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Can the Ohio State defense stop the explosive Indiana passing attack?

The numbers suggest that the matchup with the Hoosiers could be tougher than many think.

Indiana has been relatively tough for Ohio State in recent years. They Hoosiers have been explosive enough to keep it interesting, losing by just a touchdown last season for a 34-27 final.

Avg team talent Turnover margin Net explosiveness (10+) Net explosiveness (20+) IsoPPP
Ohio State 91.43 +8 (3rd) +35 +14 1.24 (85th)
Indiana 82.73 0 (58th) +15 +8 1.46 (14th)

Talent-wise the Hoosiers are far below Ohio State, and actually less talented than Rutgers, too. But they are out-performing their talent and are actually the second-best opponent the Buckeyes will have faced this season outside of Oklahoma. Where Rutgers had negative net explosiveness scores, the Hoosiers have been explosive on offense all year and not too bad on defense either.

This Hoosiers team lost to Wake Forest, but it would be a mistake to treat this matchup like those against Rutgers or Bowling Green -- Urban Meyer wasn't kidding when he said that "They're really good." It wasn't really a fluke that Indiana was able to upset Michigan State either.

When Ohio State has the ball

S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 10 3 1 79 40 25 43 11 1
Indiana 37 22 17 81 80 28 85 12 49

We tend to treat Indiana like they're the Big Ten version of Texas Tech: all passing offense and no defense. But that would be a mistake this year, particularly with how well they stop the run.

  • Ohio State's offense doesn't match up extraordinarily well with the Hoosiers defense. The Hoosiers have been solid in run defense this year, ranking 22nd in rushing S&P+ (we now have opponent-adjusted rushing and passing ratings after five weeks of data). They held Michigan State to 4.27 yards per carry and are very effective in limiting opposing run game efficiency. They're really break-don't-bend: they rank 17th in rushing success rate and 15th in rushing opportunity rate -- their opponents have gained five yards on only 31.2% of their carries -- but they're also 81st in rushing IsoPPP. That means that when opposing running backs do find some running room, it's often for a big gain. As we've said every week, the Ohio State rushing attack has specialized in 11-19 yard runs that don't really register much in the rushing IsoPPP metric (which measures how explosive a successful play is).
  • Ohio State was finally able to break a few runs against Rutgers (who ranked 105th in rushing IsoPPP) with Mike Weber and Demario McCall recording multiple 30+ yard runs. Indiana's run defense numbers suggest that they should be able to do something similar, but with lower overall efficiency. There's no question that Ohio State will have the best rushing offense the Hoosiers will have seen so far, but the Buckeyes might have lower standard down efficiency than we've been used to.
  • Then again, the Buckeyes had similar rushing efficiency against Oklahoma as they did Rutgers (66% rushing success rate against both). Oklahoma is 8th overall in defensive rushing S&P+, Rutgers is 39th. Indiana is 22nd. If Ohio State has similar rushing success as they did against those two opponents, then all of this is a non-issue.
  • The Buckeye offense has two options: to lean more heavily on the passing game, given the Indiana defense's relative weakness, or stick to a balanced attack that is slightly more run-heavy than not. The offense has run on 61.2% of standard downs (54th) and 46.5% of passing downs (15th), meaning that they're generally balanced between rushing and passing on first and second down, but generally are so efficient on those two downs that they can run the ball more often than other teams on third and fourth down. This offense is built heavily around standard downs efficiency -- they rank first in standard downs success rate, S&P+, and line yards per carry.
  • One thing that might favor the Buckeyes is the battle between the lines. Ohio State's offensive line is 1st in adjusted line yards, 3rd in power success rate, and 1st in stuff rate -- they win short-yardage situations, very rarely allow negative plays, and often generate holes for successful plays. Indiana's defensive line is 67th, 84th, and 100th in those metrics despite their overall rushing success.
  • Finally, Indiana's defense, as you'd expect, has trouble allowing explosive passing plays. They rank 85th in passing IsoPPP. Ohio State has averaged only a few explosive passing plays (20+ yard) per game, but this could be a game where the Buckeyes find more a few very long gains through the air.

When Indiana has the ball

S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 6 7 28 19 6 15 27 1 6
Indiana 48 51 74 74 8 17 10 61 116

Indiana is the second-best offense the Buckeyes will have seen up to this point, behind just Oklahoma. Their overall offensive S&P+ numbers aren't too impressive, but that's mostly due to an underwhelming run game -- the Indiana passing offense is predictably great. Get ready for some bend-don't-break defense.

  • The Indiana run game is fairly mediocre at 51st in rushing S&P+ and 74th in both success rate and IsoPPP. Lead running back Devine Redding is efficient but not incredibly explosive, averaging five yards on 41.7% of his carries but just 3.7 highlight yards per opportunity. Overall there's not much to suggest that the run game should be much of a concern.
  • The Hoosiers are much more effective through the air, ranking in the top twenty in passing S&P+, success rate, and IsoPPP. Interestingly, the offense is fairly balanced between running and passing on standard downs, actually running slightly more than the national average, despite being far more effective through the air. The main threats are extremely explosive -- Nick Westbrook and Ricky Jones both average over 20 yards per catch, and Jones even has a 76.2% catch rate as well. These two will be tough assignments for Conley and Lattimore.
  • The Hoosiers are solid on passing downs (44th in passing downs S&P+), but are actually relatively more explosive on standard downs (18th in standard downs IsoPPP to 34th in passing downs IsoPPP), which suggests that their big passing plays are mostly on first and second down.
  • Besides how well the pass defense can limit big plays, the biggest thing to watch will be how the defense performs in the red zone and when Indiana has a scoring opportunity. I expect the Hoosiers to be able to move the ball fairly effectively through the middle of the field, but the defense should be able to force a high percentage of field goals when the Hoosiers do get in the red zone. They rank 116th in points per trip inside the 40, while Ohio State is sixth in the country at defending scoring opportunities. Further, the Buckeye defense (and special teams coverage) has incredible starting field position, ranking tops in the country. That will be important for forcing the Hoosiers to drive the full length of the field and ensuring that the Hoosiers have a low average for points per scoring opportunity even if they do hit explosive plays. That is, the keys will be preventing explosive plays from being scoring plays, and then locking down the red zone.

The 4 most important stats

  • Standard downs rushing success rate/average third down distance. Given Indiana's relative success against opposing run games, can the Buckeyes still move the ball efficiently on the ground or is standard downs success lower, leading to more third-and-long situations?
  • Passing success rate. Will the Buckeyes throw the ball more against the Hoosiers, given their relative defensive weaknesses?
  • Standard downs IsoPPP. Can the Buckeye defense limit the Nick Westbrook and Ricky Jones' explosiveness, particularly on standard downs?
  • Points per trip inside the 40 allowed. Can the Buckeyes finish drives on defense, keeping explosive plays from becoming scoring plays?

Picks

S&P+: Ohio State 45, Indiana 19. 93.1% win expectancy

F/+: Ohio State by 26

My pick: Ohio State 45, Indiana 20