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Ohio State’s offensive and defensive lines eliminated any chance of a Spartan upset

Ohio State rebounded, showing their crazy-high ceiling.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ohio State’s rebound win over Michigan State proves that the Buckeyes’ ceiling is definitely top-3 in the country. The problem is that week-to-week consistency — because their floor is (hopefully) a blowout loss to Iowa.

Michigan State seemed to be well-positioned to deal the Buckeyes their second-straight loss, based on their advantages stopping the run and throwing the ball against a questionable secondary and linebacker corps. But they negated those supposed advantages through superior play on both lines.

Mark Dantonio’s Spartans have always played Ohio State close, with multiple games decided by a field goal or less in recent years — but this year the Spartans caught Ohio State following a loss, and you should never bet against Urban Meyer following a loss.

OSU vs. MSU Review

Metric Ohio State Michigan State
Metric Ohio State Michigan State
Rushing SR 70% 29%
Rushing opp rate 59% 24%
Rushing exp plays 15% 12%
Rushing stuffed rate 4% 13%
Passing SR 56% 24%
Passing exp plays 11% 5%
Overall SR 67% 26%
Overall exp rate 14% 8%
3rd down % 83% 18%
Red zone TDs 100% 0%
Scoring opps efficiency 7 1
Drive efficiency 71% 38%
Three-and-out drives 0 (0%) 3 (38%)
Pts off turnovers 7 3
Havoc rate allowed 3.7% 16%
Avg. Starting Field Position 29 25

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.

Garbage time kicked in at halftime, when the Buckeyes took a 35-3 lead into the break.

Here are the takeaways that I said would be most important in the game preview:

  1. The Spartans defense excels against the run, ranking 6th in rushing S&P+.
  2. Their relative defensive weakness is against the pass, ranking 38th, and 48th in passing success rate.
  3. Lewerke leads the third-best passing offense overall and on passing downs.
  4. Ohio State should have a huge advantage stopping the Spartans ground game (5th vs. 101st in rushing S&P+)

Offense: No disadvantage in the run game

Michigan State’s defense was 6th in defensive rushing S&P+ heading in to the game, allowing just a 32.7% rushing success rate and a 31.1% rushing opportunity rate per game (12th and 6th in the country). The Spartans held Notre Dame to 4.55 yards per carry and Penn State to 3.1 yards per carry. Iowa had 25 carries for 19 total rushing yards.

But the Buckeyes weren’t deterred by the numbers, combining numerous swing passes to J.K. Dobbins with a healthy dose of Dobbins, Weber, and Barrett on the ground for an astounding 70% rushing success rate (close to their 75% rushing success rate last week against Iowa). Dobbins and Weber essentially traded roles in this game, with Dobbins as the steady efficiency back and Weber as the explosive one. Weber had 8 first half carries, and three of them were for 15+ yards, with the 82- and 47-yard touchdown runs. The offensive line deserves a ton of praise this week — not only was the rushing opportunity rate 59% against a defense that allowed just a 31.1% opportunity rate coming in, and they really didn’t allow a single stuffed run all half, but the holes they opened up were often huge.

The passing game was more of a mixed bag, especially as the game went on. J.T.’s 56% passing success rate was based on only nine passing attempts (there were 11 total, but the other two were pass interference calls on passes to Johnnie Dixon) in the first half, five of which were successful. Barrett’s passes were almost all short, horizontal passes, and Barrett accepted increased risk as the game went on and the scoring margin grew. Of the 11 total passes called, 5 were to Dobbins, 2 were to Campbell or Hill, 2 were to Dixon (with interference), and then one was to Baugh. That’s 7/11 to the slot or running back in the first half.

Defense: Shut down Lewerke

Stopping Lewerke was the key to the game, and by far my biggest concern heading in. Lewerke had come off of consecutive 400+ yard passing games and led the third-ranked passing S&P+ offense. Ohio State’s passing offense has notably struggled with passes to tight ends and running backs all season.

But unlike last week when Iowa made the Buckeyes defensive line a non-factor, Ohio State’s defensive line harassed Lewerke all afternoon, forcing a 16% havoc rate that included two sacks, a fumble and an interception on 38 first-half plays. For the entire game, the defense had 6 sacks and 9 total tackles for loss, and Lewerke had just a 24% passing success rate in the first half, completing just 50% of his passes on the whole day and averaging 3.6 yards per pass with two interceptions. It was about as good of a day for the pass defense as you could have hoped for.

Michigan State’s running backs weren’t expected to be much of a factor unless Lewerke really got going (the Spartans were 101st in rushing success rate heading in to the game), and they totaled just a 29% rushing success rate in the game.

Now Ohio State turns to Illinois, who ranks 114th in the S&P+, with the 122nd-ranked offense and 105th-ranked S&P+ run defense.