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Oregon State is probably the easiest game on Ohio State’s schedule: Advanced stats preview

The Beavers should be Ohio State’s worst opponent of the 2018 season.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State opens the 2018 season with extremely high expectations. As Bill C. wrote in the most-updated S&P+ rankings, “Ohio State is projected No. 1... On paper, the Buckeyes have the best roster heading in.” The problem is what he wrote immediately before and after that sentence: “...but these projections are not designed to take coaching changes, suspensions, or other unusual coaching arrangements into account... their overall situation is complicated.”

Even if the Meyer investigation doesn’t have an affect on the team’s on-field performance, the Buckeyes have a heck of a challenge ahead of them:

  • Replace a long-time, prolific quarterback in J.T. Barrett with a quarterback with limited game action and no starts.
  • Lose 3 top defensive ends, the two best offensive linemen, and another first round cornerback to the NFL Draft.
  • Face at least four top-25 S&P+ teams during the regular season, not including Wisconsin if the Buckeyes make the Big Ten Championship and face off against the Badgers.

But there are also reasons for optimism:

Oregon State should be the Buckeyes’ easiest game of the season, ranking 116th in the projected S&P+. But I expect us to learn a lot about the post-Barrett passing offense, Ryan Day’s abilities as a coach, and how a rebuilt linebacker corps can perform on Saturday, as well as hopefully getting to see some of the lauded freshmen.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State offense vs. Oregon State defense

Teams Ohio State Oregon State
Teams Ohio State Oregon State
Proj. S&P+ Rk 2 119
Returning Production 48 31
Success Rate+ 2 113
IsoPPP+ 4 117
FP+ 17 128
Red Zone S&P+ 9 119
Rushing S&P+ 4 99
Passing S&P+ 3 122
Standard Downs S&P+ 2 110
Passing Downs S&P+ 10 123
1st Down S&P+ 2 111
2nd Down S&P+ 4 117
3rd Down S&P+ 4 81
Adj. Line Yds 8 111
Opp Rate 2 121
Power SR 21 128
Stuff Rate 3 127
Adj. Sack Rt 30 111
  • Oregon State was bad on defense last season, but returns the 31st-most production of any team. That includes “cornerbacks Xavier Crawford, Isaiah Dunn, and Jay Irvine, who each missed about half the season, OSU returns its top seven DBs from 2017, and they’re all either sophomores or juniors.” Both outside linebackers return as well.
  • The defensive line failed to get any pressure last year, ranking 111th in adjusted sack rate and 127th in stuff rate last season. Few teams were worse than the Beavers at getting pressure or stopping the run from the defensive line. But the good news for the Beavers is that there’s significant turnover on the line (plus the returning outside linebackers should provide some pressure). JUCO transfer Jeromy Reichner might be a name to watch on the line though.
  • It’s hard to find many (any) bright spots for the Beavers defense — averaging all of the defensive advanced stats listed above gives Oregon State a 115th ranking nationally.
  • The Buckeyes offense is 48th in returning production, but the biggest changes are obviously at quarterback, with Haskins making his first start, and on the offensive line, with Billy Price and Jamarco Jones gone.

The offensive line may be my biggest concern on the team. The Buckeyes ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate with those two elite linemen. Now Michael Jordan slides to center, which should be a solid move, and Malcom Pridgeon and Thayer Munford/Josh Alabi take starting spots on the left side of the line. There are suddenly a whole lot of fresh faces on the left side of the line. It’s especially a concern that Munford has dealt with injuries — maybe not against the Beavers, who, again, have some problems getting pressure on the quarterback, but these new starters will need to play at an extremely high level by Week 3 against TCU.

