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Advanced stats: Is Indiana a trap game?

After a big win over Penn State last season, Ohio State was shocked by Iowa in Kinnick Stadium. Could Indiana pull off a similar upset?

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NCAA Football: Ohio State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State is entering into a four-game stretch that amounts to recovery games against Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska. While Indiana’s defense might offer some challenges and Purdue’s offense is solid under Jeff Brohm, the Buckeyes won’t have a game even close to as difficult as TCU or Penn State.

Indiana is an interesting team. They’re 4-1, with a two-touchdown loss to Michigan State, and a win by just one score over Rutgers last week. In contrast to the Kevin Wilson years, the Hoosiers are defense-focused, at 22nd in defensive S&P+ compared to 89th in offensive S&P+.

But even though the Hoosiers come one week after a close win over Penn State — as Iowa did last season — I’d be very surprised if this game offers that kind of challenge. For starters, this one is at home instead of at a place like Kinnick Stadium.

That said, the Hoosiers might offer more of a challenge than you might expect. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

OSU vs. Indiana

Metric OSU Indiana
Metric OSU Indiana
S&P+ 3 49
Off. S&P+ 3 89
Def. S&P+ 23 22
ESPN Team Efficiency 3 50
ESPN Strength of Record 1 N/A
ESPN Game Control 9 N/A
FEI 2 56
Sagarin 2 62
AP Poll 2 N/A
Massey 3 45
Bovada Vegas Odds 2 N/A
Consensus Vegas Ratings 2 N/A

If you’re unsure about the definitions for any stats, check out the advanced stats glossary.

These charts are intended to help visualize relative strengths and weaknesses. The farther apart the two teams’ radar points are from each other for any given statistic, the more lopsided that matchup is expected to be. The closer to the outer edge of the radar, the better. Here’s the above data in table form:

OSU offense vs. IU defense

Teams Ohio State offense Indiana defense
Teams Ohio State offense Indiana defense
S&P+ Rk 3 22
Success rate 7 (52.7%) 34 (36.8%)
Marginal efficiency 10 29
IsoPPP 63 45
Marginal explosiveness 50 35
Open play big play rate 64 (8%) 22 (5%)
Avg. FP 64 (29.8) 23 (26.3)
Points per scoring opportunity 5 (5.95) 93 (4.85)
Rushing marginal efficiency 44 20
Rushing marginal explosiveness 74 82
Rushing opportunity rate 12 (54.9%) 66 (45.5%)
Rushing stuff rate 69 (19.4%) 90 (18%)
Passing marginal efficiency 7 55
Passing marginal explosiveness 50 21
Sack rate 16 (2.6%) 85 (5%)
Standard downs marginal efficiency 21 17
Passing downs marginal efficiency 12 89
Havoc rate 5 (9.4%) 26 (19.2%)

And here’s the defense:

IU offense vs. OSU defense

Teams Ohio State defense Indiana offense
Teams Ohio State defense Indiana offense
S&P+ Rk 23 89
Success rate 7 (32.4%) 38 (45.9%)
Marginal efficiency 30 29
IsoPPP 127 121
Marginal explosiveness 102 115
Open play big play rate 82 (72.6%) 104 (5.9%)
Avg. FP 3 (23.6) 71 (29.7)
Points per scoring opportunity 38 (4.0) 99 (4.1)
Rushing marginal efficiency 31 99
Rushing marginal explosiveness 81 75
Rushing opportunity rate 13 (37.9%) 99 (44.3%)
Rushing stuff rate 12 (26.6%) 75 (20%)
Passing marginal efficiency 36 43
Passing marginal explosiveness 104 121
Sack rate 12 (11.4%) 29 (3.3%)
Standard downs marginal efficiency 44 83
Passing downs marginal efficiency 23 50
Havoc rate 12 (21.3%) 37 (13.5%)

And definitely check out the full team advanced stats profiles for both teams.

Alright, let’s get to the questions that will decide the game:

Is Peyton Ramsey going to gash the defense like Trace McSorley did?

Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey is a little bit of a runner like Trace McSorley, so naturally people have wondered if Ramsey will be able to have a similar level of rushing success against the Ohio State defense. Both QBs are second on their teams in total rushing yards.

Ramsey played a little last season, attempting three passes and three rushes, totaling 20 yards of offense evenly split between rushing and passing.

Let’s compare the two quarterbacks’ season rushing numbers:

  • McSorley: 58 rushes, 452 yards (7.8 YPC), 63.8 percent opportunity rate, 13.6 percent marginal efficiency, -.02 marginal explosiveness
  • Ramsey: 45 rushes, 209 yards (4.6 YPC), 46.7 percent opportunity rate, -4.3 percent marginal efficiency, -.05 marginal explosiveness

As you can tell, there’s not much of a comparison between the two — Ramsey isn’t the same caliber of running quarterback that McSorley.

That said, it’s likely that McSorley’s numbers were probably a lot closer to Ramsey’s before last week’s game. His performance against the Buckeyes inflated his overall stats, giving him his first 100-yard rushing game in the process.

I don’t think Ramsey will hurt the Buckeyes in the same way, though. For one, the defense got a lot of practice defending against the QB run last week, learning lessons that I’d imagine the coaches will apply moving forward. Second, Ramsey has put up decent, but unspectacular, numbers against a fairly weak defensive schedule so far.

Does Indiana have anyone explosive enough to get another 93-yard touchdown?

Indiana ranks 115th in marginal explosiveness and 104th in open-play big-play rate, getting a 20+ yard play on just 5.9 percent of open plays. So the offense as a whole definitely isn’t explosive.

They also don’t have any one nearly as fast as KJ Hamler, or as big and reliable as Simmie Cobbs Jr. (who burned Ohio State for 11 catches and 149 receiving yards last year).

