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Ohio State’s win over Miami (OH), in analytical context

What can we really take away from Ohio State’s win over Miami-Ohio?

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The main question everyone has following the kind of win Ohio State had against Miami is whether we can really take anything away from that kind of mismatch.

Sure, Ohio State’s six second-quarter touchdowns were two more than any team has scored in a single quarter this season (if you’re curious, there were 20 instances of a team scoring four touchdowns in a single quarter; Ohio State’s four in the first quarter against Florida Atlantic was one). And yes, Ohio State’s nearly +40 percent success rate margin is… something.

But does that really mean anything for predicting how well Ohio State will do against Wisconsin (who looks like the class of the Big Ten, along with Ohio State) or Penn State, or even Nebraska this week?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it’s valuable just to know whether a team is able to “take care of business” against an obviously inferior opponent. Teams that don’t -- Michigan vs. Army, for example -- might have underlying issues. But blowouts also don’t necessarily mean that the winning team is elite, either. I think blowing out inferior opponents is more like a necessary but insufficient marker of an elite team.

And besides the top-level analysis, there are still important details we can take from individual matchups, performances, and situations that are small, but still worthwhile adjustments to our reference points for Ohio State’s overall quality.

Let’s look at the top-level stats first:

Base stats

Stat Ohio State Miami (OH) Margin 2018 National Avg
Stat Ohio State Miami (OH) Margin 2018 National Avg
Yards Per Play 8.35 2.06 6.28 5.71
Overall SR 60% 21% 39% 42%
Rush SR 60% 21% 39% 41%
Pass SR 59% 20% 39% 43%
Rush YPP 5.88 2.39 3.48 5.07
Pass YPP 11.44 1.56 9.88 6.42
Stuffed Run Rate 13% 37% -24% 19%
Opportunity Rate 63% 24% 39% 48%
Overall Exp Rate 19% 5% 15% 14%
Rush Exp Rate 10% 5% 5% 10%
Pass Exp Rate 31% 4% 27% 19%
Havoc Rate Allowed 13% 29% -15% NA

And situational stats:

Situational stats

Stat Ohio State Miami (OH) Margin
Stat Ohio State Miami (OH) Margin
Rush Rate 0.56 0.60 -0.05
Std Down Rush Rate 0.63 0.71 -0.08
Pass Down Rush Rate 0.27 0.52 -0.25
Redzone SR 0.64 0.00 0.64
Scoring Opp SR 0.65 0.25 0.40
Short Yd SR 1.00 0.50 0.50
Scoring Opp Rate 0.80 0.06 0.74
Scoring Opp TD Rate 0.92 0.00 0.92
Redzone Drive Rate 0.47 0.06 0.40
Redzone TD Rate 0.86 0.00 0.86
1st Down SR 0.51 0.24 0.27
2nd Down SR 0.77 0.10 0.67
3rd Down SR 0.20 0.24 -0.04
4th Down SR 1.00 1.00 0.00
Std Down SR 0.84 0.29 0.56
Pass Down SR 0.36 0.14 0.22
Avg Yds - 3rd 10.20 7.12 3.08

If those stats seem unfamiliar, here’s what each means:

  • First, this comes from play by play data filtered to only run and pass plays (no penalties or special teams), with sacks counting as pass attempts rather than runs.
  • A play is defined as a success if the offense efficiently moved towards a first down, defined specifically as 50 percent of necessary yards on first down, 70 percent of remaining yards on second down, and all remaining yards on third or fourth down. So success rate is successful plays divided by total plays.
  • Explosive plays are defined here as plays of 13+ yards. Some coaches measure that differently (i.e. 15+ yards or with varying definitions based on whether it’s a run or pass) but we’ll keep it simple and stick to 13+ yard gains.
  • Stuffed runs are rushes for no gain or a loss.
  • Opportunity rate attempts to measure how often a running back and offensive line “do their jobs” — defined here as getting 4+ yards per rush.
  • Short yardage rush success rate is how often the offense gets the first down on runs of two yards or less to go (i.e. in third-and-one or goal line situations).
  • A scoring opportunity is when an offense runs a play inside an opponent’s 40 yard line (or has a long touchdown from outside the 40). So scoring opportunity touchdown rate is how often the offense goes on to score a touchdown if it gets inside the 40.

Starting this week, we also have EPA summary data, thanks to Parker Fleming (@statsowar) and @903124!

