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Advanced stats: Defense is still not great, but postseason goals are still on table

Yes, the defense is still indefensibly worse than it should be. But this game was bananas, and Ohio State could still win next week.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

This game was nuts, leaving me with a few conflicting feelings:

  • On the one hand, that was a thrilling game — maybe the most exciting one of the season in terms of big plays, turnovers, and how close the finish was.
  • But the Buckeyes’ defense still can’t be trusted to have fixed its big-play problems, no matter how many personnel (Brendon White), tactical (cornerback alignment), and strategic/scheme-level adjustments (mixing in different coverages, linebacker depth) the defensive coaching staff makes.
  • And even though its true that Maryland ranks in the top ten in explosiveness measures, the Terps are still the 93rd-ranked S&P+ offense.
  • The offense did have a solid day against a decent defense (42nd), and was solid in the red zone.
  • The game also had a lot of bounces that went against the Buckeyes from a turnovers-are-random kind of way. As of writing this, Bill Connelly hasn’t put out the S&P+ turnover luck numbers, but I’d guess it heavily favored Maryland, and Ohio State’s win percentage was still pretty high given the success rate differential that you’ll see below. Just goes to show how powerful turnovers and individual plays can be on individual games — especially when you consider the impact of Maryland’s individual explosive plays.

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.
  • The play-level stats (success rate, explosiveness rate, etc.) include overtime, but the drive efficiency stats (points per scoring opportunity, drive efficiency, etc.) don’t, since OT is entirely inside the red zone.

Ohio State vs. Maryland

Metric Ohio State Maryland
Metric Ohio State Maryland
Rushing success rate 56% 45%
Rushing opportunity rate 44% 40%
Rushing explosive rate 5.6% 19.0%
Rushing stuffed rate 11% 31%
Passing success rate 64% 28%
Passing explosive rate 15% 22%
Overall success rate 59% 40%
Overall explosive rate 10% 20%
3rd down % 60% 31%
Red zone TDs 83% 40%
Points per scoring opportunity 5.0 4.8
Drive efficiency 69% 62%
Three-and-out drives 0% 15.4%
Pts off turnovers 3 10
Havoc rate allowed 8.7% 25.0%
Average starting field position 27.8 30.5

Here are my questions from the advanced stats preview:

What will Maryland’s offense look like without Kasim Hill?

My guess was that Matt Canada would lean on the run without Kasim Hill, especially because Tyrrell Pigrome has been an effective runner all year (and had more rushing attempts than passing attempts coming in to the game) and because the Terps’ rushing explosiveness was their best statistical advantage.

And that’s pretty much what happened — Pigrome had 13 attempts (17 when you count sacks), completing just six of those passes. Only five of his passes helped move the chains, giving Maryland a 28 percent passing success rate. But of those five successful passes, four of them were for 15+ yards, and he averaged 30 yards per completion, going 6/13 for 181 yards.

Maryland’s run-heavy game plan was pretty obvious, but Ohio State’s defense still was often not in a position to stop it.

Can Ohio State slow down Maryland’s rushing offense, especially preventing explosive plays?


Ohio State’s run defense vs. Maryland was kind of a microcosm of their defense for the whole season: allowed a 40 percent opportunity rate (45% success rate), and stuff on nearly one-third of their runs at or behind the line (31% stuff rate), but allowed a 19 percent rushing explosiveness rate.

So, the breakdown of Maryland’s rushing looks like this:

  • <1 yard gain: 31 percent
  • 1-3 yard gain: 29 percent
  • 4-14 yard gain: 21 percent
  • 15+ yard gain: 19 percent

Not only is the rate of explosive runs allowed too high, but the magnitude of those explosive runs was even worse. The Terps had runs of 81, 75, 52, 27, and 24 yards — in addition to four passes of 15+ yards, too. Forty-two percent of Maryland’s efficient runs were also explosive.

Anthony McFarland’s 298 rushing yards is 41 percent of his season total heading in to the game.

Those numbers are obviously very bad. It’s worth noting that heading in to the game, Maryland ranked seventh in rushing marginal explosiveness and Ohio State’s defense ranked 105th, so that matchup went just about how the numbers suggested it would. But then again, we also thought that the staff had made some adjustments to prevent big plays too.

What will the Buckeyes’ red zone offense look like?

As discouraging as the defense’s explosiveness-prevention was, the offense did really well against a decent defense. Maryland is far from a world-class D, but the Buckeyes’ offense has struggled, especially in the red zone, against both great (Michigan State) and mediocre (Purdue, Minnesota) defense alike.

Forty-five points in regulation, a 69 percent drive efficiency (nine total scoring opportunities!), 59 percent overall success rate, and going 5/6 on red zone touchdowns is really solid.

Maryland ranked 49th in success rate inside the ten, and 36th in points allowed per scoring opportunity, but Ohio State averaged five points per scoring opportunity and their only missed red zone opportunity was Dobbins’ late-first half fumble. That’s a really strong performance inside the red zone.

Can the Buckeyes’ run game continue its improvement?

Again, Maryland’s run defense is only OK — 55th in rushing S&P+ — but until the Nebraska game, the Buckeyes hadn’t run the ball well regardless of whom they faced. So Dobbins’ 37 carries (!) for 203 yards is really positive.

Overall the run game had a 56 percent success rate and 44 percent of their runs went for four or more yards. Only 11 percent of runs were stuffed at or behind the line. The 5.6 percent rushing explosiveness rate was still fairly low, especially in comparison to what Maryland was doing, but the run game was nevertheless efficient and the passing game was explosive enough to compensate.

Also, Haskins probably had his best rushing performance this season, with a 57 percent rushing success rate and three rushing touchdowns.

How the game was won

  1. Overcoming Maryland’s explosive plays — especially its runs. Maryland had 12 explosive plays of 15+ yards, but even worse was the average gain of those explosive plays. The average explosive run averaged 38 yards, with three gaining 52 yards or more, while the average explosive pass was 32 yards, with one going for more than 50. Maryland’s explosive plays were really big.
  2. Maryland allowed a havoc play on 25 percent (!) of their offensive snaps, with about a third (31%) of their runs going for no gain or a loss, and 11 tackles for loss overall.
  3. The offense had an impressive day overall, both in consistently moving the ball — nine scoring opportunities in 13 regulation drives — and in getting touchdowns out of red zone trips — five of six.
  4. Within that, Dobbins had a huge day volume-wise, with 37 carries, and was pretty efficient, too. Haskins had his best rushing day, too.
  5. Turnovers really mattered here, including:
    (1) Maryland’s first quasi-onside kick recovery.
    (2) Maryland’s fumble in the red zone on the frst play after said onside kick.
    (3) Dobbins’ fumble in the red zone at the end of the first half.
    (4) Haskins’ pick-six on the first drive of second half.
    (5) Haskins’ midfield fumble on third drive of second half.
    (6) Maryland’s third down fumble recovery for a touchdown with less than two minutes left. Without the fumble, Maryland would have had to decide whether to go for it or kick a field goal to go up 41-38. This was also Maryland’s second third-down attempt at the goal line, since a pass interference call on the first third-down gave them a new set of downs.

Overall, Maryland fumbled four times and only lost one. That’s a big points-swing when you consider that a turnover is worth roughly five points and fumble recoveries are more-or-less random.