Ghost in the Machine: Weird 2012 Ohio State Stats

By Chad Peltier on August 14, 2013 at 7:00p
IT'S ALIVE!Eleven Warriors 2013 Ohio State Football Preview

Let's get weird, people. 

2012 was kind of a strange year for the Buckeyes -- a new offensive system, the quarterback was the best and most exciting runner on the team, a new coaching staff, a defense that required a senior fullback to switch to full time linebacker half way through the season, and a bowl-less, but perfect, 12-0.

The Buckeyes were alone as the only FBS team to not lose a game, despite finishing the year as the 23rd ranked S&P+ team, including just the 25th best defense. The top Tressel-era teams consistently finished in the top-5 of defensive efficiency metrics, yet the 2012 squad managed perfection with relatively pedestrian statistics.

With only twelve games to go on, I can say that Urban Meyer is a machine and he wants his team to be a machine as well. Urban resuscitated the offense following the disastrous 2011 interim period, but there were quite a few odd statistics that indicate that the machine still had a few ghosts to shake.

Below I break down the four strangest statistics from the 2012 season with an eye towards how the team will evolve in 2013.

1. Unlucky Bucks

The Buckeyes went 12-0, but it wasn’t without close calls. The Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan games all ensured that even bowl-less seasons could give heart attack-levels of anxiety.

While the secondary got out of position, injuries took their toll, and the passing game was still mediocre, some of the close calls can be explained due to just plain unluckiness.

Fumbles and fumble recoveries are as close to random as random gets in football, so they’re as good of a measure for “luck” as any. Bill Connelly notes that the Buckeyes played well – what we could call their average performance – in all but one close game, but were set back because of random bounces of the football.

One thing to note about Ohio State is that some of the close games were close, in part, because of luck. As you see at the bottom of this post, the Buckeyes suffered minus-2.8 points per game of turnovers luck...Life was harder because the bouncing ball wasn't landing in Buckeye hands, and despite some seemingly shaky results, Ohio State only played at a below-average level once (against California). Plus, they got better as the season progressed, which is always a good sign for a young team.

...But the turnover oddities are nothing new for Meyer teams. In 2009, Florida recovered just 25 percent of all fumbles. In 2004-05, Meyer's Utah and Florida teams recovered 67 percent. Only twice since 2004 have Meyer's teams gravitated into the 45-55 percent range.

While that’s not necessarily news for Urban Meyer’s teams at Florida, there shouldn’t be a real ex ante reason for Meyer’s teams to not recover fumbles. This isn’t just a Rod Smith problem – it’s just where defenders happen to be during a fumble.

We don’t have any reason to think that the Buckeyes’ bad fumble luck will continue into 2013, whether Rod gets the start at running back or not.

2. Who Needs the Yards? 

One of the odder things I found when looking at offensive metrics was that the Buckeyes were extremely efficient with their drives despite not accruing record-setting yardage.

The Buckeyes’ points per play, yards per point, and red zone percentage data all indicate that the Buckeyes were stellar at getting points out of their drives. The Buckeyes rarely settled for field goals – Drew Basil got the majority of his work for the whole season against Michigan alone.

The Buckeye offense was fourth and ninth in the country in the two points related metrics, but 33rd in yards per play. This view is corroborated by the Buckeyes’ stellar red zone percentage – 88% – which was eighteenth in the country.

Rod's fumble troubles have been there for a few years nowThe ball hasn't bounced the Buckeyes' way in a while 

3. Second Quarter Stunnas

As efficient as the offense was, it was one of the slowest out of the gate, posting the 85th most efficient offense during the first quarter.

One theory is that Braxton needed a little running room in order to get his passing under control, another that the Buckeyes didn’t have the right emotion or jitters immediately before the game. What the case may be, the Buckeyes started off slowly, only to explode in the second quarter. The offense rocketed up to the second most efficient offense in the country in the second quarter, then leveled off as the 25th and 33rd ranked unit in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.

This a truly strange statistic, but one that speaks to the quality of offensive strategic adjustments and the mindsets of the players, who got more comfortable as the  game went on.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a MENSA genius as an offensive coordinator – a guy who can pull the right strings to get the offense rolling after a slow start. For instance, during the Nebraska game, the Buckeyes only managed seven points in what first looked like a plodding Big Ten matchup. However, the offensive line began opening up holes and Braxton and Hyde led a 28-point second quarter.

