clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

OSU vs. FAU: Advanced stats show reasons for optimism

It was an inconsistent game against an overmatched opponent, but there were still a lot of positive indicators for the future

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

This was kind of a weird game. Through four drives, which saw touchdowns on a 51-yard Fields run, a 25-yard pass to a tight end (!), a 32-yard pass to Ben Victor, and a 29-yard pass to Chris Olave, it looked like the Buckeyes could and would score at will.

And then everything just... stopped.

Ohio State’s next six drives were either punts or fumbles, and the Buckeyes looked disjointed, or maybe just disinterested, for roughly half the game.

This chart shows the average success rate by drive:

(By the way, that spike to 56 percent success rate in the middle of the game was the drive that had Chris Olave’s catch called back due to pass interference, followed by the backwards pass lost fumble.)

The Buckeyes’ offense crashed during the middle of the game, while the FAU offense improved significantly after halftime. So what are we to make of that hot-and-cold performance on offense? Would we feel better about the day overall if the success had been distributed throughout the game more evenly instead of so heavily clustered (as Bill and Ari suggested on the new Athletic podcast, 4 to 6 with A and B)?

I think there’s definitely something to that. Because on the whole, the Buckeyes offense, and especially the first team defense, performed well.

Here’s the advanced stats box score to provide some context:

Advanced box score

offense Ohio State off FAU off
offense Ohio State off FAU off
Yards per play 6.34 3.12
Plays 74 73
Yards 469 228
Drives 15 14
Overall success rate (sr) 0.50 0.33
Pass sr 0.54 0.36
Rush sr 0.48 0.28
YPP rush 5.28 2.31
YPP pass 8.07 3.66
Stuffed run rate 0.15 0.31
Opportunity rate 0.54 0.28
Overall explosive play rate 0.12 0.07
Exp rush rate 0.07 0.00
Exp pass rate 0.21 0.11
Red zone sr 0.63 0.36
Scoring opportunity sr 0.59 0.46
Short-yardage rush sr 0.86 0.50
Total scoring opps 8.00 4.00
Drive efficiency 0.53 0.29
Scoring opp TD rate 0.75 0.50

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.
  • Drive efficiency is the rate at which an offense gets a scoring opportunity.

And here are stats for offensive skill players:

Rushing stats

Rusher Plays Success rate Exp rate Stuff rate Opportunity rate Short yardage rush sr
Rusher Plays Success rate Exp rate Stuff rate Opportunity rate Short yardage rush sr
McCall 2 1 0 0 1 NA
Dobbins 21 0.48 0.05 0.19 0.43 0.83
Fields 10 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.5 NA
Crowley 4 0.5 0 0 1 NA
Teague III 8 0.63 0.13 0.00 0.63 1

And receivers:

Receiving stats

Receiver Plays Success rate Exp rate
Receiver Plays Success rate Exp rate
Mack 4 0.5 0
Victor 2 1 1
Olave 7 0.57 0.29
McCall 1 1 0
Dobbins 2 0.5 0.5
Gill 1 0 0
Ruckert 4 0.75 0.25
Hill 4 0.5 0
Farrell 1 0 0

One of my main takeaways is that even though the offensive performance was uneven, Fields had a high overall passing success rate of 54 percent — i.e. it wasn’t just explosive passes. For comparison, that’s just about what Haskins averaged last season (53%).

That said, you certainly got the sense that there were some receiving yards left on the table — Fields did seem to hesitate with a few throws and maybe tucked and ran on a few plays when he could have hung in for another second to make a throw (as Bill and Ari pointed out).

The run game showed some slight improvement, although I think the run game’s potential is still mostly untapped. A 48 percent rushing success rate is fine (the Buckeyes averaged 46 percent last year), but the more encouraging result was the dip in stuff rate from an average of 18 percent last season to 15 percent against Florida Atlantic. The Buckeyes also saw a bump in short-yardage success rate from 68 percent to 86 percent.

As I wrote last week, Dobbins’ sophomore slump was most pronounced in two areas — how often he produced explosive runs and how often he was stopped at or behind the line. Ohio State had almost exactly a 3:1 ratio of stuffed runs to explosive runs last season. That decline to 2.3 against FAU, although clearly there’s more work to do in that department. Dobbins still only had just one run go for double digit yards — a 17 yarder on Ohio State’s fifth drive. Besides general stuff rates and explosiveness rates, as well as short-yardage situations, I’ll also be keeping an eye on how efficient the run game is in the red zone, which is one of the few areas where it might be more efficient to run the ball (at least in the NFL). The Buckeyes only had 5 red zone rushes against FAU, and they were towards the end of the game, but three of those plays were successful.

Of course, given the talent disparity between Florida Atlantic's defense and the average team on Ohio State’s 2018 schedule, it’s reasonable to have hoped for a bigger jump against one of 2019’s easiest opponents. But overall, Ohio State’s rushing and passing efficiency were solid.

It’s hard not to be even more impressed by the defense. FAU isn’t exactly a world-beater offensively, but they were still projected at 62nd in offensive SP+, which means that they were basically expected to be a perfectly-average offense.

Ohio State held FAU to a 33 percent success rate overall (2018 average was 39 percent), but the biggest thing was that the Buckeyes defense allowed just a 7 percent explosive play rate (11 percent exp. pass rate and no explosive runs), compared to 15 percent last season (11 percent and 19 percent rushing and passing). Watching the game live, it definitely seemed like guys were reacting more instinctively, playing faster, and were at least in position to make every single tackle.

While 21 points is obviously far from a shutout, the above drive success rate chart shows that there was a clear divide between the first and second half. Part of that can be explained by halftime adjustments, but a much bigger factor is that the Buckeyes started subbing second stringers in for much of the second half. So I am definitely encouraged by the defense’s progression even if it is week one and only against FAU.