Whop Philyor is the leading receiver, and he has an awesome catch rate (78.3 percent) and had 13 catches for 132 yards against Michigan State, but averages just 10.8 yards per catch. His marginal explosiveness is -.03, which is much lower than almost every Ohio State receiver. It’s also unclear whether he or Luke Timian will make the trip, because they missed the Rutgers game last week.

From a running back perspective, Stevie Scott is big (6-foot-2, 236 pounds), but averages just 3.87 highlight yards per opportunity with a marginal explosiveness of -.02. His 48 percent opportunity rate is solid, but that just solidifies him as an efficiency back rather than someone who will rip off a 93-yarder.

Overall, this is far from the Indiana offense that torched the Buckeyes through the air last year.

Is Shaun Wade at safety (part of) the answer?

First of all, Indiana probably isn’t the best offense to test whether Ohio State’s defense has made any strides preventing big plays, as mentioned above. The Hoosiers just aren’t explosive enough. So if the Buckeyes still allow big plays, then that’s a definite problem, but don’t think that the absence of big plays means everything is fixed, either.

That said, Ian Boyd wrote a very interesting article about Schiano’s aggressive defense this week. You should definitely read it. Here are a few excerpts:

Ohio State’s given up 15 30-yard plays, with only 11 FBS teams allowing more. Three opponent rushes of 70 yards or more: worst in the country. The Buckeyes rank No. 127 in IsoPPP, Bill Connelly’s explosiveness stat, and No. 130 in marginal explosiveness on passing downs (second-and-medium, third/fourth-and-long)...

When Schiano came to Ohio State, his big adjustment was to move away from the press-quarters scheme like Michigan State’s and toward a man-free system...

When you’re in man coverage, the linebackers have to be precise against the run... Much like the man coverage Schiano prefers, his slanting and gap exchanges up front make the most of a quick LB corps and disruptive DL, but they also raise the ante. If you only have six guys near the run game and they’re all attacking aggressively, you’d better not miss anywhere...

Ohio State’s insistence on being a man-free team has cost them time and time again against spread offenses, which enjoy how the Buckeyes allow individual players to be isolated... Ohio State is on a good trajectory to make the playoff, but their issues with boom-and-bust cycles playing aggressive man coverage could limit their ceiling below championship level.

That’s pretty damning.

And the numbers support the Xs and Os. Ohio State’s got a clear aggressive profile — very successful sack rate (16th) and DL havoc rate (5th), but are 102nd in marginal explosiveness and 104th in open-play big-play rate.

Some of the reaction to Boyd’s article has been to put the blame on the specific players who have missed tackles or taken poor angles. But there’s something to be said for the best coaches adapting their scheme to their players instead of forcing them into roles they’re not suited for.

It’s true that many of the players who have been singled out for allowing a big play are young and new starters. It’s also true that the linebackers had their best day of the season against Penn State. So maybe it’s not a square-peg, round-hole issue, and more that the players need some time to work their way into Schiano’s scheme.

Boyd also has a half-way suggestion, too, “There’s no easy answer here. The Buckeyes could move Fuller back to the deep spot full time and find a cover safety somewhere else on their roster, but you’re only talking about solving a porous spread-run defense by changing the guy who tries to make the TD-saving tackle 20 yards downfield.”

It’s possible that Shaun Wade is that “cover safety somewhere else on their roster”. If so, we may find out early against Indiana, since Pryor is suspended for the first half because of his targeting call last week.

But just in general, this is probably my biggest question for Ohio State this season. Are the big plays more of a schematic, youth/inexperience, or personnel issue? We might begin to see how the Buckeyes answer that question beginning this week.

(Although again, don’t think that no explosive plays means that the problem is necessarily solved; Indiana’s just not really an explosive offense right now.)

Can Ohio State get and take advantage of enough scoring opportunities?

Indiana’s defense is actually really solid. As Kevin Wilson said on the Thursday radio show,

Meyer also said that Indiana makes you work for every passing yard, while tailbacks will have to make people miss.

The stats support those statements. The Hoosiers are 34th in success rate and 29th in marginal efficiency, 22nd in open-play big-play rate (just five percent). In general, Indiana is very efficient.

But the Buckeyes have a few potential advantages. One seems to be in taking advantage of scoring opportunities on offense. The Buckeyes average nearly six points per scoring opportunity (5th overall), while Indiana ranks No. 93, allowing an average of 4.85 per opportunity.

So when the Buckeyes can create scoring opportunities, they’re likely to turn those into touchdowns — the Hoosiers also rank 117th in red zone touchdown percentage, allowing touchdowns 76.9 percent of the time.

Is this going to be a pass-heavy offensive gameplan?

One of the other big things I’ll be watching for is the Buckeyes’ run/pass split. The run game has been a little underwhelming from a box score perspective, but we still might see a more pass-heavy game plan this week, since Indiana is 20th in rushing marginal efficiency and 55th in passing marginal efficiency.

The run game seems fine if you just look at the opportunity rate, which is the percentage of carries that go for 5-plus yards. Ohio State is 12th here, getting 5-plus yards on nearly 55 percent of runs. But the problem is that the Buckeyes are also getting stuffed at or behind the line on 19.4 percent of runs too, which is a not nice 69th.

With such a high percentage of runs getting stuffed, and then about 14 of runs going for only 1-4 yards, the run game’s overall efficiency just isn’t at last year’s level.

The good news against Indiana is that they don’t get a lot of pressure, unlike TCU or Penn State. They are 90th in stuff rate and 85th in sack rate, so Haskins should have a clean pocket and the running backs might not get stopped in the backfield right away.