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Ohio State’s passing game continued its explosive development

Rutgers’ defense probably wasn’t as good as their numbers suggested, but the playcalling still looked solid

Ohio State v Rutgers Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Last year Ohio State beat Rutgers 58-0, so a 56-0 win this season over the Scarlet Knights isn’t necessarily surprising.

But this year’s Rutgers’ defense was supposed to be much improved. Heading into the game they were the highest-ranked S&P+ defense that Ohio State has faced so far, at 23rd overall — and that’s an opponent-adjusted ranking (with the caveats of limited data and still ~50% preseason projections factored in). Their run defense was especially strong, ranking 37th in opponent rushing success rate.

However, an injury to their top corner definitely did not help their already-shaky 78th-ranked pass defense (in passing success rate). And Ohio State really exploited that pass defense for countless explosive pass plays.

OSU vs. Rutgers

Metric OSU Rutgers
Metric OSU Rutgers
Rushing SR 63% 40%
Rushing opp rate 50% 20%
Rushing exp plays 2 (13%) 1 (7%)
Rushing stuffed rate 13% 40%
Passing SR 50% 23%
Passing exp plays 3 (25%) 0 (0%)
Overall SR 57% 32%
Overall exp rate 18% 4%
3rd down % 33% 38%
Red zone TDs 100% 0%
Scoring opps efficiency 100% 0%
Drive efficiency 57% 17%
Three-and-out drives 29% 50%
Pts off turnovers 7 0
Havoc rate allowed 10% 18%

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. Rushing opportunity rate is the % of runs that gained five or more yards. Rushing stuff rate is the % of runs that were for no gain or a loss. Explosive plays are 12+ yard runs and 20+ yard passes here.

This table only includes non-garbage time numbers — here, garbage time kicked in after Ohio State’s fourth touchdown with a little over 4 minutes left in the first half. That equaled 29 total offensive plays (and 28 for the defense).

In the stats preview I thought the three most important stats would be:

  1. Rushing success rate: 63%
  2. Explosive passing plays: 3, or 25% of J.T.’s non-garbage time passes
  3. Defensive passing success rate: 23%

Offense: We’re not used to that much explosiveness

Key stats:

  • 63% rushing success rate
  • 25% passing explosive rate
  • 100% scoring opportunity efficiency

We’re working with very limited data for a second-straight week, so take these numbers with a grain or two of salt. But while the game was competitive, the offense was incredibly explosive. Overall, Ohio State’s 63% rushing success rate was much higher than could have been expected against a fairly stout run defense. Barrett and Dobbins had time to rip off 37- and 34-yard runs that spurred the first two touchdown drives.

Explosive plays were the key to this win. In each of the first five scoring drives before halftime, a 30+ yard play broke things open: Barrett’s 37-yard run off the zone-read, Dobbins’ 34-yarder, Johnnie Dixon’s 70-yard catch-and-run while his defender had his eyes on a rolling Barrett, another 39-yard touchdown to Dixon, and a 46-yard throw to Victor.

Explosive plays can sometimes be a little random and inconsistent — it’s not a good thing if an offense has to live by explosive plays. But here, the offense’s success rates were still high: 63% and 50% during competitive play. So the explosive plays were more of a function of an efficient offense with superior athletes against a overmatched defense.

But Barrett looked confident, going through progressions, extending plays with his feet while looking downfield to throw, and attempting legitimate intermediate and deep passes. If you look at Barrett’s entire game (i.e., including garbage time), he had a 55% passing success rate (12/22), with 6 of his 12 passes going for 20+ yards. In other words, 50% of his successful passes were explosive, and his overall explosive passing rate was 27%. Don’t expect to see that every week. And Ohio State attempted several other deep passes that receivers couldn’t come down with — one was a defensive pass interference on Parris Campbell, and another was a slight miss to K.J. Hill.

Surprisingly, Ohio State now ranks 17th in the country in pass plays of 10+ yards and also 20+ yards. Barrett is also ranked 13th in the country in passer rating, tied with Josh Rosen in yards/attempt (8.7), and has only thrown one interception through five games. The offense isn’t “fixed”, but you have to be encouraged by what you’re seeing.

OSU Offense by down

Down Success Rate Explosive Rate
Down Success Rate Explosive Rate
1st Down 50% 17%
2nd Down 60% 22%
3rd Down 33% 17%

However, there were some small concerns. Rutgers’ run defense did have a 13% stuff rate during non-garbage time, which is a little higher than their FBS-leading 9.5% entering the game. Third down was a little rough too, as you can see in the chart above. The Buckeyes had a 33% third down success rate in non-garbage time (one of those successful plays being Dixon’s 70-yard catch).

But the biggest concern was the three-and-out drives -- three out of seven total drives. The drives stalled for different reasons. The first was killed by a holding penalty on third down that made it third-and-20. The second drive began at their own 2-yard line, where Ohio State ran it on third-and-10. The third three-and-out was simply due to poor blocking on third-and-1, which resulted in a 1-yard loss. Overall Ohio State was still a little sloppy, with 10 penalties for 106 yards. That’s fine against Rutgers, but has to be cleaned up for tougher opponents.

Defense: First shutout of the season

Key stats:

  • 40% rushing success rate
  • 40% rushing stuffed rate
  • 23% passing success rate

It’s hard to find too many faults for the defense here. It was their first shutout of the season, Rutgers was held to 209 total yards and a 32% overall success rate, they averaged 3.4 yards per pass with two interceptions, and Rutgers’ lone scoring opportunity ended in an interception. While Rutgers had a 40% rushing success rate, they also had an equal percentage of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. And even with 40% of their runs being successful, only 1 in 5 were for 5 or more yards.

But that was to be expected to some degree. Rutgers ranked in the bottom 10 in opponent-adjusted S&P+ offense entering the game. If Rutgers had scored more than once or so, or had found any kind of success against the Buckeye secondary, then that would’ve been a problem.

So, more or less, we got what we could’ve hoped for in what turned out to be the Buckeyes’ second-straight mostly-garbage time game.