If you’re unfamiliar with EPA, it stands for expected points added and as 538’s Josh Hermsmeyer writes, “EPA is calculated by taking the expected point value of every down, distance and field position (“game state”) combination before a play is run, and subtracting it from the expected point value of the new game state after a play is run.” Basically, it allows you to assess the value of every single play, and by extension, the effectiveness of individual players and teams, relative to what we would expect based on prior game state data. It’s a powerful metric!

EPA stats

Stat OSU offense vs. M(OH) OSU defense vs. M(OH) Margin National Average 2019
Stat OSU offense vs. M(OH) OSU defense vs. M(OH) Margin National Average 2019
Avg EPA 0.50 -0.52 1.01 0.00
EPA SR 60% 21% 0.39 43%
Avg EPA Rush 0.14 -0.38 0.52 -0.02
EPA SR Rush 58% 21% 0.36 43%
Short-Yd Rush EPA 0.67 0.29 0.37 0.14
Avg EPA Pass 0.94 -0.73 1.67 0.02
EPA SR Pass 63% 21% 0.42 44%
RZ EPA 0.55 -0.75 1.29 0.00
RZ EPA SR 62% 11% 0.51 43%
Std Down EPA 0.87 -0.31 1.18 -0.01
Pass Down EPA 0.06 -0.79 0.85 -0.03

Regardless of how you measure Ohio State’s overall performance, it was completely dominant vs. Miami. Ohio State had a: +6.3 yards per play, +39 percent success rate, and a +1.01 margin in average EPA. Overall, it was the offense’s highest average success rate (59.7%, low being 50% vs. FAU) and highest average EPA (.496, low being .148 vs. FAU) of the season -- which you would expect, considering it was also the worst defense the team has faced this season.

But there are still some interesting things to take away. First, there is increasing data to support that Justin Fields is playing at an extremely high level. He ranks 14th in average EPA and seventh overall in EPA success rate (which is the percentage of plays with a positive EPA; essentially the percentage of time you gained the yards you were expected to given your down, distance, and field position). Here’s how that looks relative to other quarterbacks -- he’s producing about as expected given his high success rate.

I’ve also been tracking J.K. Dobbins’ resurgence this season -- and it’s been incredibly impressive. Dobbins continued his games with a positive average EPA. As you can see in the chart below, he actually started the 2018 season with positive average EPAs too, but quickly dropped off and never recovered with a positive EPA performance again in 2018 (that meant that it was much more efficient for Ohio State to pass than run for the last two-thirds of the 2018 season).

But I expect things to be different this season, as opposing defenses learned that they could scheme to take away the run game and the offensive line wasn’t as solid as this year’s appears to be. Nevertheless, it’s something to watch.

Here’s where both Dobbins and Teague stand relative to other running backs. Notable here is that both backs have similar EPA success rates, but Dobbins is more explosive (note his higher average EPA).

It’s also worth discussing what happened in the first quarter, when Miami went up 5-0 (before Ohio State’s 76-point run). As has been previously noted, Miami gained 113 yards in the first quarter, but finished with130 total yards, meaning that they gained just 17 total yards from scrimmage after the first quarter. No matter the opponent, that’s insane defense. Obviously that happened mostly because of the punt that pinned the Buckeyes in their end zone, followed by the strip-sack safety. But the two teams’ overall first quarter numbers are astounding:

1st quarter

offense Ohio State Miami (Ohio)
offense Ohio State Miami (Ohio)
ypp 4.67 4.04
success.rte 0.47 0.36 0.38 0.43 0.57 0.29
ypp.rush 6.25 5
ypp.pass 2.86 3.07
stuff.rte 0.13 0.29
opp.rte 0.5 0.43
exp.rte 0.07 0.11
exp.rte.rush 0.13 0.14
exp.rte.pass 0 0.07
havoc.rte 0.23 0.21

As you can see, Ohio State barely out-gained Miami in yards per play and had just a +11 percent success rate. Miami actually had a higher rush success rate, explosiveness rate, and a lower havoc rate allowed. I think there are definitely lessons to take away from this quarter, especially in how the Miami offense attacked the Ohio State defense. The Ohio State coaching staff quickly changed the coverage scheme and replaced Tuf Borland and Pete Werner with Baron Browning and Brendon White (it seemed to me), opting for more speed on the field.

This, along with the injury to Miami’s quarterback, greatly improved the pass defense -- which is important, considering that Nebraska will use many of the same tactics against Ohio State this coming week, but with far superior personnel. It is excellent that the Buckeyes defense (and coaching staff) got a preview and some practice reps for a relatively similar offense.