Beyond the Hashes: Penn State

By Chad Peltier on October 28, 2012 at 12:00p

We've got this team's MO pretty much down (and it only took 9 games): 

Great defense against traditional pro-style rushing teams, weak against passing teams, a great rushing game, a passing game that is still working it out, and the most dynamic signal-caller in the country (five yards) behind center. 

Urban is clearly proud of these guys - gotta love his passion. Urban with two of the game's heroes: Stoney and RDS. 

Listen, you can be upset with Moxie playing like an NFL-caliber quarterback against our defense, but you kind of had to have known it was coming based upon their passing game numbers and our defensive numbers. 

The point is that we know this team's strengths and weaknesses already – and the team keeps winning. We're nine and zero.

Just Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan games separate Ohio State from a perfect season. As Kyle pointed out earlier, this team has some parallels with a certain 2002 Buckeye squad. That's not to say that it'll be a cakewalk - even though all three of those teams lost yesterday, they're still dangerous. 

In any case, let's look at the numbers against Penn State: 

The Matchup

While Phil Steele's computers had Ohio State losing 24-30, Phil himself, as well as Football Outsiders' S&P+ rankings favored the Buckeyes: 

  Record S&P+ RK Off S&P+ RK Def S&P+ Rk
Ohio St 8-0 23 22 27
Penn St 5-2 37 47 31

Ohio State's overall and offensive rankings took a little hit from the poor performance against Purdue, falling from 18th to 22nd on offense.

Both offense and defense S&P+ rankings favored the Buckeyes this week, with a large difference in efficiency between the Buckeye and Penn State offenses. 

The Offense

The offense didn't come out of the gate threatening to blow the roof off of Penn State, but then again, we shouldn't have expected them to, given Penn State's defense:  

  1D 3D 4D Yards Pass Rush TO Penalty QS Sacks
vs. PSU 19 (21) 50% - 377(432) 143(195) 234(245) 1(14) 7-75(67-596) .389 4(18)

Three things stick out to me here: First, There aren't any real excuses for the state of the passing game, which went for 143 yards on 19 attempts and 7 completions from Braxton. 72 of those yards are due to Stoneburner's single touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Without that catch and run, the passing game is 6/18 for 71 yards. Ouch.

I think part of this is because Braxton seemed to be off at the beginning of the game, starting just 4 of 12 and only completing two of those going for more than 10 yards.  

Second, the quickstrike score was the second lowest of the season, with the Buckeyes managing just over 1/3 of a point per play. For a point of reference, the Buckeyes are averaging closer to 1/2 a point per play on the season. This is not to say the Buckeye offense wasn't effective – I'll take 28 points when the defense played like it did – but it turned in one of the least efficient games of the season. 

The Clock. With the Buckeyes' time of possession advantage against Penn State, the Buckeyes march closer to their average time of possession from last year, at just over 30 minutes/game. 

  Time of Possession # of Plays
vs. PSU 32:07 72
Season 30:02 70
Last Season 30:40 62

Part of the reason for this clock control was the Buckeyes' 52 running plays, which isn't an outlier compared to previous games, but high nonetheless. In comparison, Notre Dame rushed 39 times, Bama rushed 40, and Oregon rushed 57 times last night. 

The Defense

It's hard for me to be too mad with this defensive performance when Penn State failed to score a touchdown until there were less than ten minutes left in the fourth quarter.

  1D Yards Pass Rush TO TOP TFL Sack INT 3&Out RBSR QSAND
vs. PSU 19(19) 359(390) 327(277) 32(112) 1(15) 27:53 5(41) 4(20) 1(12) 3(28) 29% .216

The Ohio State defense was able to completely lock down the Penn State rushing game. Sure, there's no Silas Redd this year, but Penn State was still averaging 135 yards rushing/game. It's clear that this defense is up to Tressel/Heacock standards in rush defense against pro-style, between-the-hashes offenses. 

Penn State was held to 1.1 yards per carry on 28 attempts, good for a 29% running back success rate. That's pretty abysmal and the defense's second-best behind totally shutting down Le'Veon Bell and MSU. Further, the Buckeyes held the Nittany Lions to under 1/4 of a point per play - their best quicksand score yet.

The passing defense continues to be the major weakness of this year's Silver Bullets, allowing opposing quarterbacks to average 277 yards per game. That means that after a schedule full of UCF, Cal, Michigan State, and Purdue, opposing quarterbacks have put up close to 300 yards passing on just 20 sacks on the year. 

No big deal, but Brax can now levitate into the end zoneBraxton makes the best 1-yard run EVER.

The sacks, tackles for loss, and passing yards numbers together reveal that the issue is multifaceted – part is pressure, part is coverage scheme, and part is personnel. Four sacks (20 total is good for 29th in the country) and five tackles for loss (87th in the country...) are pretty good, but about as expected given Penn State's drop-back passing game.

No one likes to see The Moxie put up more than 300 yards, but you have to give him and Coach BoB credit – he had pretty good pass placement and decision making overall (including into RDS' hands - and then into the end zone). Speaking of which, Ohio State is currently tied for 13th in the country in interceptions, with 12 on the year (the top spot goes to former OSU coach Darrell Hazell's Kent State squad).

One thing I'm still disappointed with was the number of costly penalties – defensive pass interference, holding, and roughing the passer. Usually I talk about penalties under the offense section, but the defense was responsible for some costly ones against Penn State - something that will hopefully be cleaned up next year. 

