For the second year in a row, Bill Connelly of SBNation and Football Outsiders is producing extensive previews of every Division I-A football team based largely off his work in the realm of advanced football statistics. He’s well past the midway point now and finished the Big Ten on Friday with a roll out of the Ohio State preview.
I certainly recommend you read that and check out the numerical breakdown of the 2011 season, which forms the jumping off point for the 2012 previews. I don’t know if they like the comparison, but it’s kind of like SABRmetrics for the gridiron.
The adjusted score for each 2011 contest yielded four games that should have had different outcomes for the Buckeyes based on how the numbers say they played: Toledo, Indiana, Michigan and Florida.
Putting aside the likelihood that any and all Ohio State fans would trade a win over Indiana (two wins in the series in roughly five decades) for one against Michigan, the last two regular season games are the most interesting to me*.
The Hoosiers stumbled into Ohio Stadium on a six-game losing streak last season but had the ball with in Ohio State territory with a chance to tie the game with less than five minutes to go. A Travis Howard interception and Carlos Hyde burst off right tackle put the visitors away after that, but it was certainly a nervous day in the Horseshoe. That also stands as Ohio State’s most recent win.
Anyone who watched the 108th Ohio State-Michigan game knows that would could have gone either way, too. Braxton Miller had his best day as a collegian, but he left a bunch of yards on the field, including a potential go-ahead touchdown pass to DeVier Posey on the Buckeyes’ final possession. (I say “go-ahead” instead of “game-winning” because there is no guaranteed the beleaguered Buckeye defense, staggered by injuries, could have protected the lead despite how little time was left.)
Seeing the Florida decision go the other way makes some sense, too, considering two of the three Gator touchdowns came on special teams and the Buckeyes held a slight edge in yards from scrimmage, but that’s as many sentences as I’m willing to give a game that means so little in the grand scheme of things.
- The numbers found the Buckeyes had slightly below average luck with turnovers
- They ran the ball at a much higher rate (74 percent) on standard downs than the national average (60), and they also threw it more on passing downs.
- There was no hurry in the attack, as the adjusted pace of play for the offense came in at 15.7 percentage points lower than average
- The passing and rushing games were both more explosive than they were consistent, something that could probably be said of most of the teams during the Jim Tressel era thanks to the emphasis on running and play action. The ability to make big plays at times helped the combined offensive ranking (Success rate and explosiveness measurement) better the mark the traditional measure for total offense. The Buckeyes were 107th in the country in yards per game but checked in 68th according to FO’s S&P+ ranking that combines consistency with big play production.
- The offensive line graded out pretty well in running back-neutral stats (rating 27th nationally), but the adjusted sack rate was the worst in the country.
- On the other side of the ball, teams ran more frequently on running downs than might be expected, but they passed at the usual rate on passing downs.
- The problem defensively came with a combination of lack of pass rush without blitzing and below average ballhawking.
- Both units played a little better against tougher competition than lesser opponents.
In the preview, Connelly points out the OSU offense improved as the season went on while the defense regressed. This owes mostly to injuries on defense while the offense benefitted from the slow maturation of Braxton Miller and the return of suspended starters Dan Herron, Mike Adams and DeVier Posey.
Still, the defense’s regression should not be totally written off. Experience and health should help that unit improve, but there is still an onus on some players to simply play better and more consistent than they did last season.
The offense should benefit from the installation of a new strategy, and the vastly different pace should have an interesting effect as well.
*Funny how a near loss to a MAC team doesn’t seem that catastrophic in light of how the rest of the season went?