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Advanced stats review: Ohio State saves its most complete performance for The Game

Explosive passing, stopping the run and big plays, and taking advantage of turnovers defined a dominant performance

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State’s 2018 season has been defined by inconsistency and volatility. The (passing) offense has set countless records, while the defense has allowed a seemingly endless stream of big plays. Throughout the year, red zone/goal line problems, rushing inefficiency, and penalties have also cropped up as serious problems.

As I mentioned in my Michigan preview, Ohio State has been varied its inconsistency between its offense and defense, seemingly week-to-week, and hasn’t put together a complete, dominant performance since the Tulane game in Week 4.

That changed against Michigan. Ohio State had its best statistical performance in The Game, finishing with a 99 percent S&P+ performance (97% on offense, 71% on defense).

It’s difficult to capture how surprising this upset was. The Wolverines both played at a higher level and were less volatile all season, and rightly entered the game as roughly 3-4 point favorites. S&P+ projected a similar margin.

But Ohio State blew that point total out of the water. If not for a fumbled kickoff at the end of the first half, the Buckeyes would have comfortably controlled the entire game. As it was, Ohio State turned a five-point halftime lead into a 22-point lead in the third quarter.

Let’s dig in to the stats, because these numbers are worth rolling around in.

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.
  • Note: Havoc rates do include garbage time, because the passes defensed data isn’t in the play-by-play I’m using.
  • Garbage time is filtered out of the stats below. Garbage time starts when one team is up by 38 in the second quarter, 28 in the third, and 22 or more in the fourth. This week, Ohio State’s last two drives and almost four of Michigan’s were filtered out.

Ohio State vs. Michigan

Metric Ohio State Michigan
Metric Ohio State Michigan
Rushing success rate 46% 31%
Rushing opportunity rate 54% 31%
Rushing explosive rate 3.8% 6.9%
Rushing stuffed rate 23% 17%
Passing success rate 57% 48%
Passing explosive rate 36.7% 11%
Overall success rate 52% 39%
Overall explosive rate 21% 9%
3rd down % 44% 38%
Red zone TD % 50% 67%
Points per scoring opportunity 6.0 5.0
Drive efficiency 73% 45%
Three-and-out drives 18% 27.3%
Pts off turnovers 21 7
Havoc rate allowed 11.9% 17.9%
Average starting field position 32.6 32.2

These numbers are a little different than the ones in Bill C’s advanced box score (although not by much). I’m guessing the differences have to do with how garbage time is applied and how penalty plays are counted. I also used the updated play-by-play data that counted Parris Campbell’s 78-yard touchdown as a pass instead of a run.

Here are my questions from the advanced stats preview:

Ohio State has to win the red zone — on both sides of the ball

The Buckeyes definitely did this.

Ohio State: 73 percent of non-garbage time drives were scoring opportunities, averaged six points per scoring opportunity, scored touchdowns on 50 percent of red zone trips.

Michigan: 45 percent of non-garbage time drives were scoring opportunities, averaged five points per scoring opportunity, scored touchdowns on 23 of red zone trips.

In my preview, I noted that Michigan’s offense tends to slow down between the 30-10 yard lines (but is good at goal-to-go situations), and the Michigan defense is elite until you get to goal-to-go situations.

The Ohio State defense was actually better at preventing Michigan’s offense from even getting scoring opportunities in the first place (drive efficiency of just 45% and only five total scoring opportunities) than stopping the offense once it did get inside the OSU 40. However, Ohio State still forced two early field goals when the game was still in doubt — and those field goals were probably critical to the Buckeyes’ early lead. Michigan’s not really a team built to play from behind.

The Buckeyes’ offense didn’t take advantage of Michigan’s poor goal line defense — failing to score touchdowns on half of their red zone possessions — but they also scored on explosive plays far, far more effectively than I anticipated. Here are Ohio State’s non-garbage time touchdown plays: 24-yard pass, 24-yard pass, 31-yard pass, 2-yard run (set up by a 20-yard pass the play before), 78-yard pass, 1-yard pass. When you’re that effective from 20-30 yards away, your goal line offense problems are less of an issue.

Can the Buckeyes keep Michigan off schedule?

Michigan had a higher havoc rate allowed overall and Ohio State stuffed 17 percent of Michigan’s runs. There are a few comparisons that illustrate how Ohio State was more disruptive than Michigan:

  • Michigan stuff rate: 17 percent. Michigan rushing explosiveness rate: 6.9 percent. Michigan had more than twice as many stuffed runs than explosive runs.
  • Michigan sacks: 0. Ohio State sacks: 3.
  • Michigan turnovers: 3 (blocked punt, two interceptions). Ohio State turnovers: 1 (Demario McCall’s fumble).
  • Michigan points off of turnovers: 7. Ohio State points off of turnovers: 21.

It wasn’t just that Ohio State created more pressure than Michigan did, and that the Buckeyes’ pressure was instrumental in limiting the effectiveness of the Wolverines’ offense — it was also that Ohio State capitalized on every turnover with a touchdown.

And can they also limit the magnitude of Michigan’s explosive runs?

I was probably most surprised by the explosive Ohio State passing game, but a close second was Ohio State’s ability to limit Michigan’s explosive runs. The Wolverines didn’t come in as an overwhelmingly explosive rushing team, but as mentioned in the broadcast, they’ve tended to pile up big runs in the second half as 3- or 4-yard gains turn in to 15+ yarders.

That didn’t happen against Ohio State. The Buckeyes (incredibly) held Michigan to a 31 percent rushing success rate and just two explosive runs. The most important thing was probably that those two runs were just 15 yards apiece — they weren’t 75-yarders like against Maryland.

We sometimes still saw plays where linebackers weren’t gap-sound, but the successful plays were almost totally limited to under 15 yards.

Can Ohio State limit Michigan’s explosive receivers?

Yes. Michigan had three explosive pass plays during non-garbage time, and Nico Collins was the primary beneficiary.

Penalties — including five pass interference calls! — are still a problem though, even if some of those calls were questionable.

Can Ohio State break a few explosive plays of their own?

This was my biggest surprise. Michigan had an elite defense in nearly every aspect, but there was a tiny opening in the stats for a big play or two. Haskins and Campbell, through Ryan Day’s coaching and playcalling, exploited those holes perfectly.

Ohio State’s passing offense had a 36.7 percent explosiveness rate. Haskins led a passing attack that had a 2.02 passing IsoPPP, and that doesn’t even count Campbell’s 78-yard catch-and-run (national average is 1.49, and Michigan’s was 1.03).

Four Ohio State receivers totaled more than 40 receiving yards, and Campbell had an astounding 192! Five receivers had a catch of 24 or more yards.

How Ohio State won — and what it means going forward

  • UM rushing success rate — 31 percent.
  • UM 2 explosive runs — 15 yard average. If you didn’t know anything else about the game, these two stats were probably all you would need to know to predict an Ohio State win. Michigan had a below-average day running the ball (from a consistency standpoint) and only had two explosive runs that were just 15 yards each. In short: Ohio State effectively stopped the run.
  • OSU passing explosiveness rate — 36.7 percent. This is the other big stat — 65 percent of Ohio State’s successful passes were explosive.
  • OSU points off turnovers: 21.

Ohio State’s dominant effort was due to superior play down-to-down, creating more explosive plays while limiting Michigan’s, and also taking advantage of important moments like turnovers.