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Ohio State vs. Indiana will depend on both teams’ passing games

The stats are clear: this game hinges on how well either team can throw the ball.

Indiana v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Buckeyes are back!

With a weird Thursday start to the season (meaning: more prep time for Oklahoma), the Buckeyes face the consistently tough (for Ohio State, at least) Hoosiers in Bloomington.

Since it’s the first game of the season, we’re heavily reliant on 2016 season data and S&P+ projections. The only projections in the charts below are for the overall offensive and defensive S&P+ rankings — everything else comes from Ohio State and Indiana 2016 season data. Also check out Bill’s previews for the Buckeyes and Hoosiers as well. Also note that in the tables below, the number are all rankings — any actual numbers (i.e., rushing success rate %, average field position, etc.) are listed in parentheses.

Here are some overall numbers:

According to 247, Indiana does not currently have a single four- or five-star player on its roster.

Just from these overall numbers, it should be clear that Ohio State should comfortably win this game. And according to Vegas, they likely will. One thing the advanced stats don’t take into consideration? Coaching changes. But it definitely helps when you hire the other team’s head coach to fix your weakest area.

However, at least Kevin Wilson’s Indiana teams always played Meyer’s teams extremely close. Ohio State has consistently failed to cover the spread against the Hoosiers.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State Offense vs. Indiana Defense

Teams Proj. S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Teams Proj. S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 9 3 3 (53.7%) 84 2 (48%) 1 6 (13.4%) 64 95 (37.7%) 105 82 13 (37.9) 39 (4.78)
Indiana 20 22 23 (37.7%) 57 18 (33.7%) 37 33 (21.8%) 57 17 (35.8%) 92 47 80 (29.9) 53 (4.35)
  • Who would’ve thought that Indiana would have the projected 27th-best defense in the country this year? That’s pretty crazy for a team that was coached by a former offensive coordinator and doesn’t have any top-end recruits. But players like linebacker Tegray Scales have made names for themselves as Indiana has the highest defensive returning production in the country this season at 96%. According to Bill C, the Hoosiers will be able to rotate 11 defensive backs with decent game experience. And statistically, experience matters most at defensive back — especially when you’re not bringing in wave after wave of elite recruits to replace current NFL players.
  • Based on the offensive and defensive radars above (courtesy of Bill C’s preview series) it’s pretty clear what to expect from this matchup: an efficient OSU rushing offense with an inconsistent passing game that lacked explosive plays vs. an Indiana defense that allowed big plays, but was solid against the run and limited efficiency well.
  • Indiana’s defense was defined by its ability to consistently stop the run (23rd rushing success rate, 18th opportunity rate, 37th adjusted line yards) and was all-or-nothing against the pass last season (17th in pass success rate, 92nd in passing IsoPPP, which measures how explosive successful plays are). That means that, for the most part, Indiana was efficient, but were occasionally prone to breakdowns that allowed really big plays (i.e., they were 50th in pass plays allowed of 10+ yards, but 82nd in plays of 30+ yards, and 93rd in plays of 40+ yards).
  • It’s kind of impossible to say how Ohio State’s passing game will look this season, especially in Week 1. I think there are plenty of reasons for optimism based on Kevin Wilson’s track record as an offensive coordinator, but it’s difficult to compare Ohio State’s passing S&P+ numbers with Indiana’s defensive numbers given the coordinator change — and the fact that roughly 40% of J.T. Barrett’s targets left for the NFL in Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown. It’s a little concerning that on offense, returning receiving yards seems to matter the most of any offensive metric, but there’s enough talent in the 6-man rotation to make up for those shortcomings. Along with small schematic and expected playcalling changes, Indiana’s pass defense should be a good warm-up test for the Buckeyes in 2017.
  • Typically, Indiana’s defensive profile is exactly the kind that frustrates Meyer’s previous Ohio State offenses because they’ve been so reliant on efficiency and rushing success to move the ball. Against the rare defense that can slow the rushing offense, previous passing attacks haven’t been able to compensate, and there also haven’t been enough explosive plays to make a difference. So both the number of explosive passing plays and Barrett’s intermediate and deep ball completion percentages should go a long way in determining both the game, and how the offense has improved this offseason.
  • I’d guess most of the anticipation is focused on seeing how the passing game has improved, but the run game will be equally as interesting, especially because of how strong Indiana’s run defense was last year — 22nd in rushing S&P+ to Ohio State’s 3rd. The Buckeyes had the highest YPC average of any team Indiana faced last season (5.8), but Mike Weber’s nagging injury, which reportedly has flared up again, might make things interesting. Does Ohio State run Barrett a little more or does JK Dobbins get close to 20 carries? Or do they just go all-in on the passing game?
  • One of Ohio State’s biggest weaknesses last season was allowing sacks — 82nd in adjusted sack rate. How does the offensive line look this season with another offseason of work for Michael Jordan and Isaiah Prince?