  • In some ways, playing Oregon State with a new, unproven left side of the line is great, because they have some time to get things together and work on the line’s cohesion. I expect Weber and Dobbins to pick up right where they left off last season — with the fourth-best rushing S&P+. Speaking of the pair, here’s where they rank in marginal efficiency and explosiveness compared to all other major running backs in the FBS last season (with 50+ carries):
  • As you can see from that chart, few running backs, and especially fewer tandems, were more efficient than Weber and Dobbins. And Dobbins was one of the elite running backs to fall in the first quadrant of the graph — with positive marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness last season. They should run all over Oregon State.
  • Obviously most everyone will be watching to see how Haskins does throwing the ball. I expect him to do just fine against last season’s 122nd passing S&P+ defense, so it might be more interesting to watch his target distribution, the play calls, and his general accuracy and decision making.

When Oregon State has the ball

Oregon State offense vs. Ohio State defense

Teams Ohio State Oregon State
Teams Ohio State Oregon State
Proj. S&P+ Rk 8 91
Returning Production 109 90
Success Rate+ 7 82
IsoPPP+ 6 123
FP+ 34 36
Red Zone S&P+ 5 58
Rushing S&P+ 2 99
Passing S&P+ 9 106
Standard Downs S&P+ 6 102
Passing Downs S&P+ 11 116
1st Down S&P+ 5 111
2nd Down S&P+ 3 56
3rd Down S&P+ 37 118
Adj. Line Yds 1 120
Opp Rate 1 103
Power SR 39 57
Stuff Rate 10 51
Adj. Sack Rt 19 42
  • S&P+ projects Oregon State to have a slightly better offense than defense, ranking 91st.
  • Jake Luton won the quarterback job. He’s 6-foot-7 and started the first four games of last season before suffering a spinal injury. In his time, he completed 62 percent of his passes with four interceptions (3% rate), with only 5.8 yards per attempt, but +4 percent marginal efficiency (for comparison, Barrett had a 9.1% marginal efficiency). First of all, it’s amazing that Luton is even playing and that he won the job over stiff competition.
  • As SB Nation’s Oregon State blog Building the Dam mentions, “Luton will be without last year’s top receiver, as Tight End Noah Togiai will miss at least a month with a knee injury. He still has Timmy Hernandez and Isaiah Hodgins to throw to, but Togiai skills as a receiver and a blocker will be greatly missed.” The passing game ranked in the 100s in the S&P+ last year.
  • I would be very surprised if they offer too much of a challenge for the Ohio State secondary, but it is worth keeping an eye on how the Arnette/Sheffield/Okudah trio performs nevertheless. I don’t think anyone is expecting them to be quite the Lattimore/Conley/Ward grouping, but Sheffield and Okudah at least have shown great upside. At safety, Isaiah Pryor looks like he’s getting the start opposite Jordan Fuller. We are primarily hoping for mistake-free play, but any playmaking ability from either safety — something that was definitely lacking last season post-Malik Hooker—, would be appreciated.
  • My biggest question on defense, and maybe the entire team behind the offensive line, is how the linebackers perform. They have three new starters, and I’m anxious to see how Baron Browning, Pete Werner, and Malik Harrison perform, and whether they can avoid missed assignments. The talent is definitely there — hopefully the coaching is too.
  • The best matchup might be between Ohio State’s elite defensive line and Oregon State’s offensive line. The Beavers couldn’t point to a lot of strengths last season on either side of the ball, but the line was solid, ranking 51st in stuff rate and 42nd in adjusted sack rate, and almost everyone returns from the two-deep.


  • Oregon State is likely Ohio State’s worst opponent on the 2018 schedule, but the Buckeyes need some time to gel, with a new quarterback, a new left side of the offensive line, and a new linebacker corps.
  • Jake Luton at quarterback and the offensive line appear to be solid, and probably the strength of the Beavers’ team.
  • Watch for the small things — how Haskins does with accuracy and decision making with RPOs and reads, how explosive Weber and Dobbins are, how the left side of the line holds up, if the linebackers make mental mistakes or incorrect reads, and how the secondary does in coverage.


  • My pick: Ohio State 52, Oregon State 13
  • S&P+: Ohio State 52, Oregon State 10, 99.2% win probability
  • F/+: Ohio State by 33, 97.2% win probability