Third Time's a Charm

By Michael Citro on October 3, 2013 at 4:15p
The Silver Bullets are improving at third down efficiency.

Ohio State fans have very high standards when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. There is a benchmark for excellence in Columbus that spectators demand and when those expectations aren’t met, people tend to get antsy. And when folks get antsy with the defense, they rail against it.

For the past two seasons, the Silver Bullets have not lived up to what fans expect. The defense has come under fire for that. Fans don’t seem to trust the defense as much these days. That is probably to be expected when a fullback has to turn into a linebacker to shore up some of the leaks.

However, in 2013 the defense has improved in a key area that is being generally overlooked — third down efficiency.

The benefits to stopping third down plays are obvious. Holding the other team on third down limits their scoring opportunities, assists with field position, gives the offense more chances to put points on the board, and keeps the defense fresh for later in the game.

In 2011, Ohio State allowed opponents to convert 74 of 184 (40%) third down attempts into first downs. This was reflected in extended drives, a tired defense in the second half, and points allowed. It certainly had an impact in the win/loss column, with Ohio State finishing 6-7. It also exacerbated the severe offensive deficiencies of that 2011 team.

Last year, even though the defense improved on third down and the team didn’t lose at all, opponents still converted a third (63/191) of their third down opportunities into a fresh set of downs. At the very least it affected field position. Since Tom Herman was reluctant to call passing plays, it cut the playbook down and limited what Braxton Miller and the offense could do.

This season, the Buckeye defense is getting off the field quicker under Luke Fickell and Everett Withers.

Ryan Damn Shazier.Shazier and friends are getting off the field quicker in 2013.

Through the first five games this year, Ohio State’s foes have moved the chains on third down only 23% of the time (16/69). The Buckeyes are second in the Big Ten in opposition third down conversion rate, trailing only Michigan State (21%).

You have to consider the competition, of course, but the high water mark came against Florida A&M. The Rattlers converted just one of 11 third down plays. Buffalo was 3/14, San Diego State was 3/16 and Wisconsin was 3/12. California was the most successful opponent on third down to date, turning 6/16 (37.5%) third downs into first downs.

Because the defense usually gets off the field quickly, Ohio State's offense has spent more time on the field. The Buckeyes rank third in the conference in time of possession this season, at just over 33 minutes per game.

To no one's surprise, Ryan Shazier has led the charge for the 2013 OSU defense. The junior linebacker is currently ninth in the B1G in tackles, with 37, and leads the league in tackles for loss (six solo, two assists). His success is reflective of the overall efficacy of the defensive line, which has swallowed up blockers so the linebackers and secondary can make plays.

Christian Bryant’s season-ending injury may affect future conversion rates (it's never a good thing to lose a starting safety, after all). But if Bryant's replacement steps up and Ohio State can continue to strangle opponents on third down, it will greatly impact the chances of an undefeated 2013 season. 


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Jonnferrell's picture

Great info on those 3rd down stats, Michael.  I hope the Bucks can continue to do well on that stat this Saturday night in Evanston.  It would be great to keep the Wildcat offense shut down and ours on the field.  

"I miss Brady Hoke."

throttlefinger's picture

Wonder what version of the Silver Bullets had the best 3rd down stats. Playing it safe, I imagine it would be the 2002 team.

Ahh Saturday's picture

It'd also be interesting to know average yards to go on 3rd down over the last 3 seasons. Is the improved 3rd down D a consequence of improved 1st down defense?

OurHonorDefend09's picture

I don't have any stats to back up my answer to your question, but I would say yes, it definitely helps a lot. 
Sticking teams on 1st down (you would think) creates more 3rd and longs. The difficulty of converting 3rd and 7 compared to 3rd and 2 or 3 is incredible. I think 3rd down defense efficiency is probably the most important defensive statistic besides points allowed or turnovers created. 3rd downs are usually the biggest plays of the game and can completely deflate an offense if they get stuffed repeatedly.

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

MN Buckeye's picture

If the defense can continue to improve as the season progresses, as was the case last year, they have a chance to be something special. Right now, there is some way to go, but I think there is a good possibility for this version to be a great defense.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Good point of emphasis, third down defensive results are VERY important.

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

TennesseeBuckeye's picture

Last year the offense bailed the defense out a few times. The defense continues to improve and backed up the the 3rd down numbers Mike has given us. I know Silver Bullets is the name given to our Defense but in many ways they're playing like the No Name Defense, most people don't know their names outside of die-hard Buckeye fans. Injuries or suspension has kept certain players out of the action and guys are coming in and doing the job, we are 17-0 looking to go 18-0. That 40% to 23% is amazing. Great researching Mike!
Bo Bucks!

I may not be able to outsmart too many people, but I can outwork 'em.
Woody Hayes

nm_buck's picture

Fickell sucks.  Roby sucks.  If it weren't for those two, we'd be undefeated.
oh wait... never mind.

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

pjtobin's picture

This is a great stat IMO. I hope they continue to improve each week. I would love to see our d back in the top 10 nationally. 

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

cinserious's picture

Battle of the trenches! Both defensive lines seemed to win their battles. I expect the Buck's D-line to continue their destruction against NW. If the linebackers and secondary continue to improve, we should run away with this game based on superior physicality. Expect Urban to keep the pedal fully depressed for four quarters.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.