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Can Ohio State contain Tulsa's explosive plays?

The early advanced stats see Tulsa being able to run on the OSU defense. Will the teams just trade big plays all afternoon?

Ohio State's second warm up opponent for Oklahoma runs an offense in the same ballpark as Baylor, Bowling Green, and Oklahoma, and might be a little better at preparing the Buckeye defense for Oklahoma's strong running game. Tulsa won last week 45-10 over San Jose State.

The advanced stats are still a little funny, both from limited 2016 data, no opponent adjustments factored in yet, and a significant impact from preseason projections (which are based on 2015 data).

When Ohio State has the ball

OSU Tulsa
Overall S&P+ 7 98
Rushing success rate 2 7
Rushing IsoPPP 116 122
Passing success rate 43 30
Passing IsoPPP 13 116
Avg. field position 63 62
Finishing drives 6 19

  • Note: The finishing drives row is the average points scored per trip inside the 40.
  • IsoPPP measures how explosive successful plays are -- not how many total explosive plays a team generates. So, because Ohio State's run game last week was successful on 84% of its running plays (second-best in the country), only a relatively small percentage of those plays were explosive -- which is one reason why the Buckeyes are ranked just 116th in rushing IsoPPP.
  • Second, an offense could be structed where "their big plays were uncommon and very big." Ohio State was the opposite -- big rushing plays were common but very small. The Ohio State offense is tied for fifth in the country of 10+ yard runs, but didn't have a single run over 20 yards. Right now that's mostly because of an unbelievable number of Mike Weber shoestring tackles. Looking at the three running backs' explosiveness numbers, this is even more apparent: Weber had a 52.6% opportunity rate, but just 3.9 highlight yards per opportunity. Samuel had an astounding 76.9% opportunity rate, but 1.8 highlight yards per carry. Opportunity rate is the percentage of carries that total at least five yards -- a prime measure of efficiency (both for the running back and offensive line). Highlight yards per opportunity measures the average additional yards after the first five on only efficient runs. For comparison, Zeke had a 45% opportunity rate and averaged 6 highlight yards per opportunity last season.
  • Against Tulsa, even though the rushing numbers look fairly even, it's fair to expect a relatively high rushing success rate and a much higher percentage of truly explosive runs (of the 20+ yard variety). Tulsa was 120th in rushing S&P+ last season, which is likely closer to reality.
  • Tulsa rarely made tackles for loss (86th in stuff rate). The Buckeyes have a good chance to continue their streak of not allowing negative rushing plays (the Buckeyes are first in both stuff rate and power success rate right now).
  • If you want a total mismatch, look at the comparison between Ohio State's explosive passing offense (13th in IsoPPP) and Tulsa's explosive pass defense (116th). This is another game where Ohio State's receivers should be able to run behind the secondary for long bombs.
  • However, their front seven was very effective against SJSU at creating havoc, ranking eighth in overall havoc. This could be more indicative of SJSU's offensive line than anything though, as Tulsa was 115th in adjusted sack rate last season. Ohio State's offensive line didn't allow a sack last week, so watch that matchup.
Overall, the early indications for the numbers are that Ohio State should be able to run and pass efficiently, but its big plays should be very big this time around, especially on the ground compared to last week. Overall, watch for: 1. Whether Ohio State can increase its explosive running plays while maintaining its efficiency from last week. 2. If the passing offensive can generate as many explosive plays as the numbers suggest. 3. If the offensive line can give J.T. all day to throw or if Tulsa's early season havoc rating is accurate.

When Tulsa has the ball

OSU Tulsa
Overall S&P+ 61 55
Rushing success rate 60 17
Rushing IsoPPP 86 25
Passing success rate 38 58
Passing IsoPPP 52 45
Avg. field position 15 123
Finishing drives 36 3

  • Going by the overall S&P+ score, you would expect a fairly even matchup between the Ohio State defense (61st) and the Tulsa offense (55th). Tulsa would have the advantage in rushing efficiency and explosiveness and in finishing drives.
  • The biggest concern in this game, and potentially all season, will be in defending the run. While I mentioned in the offense section above that it's likely these rankings will change significantly after opponent adjustments are included and preseason projections are phased out, it's fair to be at least a little concerned about the run defense. The second string defensive line, particularly at tackle with Tracy Sprinkle's injury, doesn't have the blue chip depth that literally every other position does. And though the Bowling Green offense managed just 3 points of their own and two runs over ten yards last week, Tulsa's run game looks to be better than Bowling Green's.
  • To further that point, Tulsa running back D'Angelo Brewer had 164 rushing yards last week, with a 40.9% opportunity rate and 8.3 highlight yards per carry. That meant a lot of big runs -- eight over ten yards and two over 30 yards. His backup, James Flanders, averaged 5.9 yards per carry (but wasn't nearly as efficient or explosive). Stopping Brewer's explosive runs will be a tall task and maybe the most important potential takeaway from Saturday's game.
  • Tulsa was far more effective on the ground than through the air. Senior quarterback Dane Evans completed just 52% of his attempts for 198 yards. His go-to target was Keevan Lucas, who caught nearly 87% of his targets for 112 yards.
  • The Ohio State defensive line only had two sacks last week, putting their havoc rate at a disappointing 74th. That could very well change this week, as Tulsa's offensive line allowed four sacks -- which was 60% of passing downs attempts (126th)! You definitely should see more pressure from the defensive line this week.
  • Going by the last two stats in the table -- average field position and finishing drives -- you's expect Tulsa to get their yards, but for the defense to potentially play fairly effective bend-don't-break. That's because the defense will likely force Tulsa's offense to drive a long field, and despite Tulsa's effectiveness in scoring opportunities last week, to make touchdowns difficult in the red zone.
Surprisingly with Tulsa's Air Raid offense, the ground game should be much more of a concern this week. I'll be watching for: 1. The defensive line's ability to create havoc. 2. Containing D'Angelo Brewer's explosive runs. 3. Limiting points from Tulsa's scoring opportunities.

The 3 most critical stats

  1. Limiting Brewer's explosive plays (and general efficiency, too).
  2. Whether the defensive line can generate sacks, particularly on passing downs, and generally play the game in the Tulsa backfield.
  3. Whether Weber, Samuel, and McCall will create more explosive runs this week -- of the 20+ yard variety, rather than just 10+ small-explosive carries.


S&P+ Pick: 46-21, with a 92.5% win probability

F/+ Pick: OSU by 20

My pick: 59-21