You probably have already gathered that Ohio State’s 40-30 victory at Northwestern on Saturday night was closer than the final score, but a look at advanced statistics from Football Outsiders should remove any doubt.
The story they tell for this game is of one team (Northwestern) that gained a slightly greater advantage passing than the other (Ohio State) did rushing but lost more than anything because of the difference in ability to cash in on turnovers.
Ohio State enjoyed a better leverage rate (meaning the Buckeyes were able to stay “on schedule” and force the Wildcats off schedule more often) and was more efficient on a play-to-play basis, but Northwestern had a slight advantage in rate of explosive plays.
Not surprisingly, those numbers are expressed more distinctly in the running game for Ohio State and the passing game for Northwestern, and they show the Wildcats doing enough more damage with the pass (especially with big plays on passing downs, which should be harder to obtain) that they could have been expected to edge the Buckeyes on the scoreboard if all else was equal.
There were other variables, of course, and Ohio State can essentially thank its ability to do more with the turnovers it created than Northwestern did for the victory.
Also of note – Ohio State’s combined efficiency and explosiveness rate on third down was better than Northwestern’s even though the Wildcats were better on passing downs overall. Carlos Hyde converted four third downs with his legs (including the game-winning 2-yard touchdown on third-and-goal) while Rod Smith also converted one with a 9-yard run on an early third-and-1. Braxton Miller started 0 for 3 passing with a sack on third down but had two critical passes to Hyde on checkdowns in the second half.
The Buckeyes were also better on first downs while Northwestern’s big down was second.
To go a little outside of these numbers, it is also interesting to note Ohio State did more with its two possessions in enemy territory than did Northwestern.
Both teams had two with the Buckeyes scoring a pair of touchdowns and the Wildcats managing a TD and a field goal.