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Ohio State was more explosive, less efficient than expected against Indiana

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The advanced stats show that the Buckeyes must be more efficient on the ground and might struggle against elite passing attacks this season.

Ohio State v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

First of all, hats off to Tom Allen and the Hoosiers — they played an incredible game with an insane effort. In the end, Ohio State’s top-end talent and depth paid off, but not before a really even fight for 2.5 quarters.

Ohio State vs. Indiana Advanced Stats

Metric OSU Indiana
Metric OSU Indiana
Rushing SR 59% 24%
Rushing opp rate 38% 12%
Rushing exp plays 5 (13%) 0 (0%)
Rushing stuffed rate 8% 35%
Passing SR 41% 42%
Passing exp plays 3 (9%) 6 (9%)
Overall exp rate 11% 7%
3rd down % 38% 42%
Red zone TDs 67% 75%
Scoring opps efficiency 5.4 4.2
Drive efficiency 36% (29%) 33% (33%)
Pts off turnovers 10 0
Havoc rate allowed 4.70% 14.70%

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. The number in parentheses is the percentage of drives that were three-and-outs. Rushing opportunity rate is the % of runs that gained 5 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 Binjimen Victor’s touchdown in the fourth quarter and Ohio State went up 42-21.

In the advanced stats preview we noted that three advanced stats would matter most:

Offensive passing success rate.

Offensive IsoPPP.

Defensive passing success rate.

Offense

Key stats:

  • Rushing opportunity rate: 38%
  • Passing success rate: 41%
  • Rushing explosive rate: 13%
  • Passing explosive rate: 9%
  • Three-and-outs percentage: 29%

The first half was a little painful to watch on offense. Where was the efficient passing game we’ve been hearing about all offseason, not to mention the deep ball? Does Ohio State still not have trusted wide receivers? Where were Kevin Wilson’s innovations (besides the beautiful crossing mesh play)? Was Wilson saving everything for Oklahoma? Did the offense line really not improve?

Those in-game eyeball judgments were backed up by the advanced stats. Ohio State ran 43 plays in the first half and had just a 40% success rate. We knew that Indiana’s defense was supposed to be good this year, but let’s be honest — they’re not Alabama’s defense... or Clemson’s.

But then the floodgates opened towards the second half of the third quarter. The offensive line began getting a consistent push against the Hoosiers defensive line. J.K. Dobbins began using those small holes to create explosive plays. And J.T. and his receivers finally started to connect on explosive passes — even if the deep ball remained somewhat elusive. Including the Buckeyes’ final score, the offense manged touchdowns on five of their last six drives.

J.K. Dobbins was undoubtedly the breakout star for the offense — breaking Maurice Clarett’s freshman debut record kind of guarantees that. But I thought it was worth digging in to those numbers because even though 181 yards and a 6.2 yards per carry average, there seemed to be a lot of plays where he simply didn’t have any running room because the offensive line couldn’t get a push:

  • Dobbins rushing success rate: 50%
  • Dobbins opportunity rate: 30%
  • Dobbins explosive rate: 13%

Those are interesting numbers, and mirror the rushing offense as a whole: The offensive line didn’t get a good push or make big holes, but Dobbins created big plays when there was a hole to run through. The difference between his success rate (measuring progress towards a first down — 50% of yards on 1st, 70% on 2nd, and 100% on 3rd down) and opportunity rate (% of carries of 5 or more yards) is interesting — he (and every other ball carrier) was far more effective at steadily moving the chains than getting five yards per carry. Football Outsiders considers five yards per carry to essentially be the offensive line’s responsibility. So there’s clear room for improvement by the offensive line.

For the passing game, last year Ohio State had just a 37.7% passing success rate (95th) and had to face last year’s 17th-ranked S&P+ pass defense, but ended with a 41% passing success rate against Indiana and managed three explosive passing plays (9%). That’s marginally better than last season, but I think most expected a bigger efficiency jump over last season. Credit to Tom Allen and his defense, but the Buckeyes will have to bump that passing success rate closer to 50% for them to realize another national championship this season.

One area I was impressed with the offensive line: pass protection. They only allowed a single sack — on the last play of the first half — and allowed just a 4.7% havoc rate.

And to end the offensive review on another high note: while Indiana’s pass defense was a rough 92nd in passing IsoPPP last season, last year Ohio State couldn’t manage explosive pass plays against anyone — no matter how talented or not their opponents’ pass defense was. Without opponent adjustments, Ohio State was 105th in offensive passing IsoPPP last season, so their three explosive passes (9%) were actually a huge improvement over last season. Kevin Wilson’s shallow crossing routes allowed Parris Campbell to get the ball with enough space to display his truly incredible speed. Same with Dobbins — he brought a degree of explosive running that Ohio State simply didn’t have last season.

Defense

Key stats:

  • Rushing opportunity rate: 12%
  • Passing success rate: 42%
  • Drive efficiency: 33%
  • Three and out percentage: 33%
  • Explosive passes: 6 (9%)

Indiana really was the perfect test for the Buckeyes’ first game this season. They have a solid defense with a strong passing game to test Ohio State’s new secondary. For the most part Ohio State was solid, especially as the game wore on. But even though Indiana’s wide receivers are unusually talented, there were clear issues at cornerback — and teams like Oklahoma and Penn State are poised to exploit those weaknesses.

The problem wasn’t necessarily that Indiana was so efficient on offense -- they only had a 24% rushing success rate, 12% rushing opportunity rate, and 42% passing success rate. Essentially, the Hoosiers were made completely one-dimensional, and they were only 1% more efficient than J.T.! But their catches were just back breaking, coming on third downs, with one hand, or with toes dragging in the end zone. Simmie Cobbs (congrats on the bump to your draft stock!) jumped over seemingly every member of the secondary. Last year, Ohio State seemed very effective allowing its corners to play on islands, freeing up the safeties, but it’s not clear right now that the Buckeye defense will be as successful in man coverage this season. Some of that may be due to inexperience — Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield really have limited game experience — so hopefully that clears up. But it’s still an issue heading in to the matchup with Oklahoma next week. Surprisingly, Ohio State and Indiana had the same percentage of explosive passes — Indiana just had twice as many big pass plays (six) because they attempted twice as many throws. (For full disclosure, I decided to count two Indiana 19-yard pass plays as explosive even though the cut off is at 20). And it’s also worth remembering that Indiana was actually 23rd in passing S&P+ last season — and should be one of the best that Ohio State sees this season.

The problem with the defense wasn’t necessarily that Indiana was overwhelmingly explosive or efficient — but the Hoosiers were surprisingly efficient on third downs with a 42% success rate in non-garbage time. I think avoiding three-and-outs and extending drives due to the insane 9+ yard sideline catches was really the issue — along with just the sheer quantity of completed passes (40 for 420 yards!).

One last note on the defense. The defensive line really lived up to the hype despite Lagow’s quick throws. Even though the ball was out of his hands in less than two seconds, the defensive line seemingly beat the Indiana offensive line on every play, forcing an insane 14.7% havoc rate (tackles for loss + sacks as a percentage of overall plays) and a 35% stuff rate (runs for no gain or a loss). And they rotated a ton, with the entire two deep working its way into the game due to Indiana’s blazing pace.