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Ask LGHL: What percentage of defensive snaps will Ohio State bring some form of pressure?

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This is a great question, Mike, because it ties in nicely to Friday’s Ask LGHL question about the usage rate for Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau. Unfortunately, I am not sure exactly what Ohio State’s blitz rate was last season; I tried to find a legitimate source for that data, but alas, I was unsuccessful.

What I found instead was Pro Football Focus’ “rush percentage,” which they define as “the percentage of pass rush snaps per passing snap played.” So, I took those numbers and eliminated the interior defensive lineman, because by default they are rushing on every pass play and therefore wouldn’t really be considered “blitzing.”

Now before I get into these numbers, I want to make it clear that I am not a statistician, and I am honestly only barely literate when it comes to numbers. So if I screw this up, please know that it was done in good faith and that it was not done out of a lack of effort or attention, but rather a lack of intellect and basic cognitive understanding on how percentages and statistics work.

Anyway, according to PFF, Ohio State defenders rushed on 437 of a possible 1,576 passing opportunities. Now, keep in mind that this includes many redundant passing plays since nine defenders have the ability to rush on every pass once the defensive tackles are taken out of the equation. That brought the Buckeyes out to a 27.7% rush percentage on the season.

For comparison, new OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ squad at Oklahoma State last season rushed on 572 of their opponents’ 1,739 pass plays for a rush percentage of 32.9%; so 5.2% more often than Ohio State.

Now, obviously, there are a lot of variables that come into play here — the differences between Big Ten and Big 12 offenses, how likely teams were to rush while leading late in games (how likely the two teams were to be leading late in games), how many players actually rushed on a given play, etc — so this isn’t apples-to-apples, but 5.2% is still not something to turn your nose up at.

Again, PFF’s numbers are by player, not by play, but if we assume that the percentage is fairly consistent across the two, that means that if the 2021 Buckeyes had rushed 5.2% more than they actually did, they would have brought pressure on an additional 24 passing plays throughout the course of the season — or nearly two per game. Not nearly as much as I could have anticipated.

Since arriving in Columbus, Knowles has talked about wanting to increase the aggressiveness of the Buckeye defense, and I think a lot of that will come from trying to get pressure on the quarterback; something that OSU has struggled with since Chase Young was destroying passers in 2019.

Even without a dominant edge rusher, Ohio State has done moderately well at getting sacks in recent years, finishing 34th nationally with 36 last season and coming in as PFF’s 23rd-rated defense when it came to pressure in 2021. Those numbers aren’t horrible, but given the significant talent advantages that the Buckeyes have against nearly every team that they play, they are pretty disappointing.

So, to answer your question, Mike, I think that there will be a statistical increase in how often OSU blitzes in 2022, but will it be noticeable? I’m not so sure. To use the parlance of the stats I discussed earlier, I could see them crossing the 33% mark in terms of rush percentage. An increase, sure, but not a significant enough of a jump to knock your socks off.

However, what I think will bring the noticeable difference is the creativity and intensity of the pressure that Knowles dials up. The new d-cor’s entire career has been built upon trying to get the most out of moderately talented players. With all due respect to the dudes that he’s coached along the way, Knowles is now leading a defensive room with more collective stars than Orion’s belt and both Dippers combined.

So I am excited to see what he draws up and how he puts his otherworldly athletes in positions to wreak as much havoc as possible for opposing offenses.