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Turnovers, defensive breakdowns, and inefficient passing sealed Ohio State’s fate

A letdown was on the table, but who could’ve predicted a massive Iowa beatdown?

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Well that didn’t go as planned.

According to the S&P+, Iowa had just an 18% chance to win — but playing in Kinnick Stadium, the first-play Pick-6, and the big win last week were really just a perfect let-down storm for Ohio State.

This loss obviously ends Ohio State’s playoff hopes for the year. In some ways the loss was a complete break from prior tendencies — throwing interceptions, defense allowing explosive plays and an efficient run game — and in some ways it was old problems creeping in — running backs not seeing the ball in critical spots, inefficient passing.

OSU vs. Iowa

Metric Ohio State Iowa
Metric Ohio State Iowa
Rushing SR 75% 55%
Rushing opp rate 50% 36%
Rushing exp plays 8% 14%
Rushing stuffed rate 8% 9%
Passing SR 37% 68%
Passing exp plays 16% 19%
Overall SR 58% 62%
Overall exp rate 12% 17%
3rd down % 25% 38%
Red zone TDs 0.00% 83%
Scoring opps efficiency 5 6.33
Drive efficiency 22% 67%
Three-and-out drives 3 (33%) 2 (22%)
Pts off turnovers 0 14
Havoc rate allowed 7% 4%
Avg. Starting Field Position 25 26

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.

The game went in to garbage time when Iowa scored to go up 45-17 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. I have started using Bill’s proposed new garbage time definitions.

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

  1. Iowa’s defense is the best at bend-don’t-break that the offense will have seen so far, limiting explosive plays (9th in IsoPPP) and forcing field goals (6th in average points allowed per scoring opportunity).
  2. Iowa’s defense is poor against the run, though, ranking 97th in rushing S&P+ and the defense as a whole is just 71st in success rate.
  3. Iowa’s offensive line has really fallen off, ranking 94th in adjusted line yards and allowing run stuff on 22.3% of runs.
  4. Iowa’s quarterback, Nate Stanley, is solid, leading the 26th-ranked passing S&P+ offense.

Offense: Familiar big-game problems

Based on the numbers before the game, I expected Ohio State to have a high success rate and move the ball well with a high drive efficiency, but to have relatively poor scoring opportunity efficiency and kick more field goals than usual. That’s been Iowa’s defensive MO - ranking 71st in success rate, but 6th in finishing drives. The Hawkeyes defense is one of the best bend-don’t-break defenses in the country.

But Ohio State had trouble moving the ball, period. The Buckeyes had 9 total drives before the game went into garbage time at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and managed just two scoring opportunities (scoring 10 points on those two opportunities). Their other score was the 44-yard Johnnie Dixon touchdown pass.

Ohio State found a lot of success running the ball, as the S&P+ suggested since Iowa’s defense ranks 97th in rushing S&P+. The problem was partly that the Buckeyes simply didn’t do enough of it. J.K. Dobbins had a 35-yard run in the first quarter, but only 6 total carries. In Ohio State’s previous four losses since the beginning of the 2015 season, Ohio State’s quarterback to running back run ratio is nearly an even 1:1 (1.01), with three of the four at or below an even 1:1 ratio. Add this one to the list, as Weber and Dobbins combined for 11 runs, while Barrett had 13 during non-garbage time. On the whole, 18/24 (75%) — and 17 of 19 runs in the first half — were successful. The problem wasn’t the run game, at least in the first half. Ohio State only had five second half non-garbage time runs, but only one of those five was successful.

But contrary to what the numbers would have suggested, even in non-garbage time Ohio State was fairly explosive passing. In non-garbage time, J.T. Barrett threw 19 passes, with 7 being successful (37% passing success rate). Of those 7 successful passes, 3 were explosive, including the two consecutive 29-yarders and Dixon’s 44-yarder. It wasn’t a deep passing problem — it was an overall consistency issue, even discounting the interceptions. Sometimes those kinds of games happen, but unfortunately here, Ohio State got in a hole too quickly, and went away from the run, so that it couldn’t overcome those struggles.

The second quarter was abysmal from a defensive perspective, but the third quarter was when things really fell apart offensively, and not just due to turnovers. 31-17 was not an insurmountable deficit, but the Buckeyes’ third-quarter drives amounted to just three three-and-outs and 13 total yards gained.

The turnovers were obviously critical — the first two to put Ohio State down, while the last two were the nails in the coffin — but as the 22% drive efficiency and 37% pass success rate show, this was a down offensive performance from the beginning.

Defense: Couldn’t keep the offense in the game

Last week against Penn State, the defense played well, keeping the Buckeyes in the game and the offense within striking distance. But not this week. The defense allowed 38 non-garbage time points, and while the second interception was on a short field (22 yards), their other four touchdown drives averaged 77 yards.

The biggest problem was obviously the pass defense. Iowa was ranked 26th in passing S&P+ heading in to the game, but Nathan Stanley was certainly not Trace McSorley or Baker Mayfield. But Stanley nevertheless had a 68% passing success rate, destroying Ohio State on mid-range throws that exploited nearly everyone in the secondary and linebacker corps. And a solid fifth of Stanley’s throws were for gains over 15 yards as well. Ohio State’s defensive line also couldn’t get to Stanley more than once even though the Hawkeyes rank 43rd in adjusted sack rate.

Iowa was extremely efficient from a drive perspective. With two-thirds of their drives going as scoring opportunities, Iowa was able to control the game flow, but they were also able to average 6.33 points per scoring opportunity as well — the defense simply had no answer for the balanced Hawkeye attack. The explosive runs were especially killer, and not something the Buckeyes had previously shown much of a weakness to (ranking 7th in IsoPPP). But they allowed three runs of 30+ yards.

Finally, Ohio State couldn’t manage any havoc against the Iowa offensive line. In non-garbage time, they only had one sack and one tackles for loss — a 4% havoc rate despite Iowa ranking 103rd in stuff rate.