Observations from the Ohio State football advanced stat preview

Bill Connelly’s previews at SBNation using Football Outsiders numbers are an annual must-read for college football fans, and he finished up the Big Ten today with Ohio State.

Ohio State lines up against Indiana last November
Ohio State lines up against Indiana last November

Of course, I recommend as strongly as possible you read the whole thing, here are a few things I gleaned from my reading of the piece. Some are surprising while others probably are not so much: 

  • By advanced stats and adjusting points for if the Buckeyes had been playing an average team with average luck, Ohio State played well enough to win one more game than it did in going 12-2 last season, but the combination of wins and losses would surely surprise you. The FO numbers produced a team that played like it should have beaten both Michigan State and Clemson but lost to… any guesses? Well, don’t bother. You won’t get it because it’s California. Of course, I would have thought Michigan or maybe even Northwestern, but it was the Golden Bears. I suspect this might be a case of the numbers being fooled by the fact the score never got what constitutes out of hand by the Football Outsider numbers even though the Buckeyes had it on cruise control for most of the night. They don’t project the MSU game as having been particularly close — a margin of +14.5 as opposed to the reality, a 10-point loss — and find the Buckeyes five points better than Clemson rather than five points worse.
  • The offense continued to get better and better as the year went on, something that is easy to forget but makes sense considering the funk it started the year in with Braxton Miller injured and Kenny Guiton engineering assaults on hopelessly outmanned teams. This is instructive because it also measures success adjusted for competition (or lack thereof at times).
  • For all the talk (for a second year in a row) about hurrying up the pace, the Buckeyes ended up playing at just 3.4 percentage points above the national average. Their 71.6 plays per game were less than two more than 2012. How about this: Ohio State ran only four more total plays than Michigan State (both played 14 games).
  • Ohio State had the best offense in the country on standard downs both in terms of success rate and offensive S&P+.
  • The offense was a top-five unit nationally in each of the first three quarters but ranked only 24th in the fourth quarter. Ditto first and second down (No. 4 and 1, respectively) compared to third down (35th).
  • Devin Smith caught only 60.3 percent of the 73 passes targeted to him, and Evan Spencer checked in at only 51.2 percent of 43 targets. Philly Brown led the way with a 72.4-percent catch rate, and Carlos Hyde topped Smith and Spencer too at 66.7 percent.
  • Adjusted sack rate for the offense improved from last season but remained pretty high at 71st nationally, and the rankings declined when broken down into standard downs (5.0 percent, which ranked 76th) and passing downs (8.5 percent, 88th).
  • The defense stunk as teams neared the goal line, allowing 4.5 points per trip on possessions that went inside the 40. That was 93rd nationally.
  • The defensive S&P+ ranking of 60th nationally is below the raw yardage ranking of 47th, but the advanced numbers show a team that wasn’t as bad as it might have appeared at stopping the pass and a lot worse than it looked stopping the run. The Buckeyes ranked 58th in rushing S&P+ (a measure of the combination of success rate and big plays for an opposing offense) compared to No. 9 in rushing yards allowed and 61st in passing S&P+ (compared to 112th in yards allowed through the air. They gave up too many successful short runs but were very good at preventing big plays on the ground while checking in equally mediocre in both of those categories (success rate and explosiveness) against the pass (60th in success rate and 68th in explosiveness). Early downs were a bigger problem than third down, and they were better at preventing conversions than big plays on third down.
  • The defensive front seven actually wasn’t very good against the run, ranking 96th in adjusted line yards (a stat the eliminates the effect of big plays and measures just rate of runs that gain at least four or 5-10 yards) and 80th in stuff rate (percentage of times stopping a run for a loss or no gain).
  • He mentions the questions brought on by youth on the offense that everyone knows then drops this: Meanwhile, the whole was so much less than the sum of the parts on defense last year that it bears some serious burden of proof of its own. That to me has been an overlooked aspect of evaluating this team in the offseason, though there is so much change that it might be impossible to predict what this unit will be like anyway. It’s just I think there is a genuine risk of overrating the defense based off the assumption any change is good and things might have been better than they actually were in some areas last year.

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