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Ohio State's new starting secondary will have a good test from Bowling Green's Air Raid

Even with a new quarterback and a new receiving corps, the Bowling Green offense should be productive

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State opens 2016 with relatively lower expectations. SBNation's own Bill C. puts the Buckeyes below Michigan in the Big Ten East. With the lowest returning production of any Power-5 school, that seems reasonable -- no matter what the AP voters think.

But 2014 comparisons are also appropriate. From the outside, Ohio State's lack of nationally-known star power, young team overall, and high team talent base suggest that the team is a year away from playoff contention. And just like in 2014, it's fair to say that another national championship is definitely under this team's ceiling.

Bowling Green presents a formidable offensive challenge in week one. In many ways they're an ideal week one opponent -- in state and running a similar offense to their next two opponents.

When Ohio State has the ball

Bowling Green Defense Ohio State Offense
Explosiveness (IsoPPP+) 56 19
Efficiency (Success Rate+) 86 7
Field Position (FP+) 59 2
Finishing Drives  (Redzone S&P+) 59 15
Rushing S&P+ 67 6
Passing S&P+ 62 26

Bowling Green under Dino Babers wasn't known for playing elite defense, but it would be wrong to think that the defense is on the same level as an Indiana or Texas Tech. On Bowling Green's side, a few things stand out:

  1. The defense as a whole plays much worse in the fourth quarter, going from an average of 62nd in overall defensive S&P+ in the first three quarters to 101st in the fourth quarter. This suggests that defensive depth becomes an issue later and later in to games. For Ohio State, you should expect Mike Weber to get increased carries and explosive runs in the fourth quarter, relative to his performance and workload the rest of the game.
  2. They are fairly bend-don't-break, ranking 56th in IsoPPP+ (limiting explosive plays) and 86th in success rate+. So look for big plays, probably on the ground, to be fairly limited relative to the consistent success Weber, Samuel, and especially Barrett will have running the ball.
  3. Bowling Green has significant trouble on passing downs (111th) compared to both standard downs (36th) and regular passing S&P+ (62nd). This suggests that big plays are likely to come on third downs, even if they're not necessarily passes. We could see a high percentage of runs on passing downs against Bowling Green.

To me, this all adds up for a consistent day for the ground game, with likely distributed between Samuel, Barrett, and Weber as the coaching staff finds their rhythm with playcalling.

Bowling Green wasn't particularly havoc-creating, ranking 61st in adjusted sack rate and under the national average in havoc rate, but it's the first game of the season for a Buckeye offensive line with three new starters.

There shouldn't be too much question that the Ohio State offense can have success against Bowling Green's defense, but the real areas to watch should be: 1. The new offensive line's sack rate 2. Weber's efficiency/explosiveness as a new starter 3. Distribution of carries between Barrett, Weber, Samuel, and anyone else 4. Passing game efficiency/which receivers emerge

When Bowling Green has the ball

Bowling Green Offense Ohio State Defense
Explosiveness (IsoPPP+) 8 3
Efficiency (Success Rate+) 8 5
Field Position (FP+) 33 1
Finishing Drives  (Redzone S&P+) 8 7
Rushing S&P+ 3 16
Passing S&P+ 20 3

Dino Babers made the Bowling Green offense something to worry about. It operates extremely fast with an adjusted pace faster than 94.4% of college football, and it's heavily air-based, with a standard downs run rate 13 points below the national average. Here are the major takeaways:

  1. Just because it's an Air Raid offense doesn't mean that they have trouble running the ball. They rank third in overall rushing S&P+ due to solid efficiency. Leading rusher Travis Greene is gone, but his replacement, Fred Coppet, was a nearly identical match in efficiency and explosiveness.
  2. The big change from last year is obviously that nearly-5,000 yard passer Matt Johnson is gone. But if James Knape is the primary quarterback, he at least was a capable fill-in for Johnson last season, if on limited snaps. The system, and Knape's time in it, should produce similar results.
  3. Bowling Green also lost four of their top five leading receivers, which is a huge blow. The quarterbacks are fairly plug-and-play, but returning receiving experience seems to be highlight correlated with the effectiveness of the offense.
  4. The offensive line is fairly experienced, but was just 64th in adjusted sack rate despite the system. Expect a decent amount of pressure from Schiano, depending on how comfortable he feels with his three new defensive backs.

This is the major concern for the Buckeyes -- can they limit the effectiveness of what was a prolific passing attack last season? That Bowling Green passing attack had huge attrition -- nearly every notable player from last year's passing game except for leading returning receiver Ronnie Moore is gone -- but it's fair to expect similar effectiveness despite the new faces.

It's also a big concern that returning secondary experience is highly correlated with overall defensive S&P+. Can Malik Hooker, Webb, Ward, and Lattimore handle the amount of work they're going to get in opening week? We don't have a lot of data to go on for this group, other than the reassuring fact that these players have at least been in the program for a long time.

The real areas to watch are: 1. How effective the pass rush is -- can Hubbard, Lewis, and Holmes generate a similar pass rush with Washington and Bosa gone? 2. How efficient will Bowling Green be against the rebuilt secondary, and in particular, will they create explosive plays too?

The 3 most critical stats

  1. Bowling Green's passing IsoPPP+ -- the number of big passing plays against the rebuilt Ohio State secondary
  2. Ohio State's rushing success rate -- can Weber and Samuel do what Elliott did on his own last year?
  3. J.T. Barrett's passing success rate -- which receivers emerge as reliable targets

Picks

Me: OSU 45, BGSU 21

S&P+: OSU 40, BGSU 20

F/+: OSU by 19