yards) though he was more explosive, breaking three explosive (15+) runs.
The run defense compared to last season
The run defense was the obvious area for concern last season as the Buckeyes averaged just the 42nd rushing S&P+ defense despite being eleventh overall in defensive S&P+.
Tonight the Buckeyes held the Hokies to 2.9 yards per carry on 44 total attempts, with a 45 success rate. That was actually a higher success rate than I would have thought watching the game, which was more in line with their rush defense last season (Virginia Tech was 108th in rushing S&P+ last season as well), so this will be something to keep an eye on. The Hokies rotated their committee well, keeping everone fresh as the Ohio State defensive line did a good job forcing their way in to the backfield overall (forcing four sacks and eight tackles for loss). Tyquan Lewis in his first start by the way? Two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks -- not too shabby.
Looking at the rest of the schedule
Let's just say the Buckeyes have plenty of time to work out any kinks before Michigan State, as their win expectancies from Football Outsiders are calculated at either 99% or 97% (only the Penn State game) until facing the Spartans in mid-November. Ohio State still needs to work on some pass defense in the secondary, run defense efficiency, and avoiding the second quarter lull against the Hokies, but there's certainly time if Ohio State can stay focused and engaged.