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Advanced stats review: The defense and special teams led the way (?)

It was sloppy, but a solid defensive effort. Mike Weber’s running, and Chrisman’s punting led the Buckeyes to a win.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It was always going to be a sloppy game — it was a cold, wet road game against Mark Dantonio’s Spartans. And it definitely was — just look at all of the red on this advanced box score.

But there were still a couple of things to be encouraged about, even if this is still far from the dominant team most expected at the beginning of the season.


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.
  • End-of-half kneel downs are filtered out.

Ohio State vs. Michigan State

Metric Ohio State Michigan State
Metric Ohio State Michigan State
Rushing success rate 40% 17%
Rushing opportunity rate 45% 28%
Rushing explosive rate 2.5% 5.6%
Rushing stuffed rate 25% 50%
Passing success rate 44% 25%
Passing explosive rate 15% 13%
Overall success rate 42% 23%
Overall explosive rate 9% 11%
3rd down % 33% 13%
Red zone TDs 40% 0%
Points per scoring opportunity 3.2 2.0
Drive efficiency 43% 19%
Three-and-out drives 21% 31.3%
Pts off turnovers 19 0
Havoc rate allowed 22.8% 18.2%
Average starting field position 38.3 19.1

Here are the game-defining questions from our advanced stats preview:

Can the Buckeyes prevent Michigan State from shortening the game too much?

For the game as a whole, it’s probably more accurate to say that the Buckeyes used that game plan to better effect than the Spartans did. Ohio State ran 18 more plays, held the ball for nearly 23 of the game, and managed six scoring opportunities in 14 drives. The Spartans like to shorten games to make opponents’ talent and efficiency advantages less important, while simultaneously increasing the importance of explosive offensive plays, as well as havoc plays, and turnovers on defense. That’s a good strategy against the Buckeyes, who were giving up explosive plays by the handful for most of the season.

The game really turned on this series of drives:

In six Spartans plays and seven Ohio State plays across five combined drives, Ohio State got a 12-point swing thanks to:

  • An intentional safety by the Spartans, which theoretically was designed to help flip their poor field position, although Ohio State still started their drive at the 50 after the free kick went out of bounds.
  • Ohio State went three-and-out on their next possession, but still pinned the Spartans at their own two-yard line (meaning that Dantonio’s intentional safety idea really didn’t help).
  • The Spartans then fumbled in the end zone with Dre’Mont Jones recovering, giving the Buckeyes their first touchdown of the day.
  • The Spartans immediately fumbled again, giving the Buckeyes the field position for another field goal.

That run was indicative of the Buckeyes’ day overall, where they managed to gain 19 points off of Spartan turnovers. Ohio State managed only a single touchdown that didn’t follow an MSU turnover (and even that drive started at the Ohio State 45 yard line!).

Essentially, these points were caused by 1. taking advantage of Michigan State’s sloppiness on offense, and more critically, 2. insanely good field position.

In the second half, Michigan State’s started drives at the 5, 6, 3, 1, 2, 13, and 7 yard lines. Essentially their only field position reprieve was because of a kickoff following an Ohio State field goal. With just a 23 percent offensive success rate overall and the Buckeyes tightening up against explosive plays, the Spartans had no hope of driving the length of the field in the second half.


Can Ohio State continue their run game improvements against the Spartans?

Well, Mike Weber could at least! Overall, Ohio State’s rushing success rate was 40 percent, with 45 percent of their carries going for 4+ yards. Weber ended up with a 45 percent success rate and 50 percent opportunity rate on 22 carries for 104 yards overall, which is really pretty incredible given how good the Michigan State run defense was.

I think it’s honestly fair to be encouraged by the run game’s performance this week, now that the offense has put together back-to-back solid rushing performances.


Is there anything to worry about from Brian Lewerke?

No, but part of that may have been due to his hurt shoulder. Both he and Rocky Lombardi completed less than 50 percent of their passes for a 25 percent success rate. They both averaged 4.6 yards per attempt.

They did manage six passes of 15+ yards in 48 attempts (13%), but that’s not terrible, and none of them ended up as touchdowns.


So will this be a field goal fest?

If not for Ohio State’s one successful touchdown drive in the first half and Jones’ fumble recovery in the end zone, it would have just been field goals. So yeah, we’ll take it. Ohio State averaged only 3.2 points per scoring opportunity while Michigan State only averaged two points per opportunity.

Michigan State obviously didn’t have any touchdowns in the red zone (ending with two field goals in three total scoring opportunities), but Ohio State only managed two touchdowns in their five red zone trips (40%). Their red zone drives included:

  • A missed field goal after a personal foul erased a third down conversion on the Spartans’ 17 yard line.
  • A touchdown drive that started at their own 45 yard line.
  • A field goal after the Buckeyes recovered a fumble at the MSU 15.
  • A Tate Martell fumble on third-and-goal.
  • A touchdown with five minutes left in the fourth quarter on a drive that started on the Spartans’ 42 yard line.

Each of the Buckeyes’ three scoring drives started at midfield or better, but often the Buckeyes left points on the field thanks to red zone inefficiency.


Can the offensive line handle Kenny Willekes and company?

No. Kenny Willekes had 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and a pass defensed as the Spartans managed nine tackles for loss overall. Ohio State has really struggled with quick pass rushers this year:


How the game was won

  1. Field position/turnovers: Ohio State’s average advantage was 38.3 to 19.1, but the game was won thanks to the Spartans’ second half field position, with six drives starting inside their own ten yard line. Ohio State scored 19 total points — all but one of their scores — off of Spartans’ turnovers.
  2. Limiting Michigan State’s run game: The Spartans had just a 17 percent rushing success rate (and 25% through the air). The Spartans aren’t awesome on the ground, but Ohio State has allowed mediocre and bad offenses to have big games this year. Fifty percent of the Spartans’ runs were stopped at or behind the line.
  3. Making sure explosive passes didn’t go for touchdowns. The Spartans’ 13 percent passing explosiveness rate isn’t awesome, but it’s better than it has been, and they weren’t cataclysmic explosive plays. Ohio State only allowed one run of 15 or more yards (Lombardi’s). I don’t think we should understate how valuable Brendon White’s emergence has been against the run and at preventing big plays. With Shaun White in a more natural nickel corner and safety role, the secondary looks much improved.
  4. Red zone inefficiency — described above, but that was kind of to be expected against the Spartans. This is still something to watch, especially vs. Michigan in two weeks.