When Indiana has the ball

Indiana Offense vs. Ohio State Defense

Teams Proj. S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Teams Proj. S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 3 15 9 (35.3%) 66 5 (31%) 4 1 (28.1%) 8 24 (36.8%) 30 78 21 (27.2) 5 (3.42)
Indiana 77 108 111 (38.7%) 58 109 (35.4%) 80 104 (21.5%) 23 46 (42.5%) 35 26 39 (30.9) 124 (3.57)
  • Ohio State should once again have one of the best defenses in the country this year despite losing 3 top defensive backs to the NFL. My big questions for the defense are whether Ward, Arnette, and Sheffield can manage adequately lock down opposing wide receivers like Lattimore and Conley could in man coverage, and whether the run defense will suffer in the middle with Raekwon McMillan gone. I absolutely expect Ohio State’s interception rate to drop, primarily because Malik Hooker has gone to the Colts.
  • The pass defense should get tested by Richard Lagow, who led the 23rd-ranked passing S&P+ offense last season. Two of his top receivers — Mitchell Paige and Ricky Jones — are both gone, but Simmie Cobbs Jr. and Nick Westbrook return, so the receivers room should be set again. But how much of Indiana’s passing offense was directly due to Kevin Wilson? Without taking coaching changes into account, it would seem like a fairly even match-up between Ohio State’s inexperienced secondary and Indiana’s quality attack.
  • Even the offensive line was solid in pass protection, ranking 26th in adjusted sack rate. Ohio State’s defensive line is supposedly more focused on getting after the quarterback instead of containing and forcing interceptions, but the Hoosiers’ line should be a decent test of that change.
  • The run game was bad last season (108th) and doesn’t show many signs of getting better though. Devine Redding is gone, leaving no backs who rushed for more than 100 yards and had a better opportunity rate (the percentage of runs that gain five or more yards) than Redding’s poor 35.8%.
  • Indiana felt its poor run game the most in the red zone, where they managed just 3.57 points per scoring opportunity (which is defined as a first down inside the opponents’ 40 yard line), ranking 124th in the country. That suggests a lot of field goals once again.

The 3 most important stats

  1. Offensive passing success rate. Last season Ohio State had just a 37.7% passing success rate (95th) and now faces last year’s 17th-ranked pass defense. We’ve heard about improvements to J.T.’s accuracy, while the intermediate and deep ball were the focus of much of the spring practices. Can Ohio State’s new offensive coaching staff squeeze the most out of a senior quarterback and a new receiving rotation?
  2. Offensive IsoPPP. Similarly, can Ohio State get any big plays, either on the ground or through the air? Is there a receiver who can catch 50-50 balls or provide a deep threat through speed and route running?
  3. Defensive passing success rate. Richard Lagow and the Indiana passing offense (23rd in passing S&P+) has weapons win Westbrook and Cobbs, while Ohio State’s secondary had to reload again (8th in passing S&P+).

Other things I’ll be watching:

  • JK Dobbins’ rushing opportunity rate and number of carries — What kind of runner is Dobbins? Can he shoulder the load as a primary back if needed? Does he tend towards explosiveness or is he balanced with efficiency?
  • Sack rates on both offense and defense — Will the offensive line improve in pass protection, especially with Scales at linebacker? And can the defensive line’s overwhelming talent and depth bring Lagow down early and often?
  • Richard Lagow’s rushing success. Indiana offensive coordinator Mike DeBord’s Tennessee offenses had some issues, but really took off once Josh Dobbs ran the ball more often. Lagow rarely ran last season, but will he get more looks this year?

Picks

Power Rank: Ohio State by 11.5, 80% win probability

My pick: Ohio State 38, Indiana 17