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Can Ohio State keep up with Oklahoma in a potential shoot out?

Baker Mayfield and his deep receiving corps are deadly. Can Ohio State’s secondary bounce back from a rocky start against Indiana?

Ohio State v Oklahoma Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Ohio State and Oklahoma is probably one of the best matchups we’re likely to see this year -- between any teams. While this turned in to a blowout last season, and Oklahoma lost a lot of offensive production, the Buckeye secondary is much greener, the offensive line still has questions, and Baker Mayfield can pass the Sooners back in to any game.

OSU vs. OU Summary Stats

Statistic OSU Oklahoma
Statistic OSU Oklahoma
Final overall preseason S&P+ ranks 2nd (25) 6th (21.7)
Returning offensive production 50th (68%) 77th (60%)
Returning defensive production 92nd (57%) 40th (73%)
Blue chip ratio 2nd (71%) N/A (45%)
247 Team Talent Composite 2nd (avg. 91.13) 16th (avg. 88.02)

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State offense vs. Oklahoma defense

Teams 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 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 8 3 3 (53.7%) 84 2 (48%) 1 6 (13.4%) 64 95 (37.7%) 105 82 13 (37.9) 39 (4.78)
Oklahoma 48 50 69 (42.9%) 64 70 (39.6%) 25 70 (18.6%) 39 43 (38.6%) 57 99 31 (27.8) 81 (4.64)
  • On the face, Oklahoma’s defense should be a fairly significant step down from Indiana’s. Oklahoma’s defense: 48th in overall S&P+, 50th in rushing S&P+, and 39th in passing S&P+. Indiana’s defense: 32nd in overall S&P+, 22nd in rushing S&P+, 57th in passing S&P+. We’re still working with mostly last year’s advanced stats, but the Buckeye offense should have an advantage in every major statistic except for passing S&P+.
  • Based on the numbers alone, you’d expect at least some success from J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber, and J.T. Barrett on the ground. At 3rd in rushing S&P+ last season to Oklahoma’s 50th, you would expect to see Kevin Wilson use Dobbins and Weber to control the clock through efficient runs. Oklahoma’s run defense was interesting last season: 50th overall, 69th in success rate, 64th in IsoPPP, 70th in opportunity rate, 25th in adjusted line yards, but 70th in stuff rate. What that means is that the Sooners were average at best in all run defense areas — except in adjusted line yards, where they managed a top-25 finish. This suggests that they managed a decent number of run-stops in the 1-4 yard range, rarely had tackles for loss, and occasionally allowed big runs. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Neville Gallimore are the big names to know on the defensive line. Gallimore was a very big-time recruit, while Okoronkwo is the only returning lineman with more than 4 tackles for loss or 2.5 sacks (he had 12 and 9). In terms of returning havoc, Okoronkwo is the guy, but Gallimore, and linebackers Caleb Kelly and Ricky DeBerry all were highly-touted recruits. Oklahoma only had 1 sack and 4 tackles for loss last week against UTEP.
  • While Ohio State’s offense was elite last season, efficient runs were just about all you could expect from the OSU ground game — the Buckeyes had 30 runs of 20+ yards (22nd), which is good, but ranked 84th in rushing IsoPPP, which measures how explosive successful runs are. This is one case where a new player — J.K. Dobbins — really could buck that trend. The Buckeyes had five explosive runs against Indiana, which should have a much stouter run defense than Oklahoma. Curtis Samuel had a 8.2% 20+ yard run rate while Mike Weber had a 6% 20+ yard run rate. Against Indiana (and yes, very small sample size), Dobbins had a 10.3% 20+ yard run rate. Simply put: Dobbins has the potential to bring a whole new perspective to the offense through explosive runs.
  • The passing game is a little different. While the last 1.5 quarters of the Indiana game were promising for J.T. Barrett, Parris Campbell, and Johnnie Dixon, there are still a lot of unproven receivers and limited efficiency. Ohio State could’ve been worse than the 41% passing success rate they had against Indiana — but not too much worse. Their three explosive passes were a good sign, especially since they showed a yards-after-catch ability that we previously hadn’t seen. But there are still questions, and I don’t know how many answers we’ll get against Oklahoma.
  • Indiana was 57th in passing S&P+, 17th in passing success rate, and 92nd in passing IsoPPP, indicating that they tended to limit opposing quarterbacks’ efficiency but occasionally break down and allow big plays in 2016. That’s exactly what we saw last week. Oklahoma, on the other hand, is 39th overall, 43rd in passing success rate, and 57th in passing IsoPPP. This suggests that we might see a little better efficiency, but maybe fewer explosive passing plays. And since Ohio State was highly effective last week with the short crossing routes for big yards-after-catch, you have to know that Oklahoma will be looking to defend against those this week. Players like Austin Mack and Bin Victor will have to step up. Oklahoma did lose cornerback Jordan Thomas to a season-ending injury, which will likely force freshman into playing significant time this week.
  • From a drive efficiency perspective, Oklahoma was not great last season. Ranking 81st, they allowed an average of 4.64 points per drive.
  • One stat to watch is the adjusted line yards battle: Ohio State 1st, Oklahoma 25th. That was easily Oklahoma’s best area for run defense (though they did lose linebacker Jordan Evans, who was a major part of that run defense) and Ohio State’s offensive line didn’t show the ability to get a big push on the Indiana defensive front until late in the game last week. Tom Allen gave the formula for defending against Ohio State in his post-game conference:

