This weekend was the first time in the 2016 season where the Buckeyes looked mortal. During College GameDay on Saturday, ESPN put up a graphic with different stats about the Bucks, showing that Ohio State ranks first in the country in "game control." ESPN defines game control as the "chance that an average Top 25 team would control games from start to end the way this team did, given the schedule" and about the team's changing win likelihood throughout the game. Unlike the Oklahoma game, it wasn't clear whether Ohio State totally had complete game control against Indiana.
The Indiana game was also the first time this season that the Buckeyes haven't exceeded either the Vegas spread or S&P+ projections (all projections were around a 45-20 final score, so it was still close).
But this is what it's like to be an Ohio State fan where Urban Meyer is the head coach: a 3-touchdown win is disappointing. Not necessarily because the win wasn't entertaining, but because the team showed any weaknesses that a better team might exploit down the road.
As you'd guess, the complete lack of passing efficiency drove down the Buckeye offense's overall success:
|Rushing success rate||57%||32%|
|Rushing explosive plays||7 (27%)||2 (5%)|
|Passing success rate||25%||33%|
|Passing explosive plays||2 (40%)||3 (10%)|
|Red zone TDs||83%||50%|
|Scoring ops efficiency||100% (6.33)||50% (2.83)|
|Drive efficiency||43% (4)||43% (5)|
|Points off turnovers||7||3|
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.
In our advanced stats preview, we wrote that there were four keys to the game:
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?
The deadly Buckeye ground game
Indiana's defense was projected to be relatively more successful against the run than the pass, but obviously those statistical tendencies changed for the Buckeyes.
Overall, the Buckeyes' 57% rushing efficiency was lower than usual. Against Rutgers and Oklahoma, the ground game had a 66% success rate. 9% lower isn't the end of the world, and was likely due in part to the relative lack of success for the Ohio State passing game. Without any threat of a passing attack, the numbers don't work out for the offense:
If you can't throw, you need option to account for add'l defenders. And if you run option, QB needs to keep when not accounted for. https://t.co/u1kq1yirBG— Ross Fulton (@RossRFulton) October 8, 2016
Barrett had just a 25% passing success rate against a defense that was 80th in passing S&P+ heading in to the game. Without balance, the run game will be slightly less effective. Curtis Samuel was clearly effective -- 9 carries for 82 yards, a 67% rushing success rate, and a 33% rushing explosiveness rate -- but the ground game overall had a disappointing showing.
It's worth emphasizing Curtis Samuel's importance to the offense. For every three carries he had against Indiana, he had a run over 12 yards, with two going for 22+. He's also likely the Buckeyes' best passing threat, even though he didn't have any receptions against the Hoosiers. Simply put, Samuel needs more touches per game. Through five games he averages just 14.6 touches on the ground and through the air.
Slow starts are now a trend
The Ohio State offense was tenth in offensive S&P+ heading in to the game, but ranked just 44th in first quarter offensive S&P+. Like we said in the preview, J.T. completes only 52.9% of his passes in the first quarter compared with 69.4%, 68.8%, and 65.2% in the rest of the game. And the Buckeyes have scored a total of 266 points so far this year -- since the Bowling Green game where they scored 21 out of the gate, the Buckeyes have a total of just 26 points through four other first quarters. The problem here is that if an opposing offense gets lucky and gets several quick scores to start a game, putting the Buckeyes in a hole, then we don't have much evidence for whether the Buckeye offense could get quick strikes to come back.
Drive efficiency and the passing game
The obvious question from this game is whether the Buckeyes can beat tougher opponents like Wisconsin next week, Nebraska, or Michigan without a passing attack. My guess is probably not -- a 25% passing success rate probably won't be enough to beat better defenses, especially ones that can keep the offense from scoring touchdowns on 83% of their red zone trips and averaging 6.33 points per scoring opportunity.
Against Indiana, the passing game primarily limited the Buckeyes' drive efficiency -- how successful they were at turning drives into scoring opportunities. Last week against Rutgers the Buckeyes' drive efficiency was 89% and it was even 60% against the Sooners, but it was just 43% this week.
But the offense was still incredibly effective when they actually did create scoring opportunities. I don't think they would be as successful with scoring opportunity efficiency against better defenses, particularly if they don't have the same luck for average starting field position. Three out of the Buckeyes' six scoring opportunities started inside the Indiana 40-yard line thanks to the defense or special teams.
About the defense
We'll end on a high note. The defense was incredible once again -- and particularly the run defense. They managed to hold the Hoosiers to no gain or a loss on 14 of 37 runs (38%). Along with their usual 68% run defense success rate, that's an incredible recipe for success. The defense did allow a long pass -- the 50-yarder to Nick Westbrook -- but overall they were incredible given the four 3-and-outs that the offense had and 14 total drives as well.
Finally, we noted that one of the most important stats to watch would be the Buckeyes' defensive efficiency when the Hoosiers get a scoring opportunity. They seemed to have an advantage in defensive points allowed per scoring opportunity and backed that up by allowing just 2.83 points per Indiana scoring opportunity. The importance of that kind of red zone efficiency can't be overstated.
This review might sound gloomy -- especially for a win -- but it shouldn't. The Buckeyes were still impressive, and it's often good to have early set backs so that things can be corrected moving forward. The real tell will be in how the players and coaches respond next week against Wisconsin and their own incredible defense.