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Ohio State is heavily favored over Army, but distractions, triple option could make this tougher

The numbers all point to a big Buckeye win, but that requires some strong leadership and better playcalling

Oklahoma v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

So! Heck of a week. You’ve got current players, former players, media personalities, and recruits all talking about quarterback changes. There are questions about the potential for locker room divisions, and (self-)criticism of play calling and coaching.

And there’s also still a football game to play against Army. The Black Knights have wins over Fordham and Buffalo this season (Fordham was a 64-6 win!) after a stellar 8-5 season last year. As you know by now, Army runs a variant of the triple option, which Ohio State has struggled with before. So, can Ohio State put aside all of these distractions and get things back on track versus Army?

The good news — Army probably won’t pass for a ton on Ohio State.

OSU vs. Army

Statistic OSU Army
Statistic OSU Army
S&P+ 4th 93rd
Returning offensive production 50th (68%) 56 (66%)
Returning defensive production 92nd (57%) 35th (74%)
Blue chip ratio 2nd (71%) N/A
247 Team Talent Composite 2nd (avg. 91.13) 133rd (avg. 77)

A quick note on the stats: we’ve got new team stats pages for 2017. These don’t have most of the opponent-adjusted numbers yet (and probably won’t until week 7), so I note in the charts where I’m using 2016 numbers. The 2017 stats are not opponent-adjusted.

The only notable thing about these overall numbers is that Army has a decently high percentage of returning production on defense. A big part of that is senior linebacker Alex Aukerman, who had 7.5 sacks and 15 total tackles for loss. So far this year he has two sacks and a run stuff.

When Ohio State has the ball

OSU Offense vs. Army Defense

Teams S&P+ 2016 Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate 2016 Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate 2016 Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP 2016 Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Teams S&P+ 2016 Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate 2016 Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate 2016 Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP 2016 Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 12 3 29 (51.4%) 67 25 (46.9%) 1 14 (11.1%) 64 83 (37.7%) 44 82 68 (30.1) 34 (5.33)
Army 79 48 40 (35.3%) 102 47 (32.7%) 50 37 (25%) 84 65 (37.8%) 100 85 42 (26.5) 16 (2.67)
  • Army has a decent run defense, ranking 48th in rushing S&P+ last season, 40th in success rate this year after Fordham and Buffalo, and 47th in opportunity rate, allowing roughly a third of opponent runs to go for five or more yards. That’s pretty solid. The Buckeyes should be able to establish the run after just 16 carries for J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber last week, but they likely won’t be just running all over the Black Knights.
  • Related: Dobbins has really looked stellar in two games, showing a degree of lateral quickness and short-area burst that we really haven’t seen at Ohio State. However, there’s still room for improvement for the true freshman. The Buckeyes overall have a 46.9% opportunity rate (% of 5+ yard runs), but Dobbins has just a 35.7% opportunity rate. He averages nearly twice as many highlight yards per opportunity than anyone else on the team with 6.4, so it’s clear he’s explosive, but there’s still some work to be done in terms of every-down efficiency that the Buckeye offense will need. For comparison, Mike Weber had a 42.9% opportunity rate last year and Zeke had a 45% opportunity rate in 2015.
  • One of the things that’s been discussed a lot this week has been establishing an offensive identity with coherent playcalling — and setting up the inside run game until opponents counter (usually by getting out of the eight-man zones). As Ross Fulton notes, the Buckeyes have abandoned the tailback run game and have thrown on early downs, despite their inefficiency. Running isn’t setting up the pass. I’ll be looking to see whether that strategy changes against an easier defense.
  • Army’s defense is worse against the pass than against the run, with a 37.8% (65th) passing success rate and ranking 100th in passing IsoPPP. That suggests that Ohio State should find some success throwing the ball, and probably some explosive pass plays this week. But I don’t know if I’d really read too much in to those numbers post-game, unless we also see changes in playcalling, a specific receiver emerge, or if Barrett’s accuracy significantly improves.
  • Two other things I’ll be watching: Ohio State in the red zone and the Buckeyes’ field position. The drive stats suggest that Ohio State could have a little trouble turning red zone trips into touchdowns, with Army ranking 16th in points allowed per opponent scoring opportunity (2.67). That’s really strong. Ohio State has been solid converting scoring opportunities, at 34th and averaging 5.33 points per opportunity (which is consistent with the past two seasons), but Army’s defense definitely improves closer to their own end zone.