"To get pressure, there's certain things you have to do coverage wise. And there's matchup problems with that, with the (Ohio State) speed. So we tried to do quite a bit of dropping with more, we covered with eight. Because that's something I feel like, with a quarterback like that that's not an accurate quarterback, that's what you try to do. So I didn't expect us to get a bunch of sacks on him because the way we approached it. And even the ones that they caught, they caught them underneath and outran us. It wasn't like they just ran down the field on us."

  • If Oklahoma uses the same gameplan, then you could expect them to ensure they have athletic defensive backs covering guys on the underneath crossing routes to prevent those “caught underneath and outran” plays.
  • Overall, you could probably expect a balanced gameplan with Kevin Wilson testing Oklahoma’s inexperienced corners, but the Dobbins/Weber combo proving to be effective, especially in the second half. The major concern here is if Ohio State’s offensive line can’t get a push on the Oklahoma defensive front (and it might be a little inconsistent, especially in the first half), and then they also are less effective with the underneath crossing routes. Then I don’t see how Ohio State could keep up in a potential shootout.

When Oklahoma has the ball

Ohio State defense vs. Oklahoma offense

Teams 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 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 7 15 9 (35.3%) 66 5 (31%) 4 1 (28.1%) 8 24 (36.8%) 30 78 21 (27.2) 5 (3.42)
Oklahoma 1 14 12 (49.5%) 56 47 (41.3%) 12 55 (18.1%) 1 1 (56.6%) 6 29 96 (28.5) 3 (5.44)
  • I’m not sure how much new information we can get off of Oklahoma’s offense from their 56-7 win over UTEP. Baker Mayfield only played the first half, but also only had one incomplete pass (and 329 passing yards) in that span. His backup, Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray, also only had one incomplete pass as both quarterbacks averaged over 13 yards per pass. The Sooners had a 71% offensive success rate against UTEP and had 10 total scoring trips on 11 drives. The only thing you can gather from those numbers is that Oklahoma’s offense should be just as good as they were last season — and they were the best in the country a year ago. (Some solace: UTEP literally has the third-worst defensive S&P+ ranking in the country).
  • There are some differences from last season’s top S&P+ offense, though. First, Oklahoma’s returning offensive production in illustrative at 77th. Yes, Baker Mayfield returns, but almost every major weapon around him is gone, including Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon, and Dede Westbrook. To start with the passing game, Westbrook’s loss was huge. He received twice as many targets as the next-most targeted receiver and had 1,524 yards to tight end Mark Andrews’ 489. And he wasn’t the only loss. Three of his top four targets are gone (Joe Mixon and Geno Lewis were the other two). At least in the first game, their production was replaced by Mark Andrews (7 catches, 134 yards) and Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet (4 catches, 91 yards). Diminutive JUCO transfer and slot receiver Marquie Brown chipped in with 3 catches for 32 yards. For the most part Baker Mayfield spread the ball around pretty evenly outside of Mark Andrews. I don’t think any single receiver matches Dede Westbrook, but Badet and Andrews may be enough threats on their own.
  • One of the issues last week was the Buckeyes playing almost exclusively cover-1 man early, as Ross Fulton identified. As Ross says in that piece, “Indiana designed a game plan around pass plays that attack man corner coverage, and Ohio State almost exclusively used that scheme. Without having to worry about reading coverage, Lagow could confidently throw his first read at the bottom of his drop, allowing his wide receivers to plant and come back to the football even against tight corner coverage.” Mixing coverages later in the game was much more effective, and the 6’4 Simmie Cobbs Jr. couldn’t just make one-handed catches over the relatively inexperienced Ohio State secondary. This is where Mark Andrews has the potential to be deadly against Ohio State. He’s a matchup nightmare regardless of who defends him, but at 6’4 he could be just as effective as Cobbs against the Ohio State secondary. I’d imagine that even though Ohio State might want to just play in man coverage all night, they might have to vary and disguise zone coverages in order to prevent Oklahoma’s perimeter passing attack.
