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Advanced stats review: Ohio State makes some adjustments on offense

...and maybe there’s an answer at safety?

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

Ohio State made clear adjustments to its offense during the bye week, but the same can’t really be said for its defense.

Can these offensive changes stick against Michigan State and Michigan? And can an improved offensive attack overcome a still-leaky defense moving forward? Only time will tell, but let’s see what the stats have to say about the Buckeyes’ performance against Nebraska.

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.

Ohio State vs. Nebraska

Metric Ohio State Nebraska
Metric Ohio State Nebraska
Rushing success rate 54% 56%
Rushing opportunity rate 56% 54%
Rushing explosive plays 10.8% 2.0%
Rushing stuffed rate 15% 23%
Passing success rate 52% 53%
Passing explosive plays 13% 15%
Overall success rate 53% 55%
Overall explosive rate 11% 7%
3rd down % 33% 29%
Red zone TDs 75% 67%
Points per scoring opportunity 4.4 5.2
Drive efficiency 53% 43%
Three-and-out drives 27% 28.6%
Pts off turnovers 9 14
Havoc rate allowed 13.9% 9.8%
Average starting field position 31.8 24.8

Here’s how Ohio State won:

Finally, some run game success

Ohio State had their best rushing performance since at least the Oregon State game, and maybe of the entire season, with a 54 percent rushing success rate and four explosive runs.

It looks like the run game improvement was driven by some changes to personnel, play calling, and scheme. Check out these tweets and stories from Doug and Ross:

And this:

So put that together and you have:

  • A focus on split zone from the pistol, true tight zone
  • More motion to throw off tendencies
  • Jet sweeps to constrain backside
  • Definite move away from RPOs
  • Heavy personnel in red zone

These changes allowed the offensive line to play much more aggressively, exploding downfield and into the second level, leading to explosive runs for almost the first time all year.

Entering the game, J.K. Dobbins only had a single run of 20+ yards all season. Against Nebraska, Weber and Dobbins had four runs of 15+ yards. Going by IsoPPP (which measures the magnitude of successful plays), this was the most explosive rushing effort since Oregon State, which is obvious to anyone who watched the game without looking at the stats, too.

This is very encouraging, because while Nebraska has just an average defense, Ohio State hadn’t been explosive running against even below-average defenses this season. Further, the coaching staff made schematic and personnel adjustments, which suggests that this wasn’t a one-time successful game, but a (hopefully) more lasting change.

Red zone success

The Buckeyes went three-for-four on touchdowns in the red zone this week, with the only missed opportunity being Haskins’ interception.

It’s clear that the Buckeyes made schematic changes not just to the run game overall (as detailed above) but also to their red zone/goal line packages. Ohio State used heavy formations, with guard Wyatt Davis coming in along with two tight ends to give the Buckeyes a ton of power to open holes even against a loaded box.

If the Buckeyes can continue these trends — red zone success and an efficient (and slightly more explosive) run game — then they can likely win shoot outs if needed, because it’s unlikely that Haskins will be off consistently like he was against Nebraska.

Haskins was off

Just looking at the box score, Haskins’ day doesn’t look too bad — 18/32 for 252 yards (7.33) with one interception — but watching the tape, it was probably one of his worst showings so far in terms of ball placement. There were multiple throws where receivers were open, but the ball was just inaccurate:

I don’t think there’s anything systematically wrong here — all quarterbacks have off days occasionally, and there’s every reason to think that the footwork/throwing motion/timing issues can be fixed.

But the relative passing inefficiency (I mean, Adrian Martinez, a true freshman, had a more efficient showing) definitely hurt the Buckeyes’ overall performance this week.

Turnovers really impacted the final score

On average, turnovers are worth about five points each, and the Buckeyes lost the turnover battle 3-1.

And all of Ohio State’s turnovers were costly. Two first-half fumbles led to Nebraska touchdowns, including one that gave the Huskers the ball in Ohio State territory. And all three likely took some points off the board for the Buckeyes, too, with two of them ending scoring opportunities:

  • The first fumble, a ten-yard sack/fumble when the Buckeyes were at the Nebraska 26, ended a scoring opportunity.
  • The second fumble followed a 30-yard pass to midfield.
  • Haskins’ second half-opening interception was in the end zone, ending a 9-play, 57-yard drive.

That’s a big point swing — not only did two turnovers directly lead to Nebraska touchdowns, but two turnovers also ended scoring opportunities for Ohio State.

Brendon White an answer at safety?

Ohio State’s defense was still a problem against Nebraska: the Huskers actually had a higher success rate than Ohio State did overall (marginally) at 56 percent, and their S&P+ percentile performance was just 20 percent, which was their second-worst effort of the season behind Purdue.

So, not great. Let’s look at some pros and cons:

  • Con: Nebraska had a 62 percent standard downs success rate. They dropped to 21 percent on passing downs, but that’s to be expected for a freshman quarterback in the first year of a new offensive system for the team.
  • Con: The Huskers had a 56 percent rushing success rate, and the linebackers still had trouble with maintaining the gaps. Even with the occasional big negative play (Ohio State stuffed 23 percent of the Huskers’ runs), they were usually efficient on early downs, exploiting the Buckeyes lack of gap soundness. While the offense made noticeable, effective adjustments during the bye week, the same can’t be said for the defense. I don’t know if we can really expect the linebacker play to improve this season.
  • Pro: Brendon White played a heck of a game filling in for Jordan Fuller. He was the co-leader in total tackles and the leader in both solo stops and tackles for loss. It’d be a shocker if he didn’t start or at least rotate with Shaun Wade when Fuller returns next week.