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Advanced stats review: Is Ohio State a Big 12 team now?

And the second half gave plenty of reasons to be encouraged about the defense.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State’s win over Indiana had some of the hallmarks of a letdown game: a slow start, especially defensively, multiple turnovers, excessive penalties, and an unwillingness to pull away for the better part of the game.

On top of atypical turnovers and penalties, the 2018 Buckeyes’ most glaring issues— allowing big plays on defense and an inconsistent run game— were front and center.

But in the end, the Buckeyes won by over three touchdowns and Dwayne Haskins nearly set a school single-game passing record, with an insane 455 passing yards. And the defense markedly improved in the second half, maybe easing some concerns about that side of the ball.


Stats definitions

Here’s the full advanced stats glossary.

  • In the table below, points per trip scoring opportunity looks at the average points scored per scoring opportunity. 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.
  • Rushing opportunity rate is the percentage of runs that gained five 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.
  • I also do havoc rate a little differently than Bill C. does. I only count sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, and fumbles, leaving out passes defensed because they don’t show up in play-by-play data. I also only count non-garbage time plays.

Garbage time kicked in after Ohio State’s final touchdown to go up 49-26 (4th quarter garbage time kicks in when the winning team goes up by 21), meaning that they won’t be penalized for kneeling on their final drive. I also filtered out Ohio State’s first half-ending run. For more on garbage time definitions and game states, see this post.

OSU vs. IU

Metric Ohio State Indiana
Metric Ohio State Indiana
Rushing success rate 43% 40%
Rushing opportunity rate 25% 33%
Rushing explosive plays 2.5% 6.7%
Rushing stuffed rate 18% 20%
Passing success rate 60% 35%
Passing explosive plays 19% 15%
Overall success rate 51% 36%
Overall explosive rate 11% 13%
3rd down % 47% 23%
Red zone TDs 100% 67%
Points per scoring opportunity 6.1 3.3
Drive efficiency 62% 62%
Three-and-out drives 15.4% 15.4%
Pts off turnovers 14 (2/2) 14 (2/3)
Havoc rate allowed 4.9% 9.0%
Average starting field position 30 33.3

What determined the game

  • The defense continued to allow explosive plays, with eight allowed in total, and on 15 percent of Indiana’s passing attempts. The Hoosiers also picked on corners in man coverage with jump balls, which is different from most of the big plays that the defense has allowed this season (which have been more catch-and-run explosive plays).
  • But the defense looked much better in the second half.
  • The penalties really are starting to matter— 9 for 82 yards. That’s right around their season average of 80.8, which is 120th in the country. Not all penalties are necessarily bad, but the Buckeyes could still clean up some of the holding calls and pass interference.
  • The run game underwhelmed again, with Ohio State averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and a 43 percent rushing success rate. Only 25 percent of the Buckeyes’ runs went for 5+ yards, and they had nearly as many (18%) get stuffed at or behind the line.
  • Still, the passing game was incredible— Ohio State’s offense remains efficient and explosive because Haskins and the veteran receivers continue to make big plays.
  • Indiana had +3.5 turnover luck. As Bill C. says, “Translation: Indiana had a turnover margin that was +3.5 ahead of where national averages suggest it should have been. As each turnover is worth approximately five points, that means the Hoosiers enjoyed about a 17- to 18-point boost thanks to turnovers luck. It helped them cover the spread, at least.” So turnovers obviously played a big role in a closer-than-expected game.

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

This didn’t end up being a concern. Peyton Ramsey averaged all of one yard per carry, with a long run of 11 yards. His one good run would have been a stop at the line, but Jonathon Cooper didn’t wrap up in the open field.


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

Like I said in the preview, Indiana is not an explosive team. They came in to the game ranking 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. Running back Stevie Scott averaged just 3.87 highlight yards per opportunity with a marginal explosiveness of -.02.

I even warned not to “think that no explosive plays means that the problem is necessarily solved; Indiana’s just not really an explosive offense right now.”

But the Buckeyes still allowed as many explosive plays— eight — as they managed to create on offense. Stevie Scott had a 45-yard run in the first quarter, too.

All but one explosive play was in the first half, though, and Indiana was relatively inefficient for how bad the big plays felt. A 36 percent offensive success rate is still pretty good for the Ohio State defense, especially considering how badly they started. Even within the first half, a lot of the explosiveness was clustered together— one of Indiana’s touchdown drives had three explosive passes of 15, 17, and 32 yards.


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

Jahsen Wint ended up getting the start for Isaiah Pryor in the first half instead of Shaun Wade, so he wasn’t the answer at safety, yet.

And the Buckeyes’ explosive play struggles continued in the first half— Ohio State now ranks 121st in plays of 30+ yards allowed, with 20 on the year.

But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the defense played much better when Pryor returned: “The Buckeyes held Indiana to 89 total yards, 2.9 yards per play and six points in the second half after settling in from a bad first half.

That’s solid, and gives me some hope that the coaching staff and players can figure things out during this three-game stretch against lesser teams (although Rondale Moore and Purdue’s passing game could be a little problematic).

Part of the issue this week as a lackluster pass rush. The defensive line did look tired occasionally, giving Ramsey time to throw some deep passes (which could have been worse had he not overthrown open receivers on two noticeable plays).

Hopefully a restful week and dipping into the rotation a little more will help — we saw Justin Hilliard and Tyreke Smith make an impact with the first team defense in the second half.


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

Yes, this did turn out to be a noticeable advantage for Ohio State. The Buckeyes averaged 6.1 points per scoring opportunity (compared to 3.3 for Indiana), failing to get a touchdown on just one scoring opportunity, which was Mike Weber’s opening drive fumble.

So even though Indiana and Ohio State both managed eight scoring opportunities (62 percent of their total drives), the Buckeyes were excellent in making sure they got touchdowns, which the stats suggested they would (Indiana ranked 93rd here).


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

Yes, in part because the run game was ineffective, but also because Haskins and the receivers were on fire. Seriously, 455 passing yards with a 10.3 yards per play average? Those are numbers that I never thought we’d see from a Meyer-coached Ohio State offense.

The passing game had a 60 percent success rate, with nearly 1-in-5 passes going for 15 or more yards. But compare that with the run game, where Dobbins averaged 3.2 yards per carry with a long run of 9 yards, a 43 percent overall success rate, and just one explosive run out of 40 attempts.

Part of that is because of the defensive looks the offense is getting:

The numbers just don’t work out in the run game’s favor. Maybe opposing defenses will start to shift their numbers, dropping more guys into coverage so that the Buckeye run offense will begin to improve. But until then, Ohio State can just take advantage in the passing game.

I don’t mean to say that it’s all because of the numbers— the line still hasn’t been as dominant as I expected this season regardless of how many defenders are in the box. And I think that’s where most fans’ insecurities come from: could Ohio State’s run game excel if teams weren’t loading the box? Could they run efficiently if they had to?

That leaves Ohio State fans with the new feeling that they’re almost watching a Big 12 team: elite passing game, less rushing offense, and allowing big plays on defense. I think we’ve seen enough bright spots to think the run game and defense can improve, but it’s still a new-look Ohio State.