That was unexpected.
Ohio State completely dominated every facet of the game, showing the absurd ceiling this team has. In the stats preview for this game, we noted that the Buckeyes have the tenth-highest volatility in the country this year -- the team's ceiling is as good as anyone in the country, but the offense is volatile enough to play below an average team as well. Against tenth-ranked Nebraska we saw just how good the team can be.
|Rushing exp plays||4||1|
|Passing exp plays||2||2|
|Red zone TDs||67%||0%|
|Scoring opps efficiency||5.86||1.5|
|Drive efficiency||100% (0)||22% (3)|
|Pts off turnovers||14||0|
In the table above, scoring opportunity efficiency looks at the average points scored per scoring opportunity -- drives with a first down past the opponents' 40 yard line. 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. These stats don't include the fourth quarter, since all of that was garbage time.
In the advanced stats preview we noted that three advanced stats would matter most:
Defensive passing IsoPPP (Nebraska's explosive passing): The one major area where Nebraska seems to have an advantage over the Ohio State defense is in passing IsoPPP. The Buckeye defense rarely allows efficient passes, but the ones they do tend to be big plays.
Rushing IsoPPP (big Ohio State runs): The Buckeye run game hasn't been dominant since the Rutgers game, but the Nebraska defense has a poor rushing IsoPPP, meaning that the successful runs they do allow tend to be fairly big. Explosive running hasn't been one of Ohio State's strong points unless Curtis Samuel is heavily involved in the ground game, so it's not clear whether Ohio State can take advantage of this weakness.
Passing success rate: Ohio State's passing success rate has declined in Big Ten play despite a better showing for short-yardage passing last week. We're likely to see more of that against Nebraska -- but the Nebraska defense has been solid preventing big passing plays.
Defensive rushing stuff rate. Maybe the most lopsided matchup is between the Ohio State run defense and the Nebraska rushing offense. The Nebraska offensive line allows an incredibly high number of stuffed runs, and the Ohio State defense is the best in the country at creating them.
Ohio State scored on every single offensive possession that the starting offense was on the field, and could have scored on both possessions for the second team. They created a scoring opportunity on every offensive possession, while the defense only allowed two scoring opportunities (one following a fumbled punt return) and didn't allow a touchdown. From a drive perspective, the only thing that could have been improved were the two field goal attempts instead of touchdowns -- but even then, the starting offense averaged nearly six points per scoring opportunity.
Pass efficiency and young receivers
Passing success rate was one of the four most important stats to watch entering the game, as it's been for most of the season. Nebraska's solid overall pass defense seemed to allow a fairly high passing success rate, but they lock down explosive passing plays. The coaching staff put together an excellent gameplan that targeted the softer underneath coverage with short routes, avoiding the excellent Nebraska safeties.
The offense actually could have been more efficient on standard downs, averaging 6.6 yards to go on third downs. With that average distance, there were a number of third-and-long passing opportunities. The Buckeyes' incredible drive efficiency can be attributed to their success on third downs, where they went 11-of-15 overall and 6-of-8 passing through three quarters.
Barrett rarely targeted anyone deep -- one of the few pass targets over 20 yards was the second half opening strike to Curtis Samuel. But he was extremely efficient, posting his best passing success rate of the year (edging out his performance over Rutgers). Barrett missed on a few red zone throws (including a wide open Mike Weber near the end zone) but was on-point overall.
Also notable was that some younger receivers were able to get involved, including multiple targets for Binjimen Victor and K.J. Hill.
Evaluating the defense
It's very difficult to evaluate the defense's performance since Tommy Armstrong was out for most of the game. However, it's fair to say that the front seven created as much negative plays as expected. Before the game we noted that Nebraska's offensive line can allow a fair number of tackles for loss, but the running backs do a decent job generating explosive plays when they get an opportunity. The Buckeyes had seven tackles for loss on just 24 Huskers runs -- that's a stuff rate of 29% of Nebraska's running plays.
Were there any negatives?
The offensive coaching staff rightly believed they could win by throwing short passes and using the run game to pick up second- and third-and-short plays. So the running backs didn't get a very high volume, with the streak of sub-100 yard performances on the ground continuing. Weber and Samuel averaged 6.5 and 8.2 yards per carry respectively and the 52% rushing success rate is far more efficient than we've seen in recent weeks. But there's still room for improvement, particularly because the inside zone run game seemed relatively ineffective.
Overall, this game showed that Ohio State does at least have the ceiling to be a championship contender -- they just have to be more consistent.