When Army has the ball

Army Offense vs. OSU Defense

Teams S&P+ 2016 Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate 2016 Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate 2016 Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP 2016 Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Teams S&P+ 2016 Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Opp Rate 2016 Adj. Line Yards Stuff Rate 2016 Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP 2016 Adj. Sack Rate Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 9 15 28 (32.7%) 20 14 (26.3%) 4 30 (26.3%) 8 103 (44.6%) 70 78 39 (26.3) 47 (3.72)
Army 104 60 12 (56.5%) 31 9 (51.8%) 34 5 (8.8%) 106 130 (12.5%) 60 64 4 (38.5) 18 (5.71)
  • So the big question here is how efficiently Army can run the ball. So far, they’ve had a 56.5% rushing success rate (12th) and a 51.8% opportunity rate (9th) — but these may be due to the level of competition, since last year they ranked 60th in rushing S&P+ despite being a triple option team. But the triple option can confuse some defenses that are under-prepared, condensing the game clock and leading to a ho-hum game overall. That’s the big worry here — that all of the distractions from the Oklahoma loss will lead to an unfocused team that didn’t sufficiently prepare for Army’s offense. Yes, Ohio State will almost assuredly win — three of the four metrics below give Ohio State above a 96.9% win probability — but the question is how good the defense looks and whether there are indications that the Buckeyes can get their season back on track.
  • The very good news: the secondary should look much better this week. Through two games, Army has a total of 17 passing yards on two completions (from ten attempts). Army ranks dead-last in passing success rate. Don’t expect many sacks this week because there won’t be many passing attempts, but unless the secondary completely sleep walks, Army shouldn’t pass for more than 50 yards.
  • Like the offense, I’ll also be watching how the defense performs in the red zone. So far they’ve allowed an average of 3.72 points per scoring opportunity (47th), while Army has ranked 18th in the same metric. Part of that is due to Ohio State playing two offenses whose strengths perfectly align with the Buckeyes’ weaknesses (a green secondary), but it’s worth watching out for.
  • Finally, Bill has several new stats he’s tracking this season, including defensive player success rate. Here’s what he says: “For defenders, Success Rate is defined as the offense's success rate on plays in which the defender made a tackle. The lower the number, the better for the defender. On average, due to proximity to the line of scrimmage, defensive linemen will produce lower success rates than linebackers, who producer lower rates than defensive backs.” So here are the success rates for the secondary: Denzel Ward - 33.3%, Damon Webb - 60%, Jordan Fuller - 80%, Kendall Sheffielf - 81.8%, Damon Arnette - 84.6%. Erick Smith - 100%.

The 4 most important stats

  • Offensive passing success rate. This will be permanently on the list until the Buckeyes fix their passing game as a whole.
  • J.K. Dobbins’ rushing opportunity rate. Again, not necessarily important for just beating Army, but this will be critical down the line for Ohio State’s offense to maintain its efficiency.
  • Offensive redzone touchdown percentage. So far Ohio State has performed about average for the past two years, but Army’s defense has been solid closer to their own end zone.
  • Defensive redzone touchdown percentage. Ohio State has been a little underwhelming in the red zone, while Army ranks 18th in maximizing scoring opportunities.

Picks

S&P+: Ohio State 44, Army 11. Win percentage: 96.9%

Adj. S&P+: Ohio State by 48.7. Win percentage: 99.8

F/+: Ohio State by 32.8. Win percentage: 97.1%

Power Rank: Ohio State by 20.7. Win percentage: 92%

My Pick: Ohio State 41, Army 14