I got the sense that a mid-20s ranking is about right overall for the Buckeye offense (based upon efficiency and big play data) so the explosive second quarters were certainly weird in 2012.

4. Sack Happy

For a guy so quick on his feet, Braxton was sacked far more than you might think in 2012.

Braxton was simultaneously capable of running around the entire field, darting through windows that were only open for a millisecond, while getting sacked on the very net play. 

Connelly notes that Braxton was sacked on one of every 10 pass attempts last season, implying that there were times when Braxton was unable to locate an open receiver or make a fast read in the passing game.

He had the benefit of an experienced and mean offensive line, but even this All-American squad is only coached to block for 4-6 seconds of relentless effort. Again, part of the blame may be scattered between Braxton, the line, and the receivers, but Urban will certainly hope that defenses will be a little less sack happy in 2013.


Comments Show All Comments

unholy bucknut's picture

I sure as hell hope they keep Braxtons jersey a little cleaner this season.

You can't spell chump without UM's picture


Brady Hoke ate my comment

Hovenaut's picture

It says plenty about the character (to which there was plenty) of last year's team to not only deal with ineligibility issue but to cope with such on field deficiencies and still go undefeated.

I'm sure the coaching staff is reminding this year's squad as well.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

It shows the challenges the team had last year, but they did overcome those.  Leadership was a huge factor in that.  We need guys on this year's team to step up and be leaders.  I think that is starting to happen now.  Braxton is becoming more of a leader.  Mewhort is a leader on the line.  Then on D you've got Shazier who is a legitimate 1 round draft pick if he decided to go (please don't go!).  Hopefully these guys can step up like the guys did last year to overcome the challenges the team will face this year.
Go Bucks!!

Seattle Linga's picture

Every year a new crop of leaders develop. Once the offense starts scoring at will ignite the silver bullets to rise to the occasion. Look out BIG TEN the leaders will add fuel to the fire. The CHASE has only just begun.

rock flag and eagle's picture

Chad, can you tell me how one takes into account defensive touchdowns and safeties when talking about the offensive metrics "points per play, yards per point, and red zone percentage data."  Doesn't a team that scored a lot of defensive/special teams points look more efficient on offense than they really are?
By this, I mean, why would a Roby pick six tell me anything about offensive efficiency?  Did you subtract all defensive points scored before you calculate points per play and yards per point?  By my calculations, you didn't.  You said OSU has 11.4 yards/pt.  It's 12.3 yards/pt if you take defensive/ST points off the board.
Roby- fumble return vs Miami (7pts)
Roby- pick six vs Nebraska (7pts)
Roby- blocked punt vs Indiana (7pts)
Shazier- pick six vs Penn State (7pts)
P. Brown- Punt Return vs Wisconsin (7pts)
That's 35 pts right there that the offense had nothing to do with.  35pts on zero yards.  I looked at your linked post and Ed Feng's comments on Tim Chou's description just says "For offense, take yards gained and divide by points scored."  It doesn't say "points scored by offense." Why not?

RoweTrain's picture

Also, Philly's punt return td against Nebraska could be included in this.

"Just bow up and go out and play." ~ D. Lee

"As it stands right now, I know I am the best athlete in college football." ~ B. Miller

pjtobin's picture

Very interesting. Being ranked 2nd  in the 2nd qt was a surprise. As was only being ranked in the twenties as a total. i hope we get some luck and overall improvement. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Watched a replay of the OSU / TTUN game yesterday, all the points the bucks left on the field was still kind of painful to experience despite having watched replays of The Game several times before and a win is a win is a win, especially against our arch rival.  Braxton looked a little tired in that game, hopefully he'll be a little more fresh this year in terms of not having to rack up so many yards on the ground and taking so many hits.  The low point of that game was Howard and Bryant failing to wrap up DRob at the end of the first half and letting him score, although the bucks responded with a great drive with about 40 seconds left I think and a career length field goal kicked by Basil.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

nm_buck's picture

That one time when we were on the TTUN 2 yd line... Braxton's missed read on the blitz... then the bad snap and fumble... then the missed FG.
man o man I was sweating after that series....

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

BUCKfutter's picture

I am floored that our defense last year was in the top 25 efficiency-wise, granted we did vastly improve by the end of the season.  Just shows how spoiled we've become over the years.

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

CanadianBuckeyeNut24's picture

I really hope there will not be any more of the slow starts this year, especially against the weaker competition. The UAB game's slow start especially bothered me.