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Advanced stats analysis: Ohio State beat Tulane like it was supposed to

But the question remains whether the defense really has its big play issues fixed.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State beat Tulane 49-6 — and it wasn’t really even that close.

I was impressed by how the defense played, especially since Tulane runs a funky offense that thrives on big plays and requires extreme discipline, and because it was sandwiched between two ESPN GameDay-worthy matchups.

The offense continued its run of elite play, maintaining their second ranking in offensive S&P+.

Alright, let’s get to the numbers:

Stats definitions

Here’s the full advanced stats glossary.

  • In the table below, points per trip scoring opportunity looks at the average points scored per scoring opportunity. 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.
  • Rushing opportunity rate is the percentage of runs that gained five 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.

Garbage time kicked in with the Buckeyes’ last score of the first half to go up 42-6. That means that the numbers below only include plays from Ohio State’s first six drives of the game; all others were omitted (which makes sense, considering that was when the starters were pulled). For more on garbage time and game states, check this article out.

Ohio State vs. Tulane

Metric Ohio State Tulane
Metric Ohio State Tulane
Rushing success rate 61% 44%
Rushing opportunity rate 56% 41.2%
Rushing explosive plays 5.6% 0.0%
Rushing stuffed rate 11% 39%
Passing success rate 81% 43%
Passing explosive plays 38% 14%
Overall success rate 73% 44%
Overall explosive rate 25% 4%
3rd down % 75% 33%
Red zone TDs 100% 100%
Points per scoring opportunity 7 6
Drive efficiency 100% 20%
Three-and-out drives 0 40% (2)
Pts off turnovers 0 0
Havoc rate allowed 4.5% 36%
Average starting field position 25.8 25

How the game was decided

The game was decided when Ohio State and Tulane agreed to play each other in May 2016. But besides being an obviously more talented team, the Buckeyes won because of...

  • Creating negative plays. Absent Nick Bosa, the defense still managed to create a havoc play on 36 percent of Tulane’s offensive snaps.
  • Preventing big plays, for the most part. The first-team defense allowed just one play of 15+ yards.
  • Insanely efficient and explosive passing on the offensive side of the ball. Not only did Haskins have an 81 percent passing success rate, but 38 percent of his passes were explosive (15+ yards) too.

Can Ohio State prevent Tulane’s explosive plays?

We knew heading in to the game that Ohio State wouldn’t have any trouble against Tulane’s defense. The bigger question was whether Tulane could create a few big plays for scores against the Ohio State defense. Like I wrote in the preview, Tulane’s offense was very inconsistent, but their successful plays were often extremely explosive, which could have been a bad matchup for the Buckeyes (like, not bad enough to put the game in doubt, but still bad enough not to inspire much confidence in the defense heading into Penn State). But the defense passed this test.

Tulane only had a single explosive play for about a 4 percent explosiveness rate before the game went in to garbage time. That’s great work.

Of course, Okudah would certainly like to have that 38-yard pass back (and Arnette would like to have the earlier pass interference back, too), but the Buckeyes didn’t allow a run of over 14 yards while the game was still competitive.

My biggest defensive takeaway was probably the play of the second (and third) team defense. In particular, I was impressed by Dante Booker and Justin Hilliard, two veteran linebackers who have gotten jumped by younger players, mostly due to injuries. Both linebackers had great discipline and instincts, playing like the veterans they are. There’s definitely still a place for these guys to get meaningful snaps — more meaningful than a 40+ point blowout win over Tulane. I was also encouraged by what we saw out of Jashon Cornell. I don’t think we have an answer yet on who/how the defense can replace Bosa’s production, but at least the depth seems solid even if the defense’s havoc ceiling was lowered.

Can Ohio State consistently score in the red zone?

Yes, this wasn’t any concern. Ohio State got touchdowns on all five of its first half drives.

Can the Buckeyes get the run game rolling?

Well, kind of. J.K. Dobbins averaged five yards per carry and just 55 total yards against a bad Tulane defense. Part of that was definitely the defensive looks they were getting — it just made more sense to air it out.

And Haskins was obviously insanely successful. I’ve already mentioned that he had an 81 percent passing success rate and a 38 percent passing explosiveness rating, but he also had ten total passes of 15+ yards, which was 47.6 percent of his successful passes. Meaning that roughly half of Haskins’ successful passes were for more than 15 yards. That’s an insane rate. Any time you can do that, you do that.

Alabama might be a useful comparison this year. It seems like opposing defenses have mostly focused on stopping Alabama’s run game, so the Tide have just decided to air it out. Against Texas A&M, who is obviously in another world compared to Tulane, Alabama’s two lead backs had 15 carries 95 yards. 6.3 yards per carry is great, but still, 15 rushes is far different than the Alabama offense we’re used to, and 54 of those 95 yards came on two carries.

Meanwhile, Tua Tagovailoa had 30 passing attempts for 387 yards (12.9 yards per attempt). Those are insane passing numbers against a ranked, division opponent. And until defenses adjust, the Tide, like the Buckeyes, will likely take the yards however they come.

Still, you have to wonder whether the run game could be more successful. And I’m guessing we’ll find out just how good Ohio State’s run game can be vs. Penn State.