  • I expect Baker Mayfield and the passing game to be effective against Ohio State’s secondary, but the numbers are much more optimistic for defending the Sooners’ run game. While last year’s numbers are excellent — 14th in overall rushing S&P+, 12th in success rate, and 12th in adjusted line yards — very little of that production returns following Perine and Mixon heading to the NFL. The pair combined for 2,300 yards and had nearly 400 carries last season. At least last week (which was admittedly a blowout), they went with a committee approach, giving Abdul Adams, Marcelias Sutton, and Trey Sermon nearly equal carries. They were all effective, too, averaging 5.8 to 7.6 yards per carry. But none of those backs match what Mixon and Perine brought to the offense. The Oklahoma offensive line vs. Ohio State’s deep defensive line should be a heck of a battle, though. Their 12th ranking in adjusted line yards is telling.
  • But the Oklahoma offensive line’s opportunity rate ranking (47th) and stuff rate ranking (55th, at 18.1%) are also telling. Essentially, the Sooners had a very strong run game overall, with talented backs who could often gain 5-10 yards a carry, but the offensive line was also prone to getting stuffed, with nearly 1/5 of Sooners carries getting stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. Ohio State ranked first in the country last year in stuff rate and had a 14.7% havoc rate against Indiana last week.
  • The Sooners were pretty good, but not great, in pass blocking last year, ranking 29th. Ohio State’s depth at defensive line and inexperience in the secondary might mean we see the Buckeyes try and bring Mayfield down rather than crowd passing lanes and try for interceptions (not those strategies are completely exclusive). Constant pressure — with containment — will be critical to disrupting the elite Oklahoma passing game.
  • Overall we should expect Ohio State to first take away the Oklahoma run game, while pressuring Mayfield. Mayfield can scramble, so containment will be important, but the defensive line’s ability to get in the backfield against both the run and the pass will be crucial for upsetting Oklahoma’s overall offensive gameplan.

Key stats

  1. Defensive stuff rate. Can Ohio State’s defensive line make the Sooners one-dimensional? We know that Baker Mayfield and the passing game are Oklahoma’s best asset, so the Buckeye defense can’t allow the run game to also be a problem.
  2. Defensive passing success rate. The Sooners’ best chance against Ohio State is to break the secondary through efficient passing to Mark Andrews followed by explosive plays to receivers like Jeff Badet and Marquise Brown.
  3. Offensive rushing opportunity rate. Ohio State’s rushing IsoPPP and success rate were excellent last week against Indiana, but their opportunity rate (the percentage of runs that gained at least five yards) was a low 38%. If Ohio State can run effectively against Oklahoma then it’s unlikely they will be able to win the game through the air.
  4. The score after the first half. If Oklahoma can jump out to an early lead against Ohio State, I’m not sure the Buckeyes have shown the ability to explosively pass their way back in to a game. An early deficit would be very difficult to overcome.

Picks

  • The Power Rank: Ohio State by 4.1. Ohio State winning percentage: 62%
  • S&P+: Ohio State by 5.9 (35-30 rounded). Ohio State winning percentage: 63.3%
  • Adj. S&P+: Ohio State by 6. Ohio State winning percentage: 63.6%
  • F/+: Ohio State by 3.4. Ohio State winning percentage: 57.8%
  • My pick: Ohio State 35, Oklahoma 31