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The stats don't lie: Ohio State’s defense suffocated Rutgers

This game was essentially over after Rutgers' first offensive possession.

In our preview, we wrote that Rutgers was somewhere between Bowling Green and Tulsa in terms of overall S&P+ rating. After a slow first quarter, the Buckeyes went on to control just about every second of this matchup with Rutgers to the point where advanced statistics aren't really necessary to understand how Ohio State won.

For instance, Ohio State had six times Rutgers' total yards, averaged over five yards per attempt more both rushing and passing, pulled their starters mid-way through the third quarter and held Rutgers to just three completed passes for only 2.1 yards per attempt. Only one Rutgers receiver managed to catch a pass. And this was against a conference opponent.

So it's pretty easy to understand this game alone using a regular box score filled with traditional statistics. But the advanced stats can at least help us to see less obvious trends that could be useful for higher quality opponents.

OSU Rutgers
Rushing success rate 66% 31%
Rushing explosive plays 7 (22%) 2 (8%)
Passing success rate 62% 14%
Passing explosive plays 2 (7%) 1 (7%)
Red zone TDs 86% 0%
Scoring ops efficiency 100% (6.4) 0% (0)
Drive efficiency 89% (0) 0% (0)
Points off turnovers 0 0

In the table above, scoring opportunity efficiency looks at the percentage of scoring opportunities (drives that cross the opponents' 40 yard line) that end in a score. The number in parentheses is the average points per scoring opportunity. Drive efficiency looks at the percentage of drives that were scoring opportunities. The number in parentheses is the number of three-and-outs the offense had. I didn't include the final garbage time drives in the stats here (essentially, as soon as J.T. was pulled).

From the advanced stats preview, there were three metrics that were more important for the Rutgers matchup:

J.T.'s passing efficiency and the receivers' catch rates. This isn't purely about the Rutgers matchup, but more about the team developing young receiving depth behind Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel.

The defensive line's havoc rate. Can the Buckeyes get pressure on a team that has been fairly susceptible to it?

Defensive rushing opportunity rate/explosive plays. Can the Rutgers' trio of running backs find any explosive plays against the Ohio State defense?

The defense stole the show again

Rutgers was a bad offensive team before their matchup with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes did exactly what elite defenses are supposed to do to bad offenses: completely shut them down. Not only were the Scarlet Knights held off the scoreboard, but they didn't even generate a single scoring opportunity (driving past Ohio State's 40-yard line).

Their best drive was the first of the game and was ten plays for 32 yards. Rutgers converted two third downs -- they would only convert two more third down attempts the entire rest of the game. After six efficient runs in their first ten attempts, they would have just two more in their next sixteen carries. The key question coming in was whether the defensive line could slow down running back Robert Martin, who had recorded 100-yard games for the last two weeks. They did, emphatically, by keeping Rutgers at a 31% rushing success rate overall.

A 31% rushing success rate isn't going to win many football games unless you have a quarterback who is highly efficient on passing downs, but it's not terrible. Unfortunately for Rutgers, quarterback Chris Laviano was incredibly inefficient following the initial drive. Rutgers wouldn't complete another pass after the 3:24 mark in the first quarter.

Creating havoc

Havoc rates have been a little low this year. There's not necessarily a go-to pass rusher with crazy sack or tackles for loss numbers. Sam Hubbard has played well, but hasn't filled that edge rushing terror role that some predicted in the off season.

The Buckeyes recorded three sacks, seven tackles for loss, and four plays for no gain against Rutgers, meaning that the defense forced a loss or play for no gain on 31% of Rutgers' plays. Three sacks may not seem like a lot, but given that Rutgers had only 19 drop backs, that's a 16% sack rate.

Developing the passing game

The Buckeyes have looked great through four games this season, but one potential stumbling block is whether the offense is efficient enough on passing downs to win a game when the offense is behind schedule or has to come back from a deficit. Given Rutgers' secondary, this looked like a great opportunity to work on the passing game (at least in the first half) and try to develop young receivers outside of Curtis Samuel. We thought going in that the running game would be efficient -- and it was, with roughly a 2/3 rushing success rate and two hugely explosive runs for Mike Weber -- so the bigger test would be to develop the passing game.

Barrett had a 62% passing success rate and he and Joe Burrow completed passes to 12 different receivers. In terms of passing downs success rate, J.T. had 5 third down passing attempts with an average of 12.2 yards to go, and completed four of those passes.

Overall it's hard not to feel optimistic about the passing game's efficiency, especially because this game essentially became a glorified scrimmage, with Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, and Alex Stump all recording their first receptions of their careers.

Coming out flat

The Buckeye offense has come out of the gates flat more often than not this season. Both of J.T.'s interceptions this season have been on his opening drive and his completion percentage in first quarters this year is just 53.6%, but averages 71.4% or better afterwards. It seems like J.T. needs a little while to get a feel for the game, which may explain why you see more designed quarterback runs in the early parts of big games.