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Advanced stats review: The numbers are as bad as you think they are

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Highlighted by explosive plays allowed and an inability to score in the red zone.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes’ problems finally led to a loss.

Ohio State has had the same problems since the Oregon State game, but they’ve been able to do just enough through seven weeks to remain unbeaten. They’ve shown enough upside that I thought this team could contend for the national title, but their problems (red zone, run game, defensive explosive plays) have been so consistent that it seems like this team won’t reach that ceiling.

Let’s go straight in to the stats:

Stats definitions

Here’s the full advanced stats glossary.

  • Scoring opportunities are drives with a first down past the opponents’ 40-yard line.
  • Drive efficiency looks at the percentage of drives that were scoring opportunities.
  • Points per trip scoring opportunity is the average points scored per scoring opportunity.
  • Rushing opportunity rate is the percentage of runs that gained four* or more yards.
  • Rushing stuff rate is the percentage of runs that were for no gain or a loss.
  • Explosive plays are those that gain 15 or more yards.
  • Success rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

Ohio State vs. Purdue

Metric Ohio State Purdue
Metric Ohio State Purdue
Rushing success rate 25% 44%
Rushing opportunity rate 30% 44%
Rushing explosive plays 0.0% 14.8%
Rushing stuffed rate 13% 33%
Passing success rate 45% 42%
Passing explosive plays 14% 26%
Overall success rate 39% 43%
Overall explosive rate 10% 21%
3rd down % 50% 40%
Red zone TDs 0% (0/4) 100% (3/3)
Points per scoring opportunity 2.9 7.0
Drive efficiency 50% 50%
Three-and-out drives 21% 25.0%
Pts off turnovers 0 7
Havoc rate allowed 9.2% 15.3%
Average starting field position 26.1 23.5

What determined the game

This one is easy: The Buckeyes lost essentially because they were unable to score inside the red zone. They had four red zone trips and couldn’t get a single touchdown. Purdue scored a touchdown on every drive where they got a first down inside the Ohio State 40.

But beneath that issue are the same problems that have haunted Ohio State all season, including:

  • A completely ineffective run game, which had a 25 percent success rate, and only 30 percent of runs going for 4+ yards. Ohio State didn’t have a single explosive run.
  • Allowing explosive plays on defense. The Buckeyes lost the explosive play battle 10 percent to Purdue’s 21 percent. Purdue had 11 passes of 15 or more yards.
  • The Buckeyes allowed yet another player to have a career day, with Rondale Moore’s 170 receiving yards.

Here are the questions from my preview:

Will this be a shootout?

Well, it would have been, had Ohio State’s offense actually scored on all of its red zone trips! But no, this was just an upset. The Buckeye defense couldn’t slow down Purdue, especially on scoring opportunities. They allowed a touchdown on every single Boilermakers scoring opportunity — from long, sustained drives to explosive touchdowns.

Purdue’s first three touchdowns were all on 70+ yard drives that ended in red zone TDs. Their final three offensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter were all on 40+ yard explosive plays — a 42-yard D.J. Knox run, a 40-yard Knox run, and a 43-yard Rondale Moore reception.

It wasn’t like Ohio State was that much more inefficient than Purdue — they had just a 4 percent lower success rate (43% to Ohio State’s 39%), but Purdue got touchdowns out of their scoring opportunities, while Ohio State didn’t.

The only other difference was in the run game. Purdue’s run game was stuffed on a third of their carries, but they were also successful on 44 percent of their runs overall, compared to just 25 percent for Ohio State. And Purdue added two 40+ yard explosive touchdowns runs, and four explosive runs total, while Ohio State failed to get a single run of more than 11 yards.

Purdue had only one more explosive pass of 15+ yards than Ohio State (11 to 10), so the differences in the offenses’ performances really did come down to the red zone and run games.


Can Ohio State slow down Rondale Moore?

Hahaha. No.

Rondale Moore did most of his damage by being David Blough’s most consistent option, but he also added his own 40+ yard touchdown catch on the way to 12 catches for 170 receiving yards. Moore was targeted an insane 18 times, or 42 percent of Purdue’s pass attempts.

This continues Ohio State’s streak of allowing an opposing player to have a career day, which includes:

  • Oregon State’s Artavis Pierce with 168 rushing yards on 11 carries (other best is 11 carries for 91 yards)
  • Oregon State’s Trevon Bradford’s 6 catches for 104 yards (other best is 8 catches for 68 yards)
  • TCU’s Darius Anderson with 12 carries for 154 yards (second-best is 9 carries for 69 yards)
  • Penn State’s K.J. Hamler had 4 catches for 138 yards (other best is 3 catches for 67 yards)
  • Indiana’s Nick Westbrook’s 5 catches for 109 yards (second-best is 4 catches for 62 yards vs. Rutgers)
  • Indiana’s J-Shun Harris’s 8 catches for 104 yards (second-best is 7 catches for 54 yards vs Rutgers)
  • Minnesota’s Ty Johnson, with 8 catches for 119 yards (which is pretty typical for Johnson, actually!)

That’s ~7 opposing players who have had their season-high days vs. Ohio State.


What about the other Purdue receiving threats?

Yeah, Issac Zito added a 37-yarder of his own. He was one of five other receivers not named Rondale Moore to reel in an explosive catch from David Blough.


Can the line handle Purdue’s pass rush on passing downs?

Yes! They did! This ended up not being an issue — the only question from the preview that ended up in the Buckeyes’ favor. Ohio State allowed just one sack, and Haskins was mostly effective in open-field play.

On the whole, he had a 45 percent passing success rate with ten explosive passes (14%), so you can’t complain too much about the pass protection. (Yes, run blocking is a different story.)


Does the run game improve at all?

No. Mike Weber found some success — he had a 67 percent success rate on just nine carries — but they didn’t run the ball a lot, and Dobbins was held totally ineffective with an 18 percent success rate.

The Buckeyes were only stuffed on 3 of 24 runs, but were held to one yard gains on five other carries. So, in total, 13 of Ohio State’s runs were for one yard or less.

The Buckeyes again failed to generate an explosive run, with a long of just 11 yards. Dobbins was held to a long of 6 yards.


Will Ohio State do better in the red zone?

No, and again, this was the difference in the game. Ohio State had seven scoring opportunities, scoring touchdowns on two, but both were explosive plays from outside the red zone.

On their four red zone trips, Ohio State kicked two field goals, missed another, and failed to score on fourth down.

They ran 15 plays inside the red zone, and just three of them were successful. Two of those successful plays were from the 25 yard line and the 18 yard line. The Buckeyes ran just one successful play inside the ten yard line. On the season, Ohio State has a declining success rate the closer that they get to opponents’ goal line:

  • 30-21: 7th
  • 20-11: 36th
  • Inside the 10: 111th

Looking ahead

Without drastic changes, I’m pessimistic that these problems can be fixed over the bye week. The problems aren’t new — Purdue didn’t uncover a secret formula or get lucky bounces. Ohio State’s problems were well documented and could have been fixed at any point during the season previously if they were ever going to be fixed at all.

That said, this is still a good team, and they might even win the Big Ten. S&P+ likes Michigan now by 2.4.

There’s a chance that even a Big Ten-winning Ohio State might miss the playoff with an undefeated Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and a one-loss Texas or Oklahoma, though.

So it’s probably time to re-calibrate expectations.