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The Ohio State offense should find big plays against the Rutgers defense

Ohio State receivers should get plenty of work against Rutgers.

In the overall S&P+, Rutgers is ranked 95th, which puts them between Bowling Green and Tulsa in terms of opponent difficulty:

Avg team talent Turnover margin Net explosiveness (10+) Net explosiveness (20+) Off IsoPPP
Ohio State 91.43 (2nd) +9 (1st) +21 +8 86th
Rutgers 82.97 (54th) -2 (84th) -7 -3 72nd

Rutgers has struggled with the two areas that Tom Herman emphasizes -- turnover margin and explosiveness, as they've been less explosive than their opponents and have a negative turnover margin.

When Ohio State has the ball

S&P+ Rush success rate Rush IsoPPP Pass success rate Pass IsoPPP Avg FP Finishing drives
Ohio State 6 64.4% (2nd) 85 45.5% (41st) 26 34.8 (15th) 7.08 (1st)
Rutgers 70 39.5% (51st) 105 39.2% (56th) 98 30.9 (94th) 4.73 (69th)

  • The Rutgers defense is fairly break-don't-bend: they're ranked in the 50s in success rates, but 98th and 105th in passing and rushing IsoPPP. So they're fairly mediocre, but certainly not terrible, on a per-play efficiency basis, but the successful plays they allow tend to be very explosive. The Ohio State offense should be fairly balanced between running and throwing as a result, with successful plays often going for big yards. Because Rutgers is fairly overmatched talent-wise, it'd be easy to imagine the Buckeye offense playing open early -- throwing early, using play action, and distributing the ball to a number of receivers (maybe getting guys like Dontre Wilson, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, and Parris Campbell a lot of targets), then going fairly conservative with efficiency running in the second half.
  • There aren't very many reasons for optimism for the Rutgers defense, but one might be defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick, who has four sacks so far this season. The Rutgers defensive line is 42nd in havoc rate, but 15th in standard downs sack rate, so it will be interesting to watch how the offensive line -- which has only allowed two sacks this season -- responds to pressure.
  • I'll be interested in seeing how efficient J.T. can be against a fairly mediocre pass defense. While efficient against Oklahoma, he wasn't asked to win the game either. It's highly unlikely he'll have to against Rutgers either, but I expect the offensive coaching staff to try and get him passing work (in the first half, at least) nonetheless. This has more to do with the receivers. Despite Noah Brown's emergence against Oklahoma, it's still a green unit that is extremely top-heavy at the moment.
  • For instance, Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown, and Dontre Wilson have been extremely reliable, with 94.1%, 75%, and 80% catch rates respectively. But behind those three it gets pretty slim -- those three account for 33 catches, but the 9 other players behind them who have at least one reception combine for just 22 total catches. Further, they've been less efficient with their limited targets: Baugh and Dixon have 44.4% and 42.9% catch rates, while Hill, Campbell, and Clark have caught only half of their limited targets. We're still just three games in so these are far from trends, but it emphasizes that the offensive staff will likely want to get these young receivers some more work.

When Rutgers has the ball

S&P+ Rush success rate Rush IsoPPP Pass success rate Pass IsoPPP Avg FP Finishing drives
Ohio State 10 35.7% (34th) 47 34.9% (27th) 29 23.2 (3rd) 3.36 (20th)
Rutgers 108 43.5% (61st) 32 31.1% (125th) 88 29.8 (71st) 4.19 (98th)

  • Through three games, the Ohio State defense has currently scored more touchdowns than its allowed. That alone is incredible. But what's interesting is that the Buckeyes have only been really good on a per-play basis (with rushing and passing success rate ranks in the high 20s and 30s) -- but they've been incredible on a per-drive basis. FEI -- a stat which measures opponent-adjusted drive efficiency -- has Ohio State fourth overall in current total drive efficiency. Three things have contributed to the Buckeye defense's outstanding drive efficiency: turnovers (the Buckeyes lead the country in turnover margin), average field position (where they are third, and which is obviously tied to creating turnovers), and in finishing drives defense (where they are 20th).
  • When it comes to Rutgers' offense, it doesn't really matter what numbers you look at -- they're not positive for the Scarlet Knights. The glaring weakness is in passing success rate, where Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano leads the 125th-ranked passing unit, but the run game is also inconsistent.
  • Things unfortunately got much worse for the Rutgers offense when leading receiver Janarion Grant went down with a season-ending injury last week. Grant had roughly a third of Laviano's targets so far this year, so they'll be looking for new weapons in an already inefficient passing offense. I actually think they might be OK, because freshman receiver Jawaun Harris has been more explosive on a per-play basis anyway (20.1 yards per catch to Grant's 10.5, 50% to 67% catch rates). But either way, I don't see the Ohio State defense allowing much of a consistent passing game for Rutgers.
  • Rutgers ranks 72nd and 103rd in standard and passing downs sack rates. Ohio State isn't much better, ranking 87th and 76th, after facing three quick-strike, run-pass option offenses. This could be a good tell for whether the pass rush is actually a concern or not. The Buckeyes rank 43rd in defensive line havoc rate, but that could be more of a function of the offenses they've faced rather than the quality of the personnel. So watch for how much pressure the Buckeyes' front can get on the Rutgers offensive line, because they should be fairly effective.
  • I'd expect Ohio State to really focus on containing the Rutgers run game -- not because they've been massively successful, but because it should be the clear strength of the offense. The run game is actually fairly explosive, ranking 32nd in rushing IsoPPP and with lead running back Robert Martin averaging 6.4 highlight yards per opportunity. Martin didn't even play against Washington in the season opener, but he ran for over 100 yards last week against Iowa. His two backup running backs are less explosive, but more efficient (again, this data isn't opponent-adjusted).

The 3 most important stats

  • 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?


S&P+: Ohio State 50, Rutgers 12, 98.6% win probability

F/+: Ohio State by 36.6

My pick: Ohio State 52, Rutgers 10