Special Teams 

Blocked TDS Given Up PU KO Return OSU Punt Avg
1 fake punt 1 (blocked punt) 6/83  5/205 (+1 block)

The special teams were a mixed, but important, bag for Ohio State: an Ohio State blocked punt for a touchdown, a stopped PSU fake punt, and dominant kickoffs.

Something is clearly wrong with the punt team, as Buchanan had his third punt blocked of the season. On the flipside, Lil Griff will be in strong consideration for special teams player of the game, with his batted down pass on the Penn State fake punt. 

Finally, the Piranhas delivered on kickoff coverage, holding Penn State to an average of <14 yards per return. 

Player Analysis 

Braxton Miller. So it wasn't Braxton's best day passing: 

  Comp/Att % Yards TD INT Rating
Miller 7/19(112/198) 37% 143(1527) 1(12) 1(6) 106.9

In his second-worst passing day of the year (quarterback rating-wise), Braxton did enough to lead the offense to 28 points against a stingy PSU pass defense (ranked 19th in the country in pass defense against FBS winning teams). Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it was pretty. 

Braxton had one of his highest percentage of "bad" passes this week, but when you consider that Braxton led the team to victory over Illinois last year after completing only a single pass, then you know there was room for improvement anyway. Oh look, Illinois is the next game on the schedule...

Also, it's still clear to me that he has the potential to be a much more efficient passer than he currently is. It seems like he gets one bomb per game – whether to Devin Smith, Corey Brown, or Stoneburner yesterday – that just makes your jaw drop. 

Running Backs. While no back besides Braxton managed to hit the century mark, rushing 52 times will almost always put up some big rushing numbers: 

  Atts Yards YPC RBSR Ex Plays YPC-Ex
Hyde 22(126) 55(600) 2.5 64%(60%) - 2.5
Miller 25(164) 134(1112) 5.4 60%(59%) 33 4.2
Dunn (12) (60) - (82%) - -
Boren (11) (33) - (64%) - -
R. Smith 4(26) 48(179) 12.0 75%(69%) 28 6.7
C. Brown (8) (70) - (88%) - -
Hall  (40) (218) - (73%) - -

It wasn't the most efficient rushing game of the season by a long shot, but the Buckeyes were able to use the running game to control the ball and keep McGloin off of the field until the fourth quarter, and the game felt more secure anyway. 

Special congratulations are in order for Braxton Miller who passed the 1,000-yard mark for rushing on the season, becoming just the third B1G quarterback to do so and the first overall 1000-yard rusher for Urban. And how about those two 1-yard touchdown runs in the third quarter? Good Lord. 

Rod Smith came up with a big game, averaging 12 yards per carry, including a bruising 28-yard run (and some really good blocks, like on Braxton's 33-yard run with Rod as lead blocker). 

Anyone else a fan of the two running back set? We've seen Hyde and Corey Brown in the backfield together with Miller in the past, but Rod and Hyde together was cool to see, with a lot of lead-blocking potential here. 

Unfortunately it wasn't Hyde's best night, as he only averaged 2.5 yards per carry. However, at least his carries were efficient – 64% of his rushes were efficient towards first downs. 

My only real disappointment is that Corey Brown didn't get any carries – he's a real threat out of the backfield and deserves a carry or three per game. And speaking of Corey Brown...

Wide Receivers. Ah, so Corey Brown and Devin Smith don't catch a single pass between the two, yet Ohio State still wins? Gotcha. 

  Yards Catch Rate
Spencer 33(118) 3/3(10/17)
D. Smith (505) 0/4(23/45)
Stoneburner 86(236) 2/2(14/19)
C. Brown (447) 0/2(44/60)
Boren (42) (5/7)
Heuerman  (86) 0/2(7/11)
Hyde 2(43) 1/1 (7/8)
Reed (13) (1/1)
Vannett 22(72) 1/1(6/8)
Hall (31) (3/3)
M. Thomas (17) (2/2)
C. Fields (44) 0/1(3/5)

Braxton decided to show the tight ends some love with 3 passes for 108 yards to Vannett and Stoney together. Evan Spencer led the team in receptions with three in a poor showing for the passing game.

Also, that Stoney bomb was LONG overdue – thought he'd have one per game at this point. Here's to that continuing, huh? 

Kudos to Spencer for becoming the fourth Buckeye to cross the 100-yard reception mark on the year. Improvement! 

Defense. Ryan Damn Shazier and Bradley Roby (sorry Roby doesn't have a cool nickname yet). If these two aren't All-Americans by the time they leave this team then I'll eat my hat (I probably wouldn't...don't actually have many hats to eat). 

  Tackles Sacks TFL PBU INT
Boren 7        
Shazier 7 2 2   1
Bryant 6     2  
Williams 6 1 1    
Roby 5     4  
Barnett 5   1    
Hankins 5        
Simon 2 1 1 1  

Shazier had a ridiculous stat line with seven tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFLs, and a Moxie pick-six. He definitely looked like the player we thought he would this preseason – future All-conference, if not All-American. 

Roby really is making an island out there, with four more pass breakups, which leads the nation even though Roby himself has missed a game. Ohio State as a whole leads the nation in passes defended, which is surprising given their rough pass defense. 

Also, a special shoutout to Boren who once again led the team in tackles, displaying excellent form wrapping up and then driving Penn State ballcarriers to the ground. 

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