To the Booth: Wisconsin and Northwestern By the Numbers

By Chad Peltier on October 3, 2013 at 11:15a
Because who doesn't love shootouts?

This week we'll turn all of our attention to Northwestern, who is likely the Buckeyes' only remaining challenge until the Big Ten Championship. While we wait on the results of the Wisconsin game charting project, I'll preview Northwestern's exciting offense and uninspiring defense.

Northwestern brings the fourth-best scoring offense in the Big Ten (which has done surprisingly well on offense so far this season) with 41 points per game. Their defense? Not as much. The 52nd-best scoring defense is 119th in the country in passing defense

The Northwestern Defense

Yesterday Kyle reported from practice that,

Northwestern has struggled against the pass, allowing more than 300 yards per game. Miller said Ohio State has some packages that can exploit holes in the Wildcat secondary.

I have no doubt that Meyer and Herman have drawn up a few route packages to exploit the mostly vacant Wildcat secondary, but even a vanilla passing offense should be able to find some success against the Wildcat defense.

The Big Ten's Stats Guy likewise believes that the Gameday matchup will come down to the Ohio State passing offense vs. Northwestern secondary, giving the undeniable edge to the Buckeyes. He notes that, 

Despite Northwestern’s aforementioned struggles against the pass, it has allowed just two touchdowns on play-action. Forcing turnovers in the air also has been a strength for the Wildcats, whose 10 interceptions lead the Big Ten and trail only Virginia Tech and Tennessee among FBS teams, with 11 each.

While Miller (and Guiton) might need to watch for aggressive coverages and defensive backs eager to trigger on screens and short passes, the randomness of turnovers (especially fumbles) can hardly be overstated. 

However, of the cellar-dwellers in pass defense (including Colorado, Air Force, and Nebraska), Northwestern actually has one of the lowest yards per attempt at 6.2. Most extremely poor pass defenses have an opponent YPA over eight, indicating that opposing offenses 1. throw early and often against Northwestern, and 2. completions are generally shorter rather than long touchdowns. In fact, Northwestern has only allowed 15 passes of 20+ yards. Ohio State has allowed 11 (though besides Cal, neither team has played a proficient passing offense). 

Who Has the Better Offense?

While Northwestern's offense has received a considerable amount of hype on the way to this matchup, the Football Outsiders' S&P ratings have Ohio State as the (albeit narrow) favorite. 

  Succ. Rate PPP Rush S&P Pass S&P STD. Downs Pass Downs
OSu Offense 52% (9) .68 (14) 1.1 (15) 1.3 (18) 1.2 (22) 1.25 (7)
NW Offense 50.9% (13) .62 (21) 1.05 (20) 1.3 (19) 1.3 (8) .8 (81)

While posting nearly identical numbers across the board for most categories – Ohio State and Northwestern are the 18th and 19th-best passing S&P offenses, respectively – the Buckeyes gain a big lead in passing downs S&P.

Spencer will dominate blocking and receivingThe wide receivers are ready to go against a weak secondary

Passing downs are defined as second down and more than eight yards to go or third and fourth down and five or more yards to go. Interestingly, the Northwestern third down conversion rate is fairly high at 51.7% (which is higher than Ohio State's).

Essentially, get Northwestern in to long passing situations and it will struggle. Yet isn't this true for almost any offense? 

With the return of Northwestern's dynamic rusher Venric Mark, the Wildcats will be that much more potent on standard downs in order to avoid second and third down and long situations. 

However, the Buckeyes demonstrated a real ability to completely shut down the run against Wisconsin that I did not see coming.

If the Buckeyes can manage a similar performance against Kain Colter and Venric Mark then the Wildcat offense should struggle to convert passes that aren't of the screen or quick pass variety. 

Other Notes

  • Northwestern had a fairly close call against Maine, winning by 14 off of two interception returns for touchdowns. The Wildcats rushed 49 times and only passed 17 times between their two quarterbacks. 
  • The Buckeyes and Wildcats have one common opponent - Cal. Ohio State allowed 371 yards passing on 7 YPA while Northwestern allowed 460 yards and 7.1 YPA. 



Comments Show All Comments

niblick's picture

I've said since the summer that this would be our hardest game of the season, including Michigan.  The numbers say we should handle them easily.  There's no way that this game isn't close in the 4th quarter.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

There's no way that this game isn't close in the 4th quarter.

If the Buckeyes are +3 or more in TOs going into the 4Q, is there still no way it isn't close?

niblick's picture

whens the last time you saw NW have 3+ to's in any game?

tennbuckeye19's picture

They had 3 in their game against Cal in Week 1. 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

It's a little early in the season for the Football Outsiders ratings to have much meaning. In their overall rankings, e.g., there are some odd examples - Washington too high at 4; and teams that are much too low include FSU 22, Wisc 30, NW 45, Notre Dame 56.

LeftCoastBuck's picture

I think that the single most important part of the analysis is line play.
The OSU defensive line has become an absolute monster. That includes the full rotation with guys like Bosa and Carter. The only reason why OSU didn't have 4-5 sacks against Wisky was that the refs allowed the Wisky line to hold our guys any way they wanted. When I watched the game again (which I dutifully imported into Adobe Premiere so I could pan and zoom more easily) I was blown away by what Wisky got away with as far as holding goes. This was not grabbing jerseys, it was bull riding with arms around the necks and torsos of our guys. I don't think we'll see another crew of refs that will call the game that loose again, and if NU tries that trick against our guys, it just wont work. 
The bottom line is that our D-Line will be in their backfield early and often, disrupting everything.
The OSU offensive line is not going to have a problem with NU either, I was unimpressed with NU's efforts against Cal. In that game, Cal routinely had plenty of time to throw and also broke their backs through the line into the second layer of the NU defense. If it wasn't for the bizarre interceptions in that game, Cal may very well have beaten them.
I think we'll control the line of scrimmage and be able to establish complete control of the ground game; enabling us to tear up their weak secondary.
OSU 42 NU 21

"Have a Coke and a smile!.....along with $150 in UM football tickets"

spqr2008's picture

I don't understand the kind of Holding that Wisconsin ALWAYS seems to get away with in conference play.  I have consistently maintained that those calls lead to their remarkably poor performances against legitimate out of conference competition, because they will be called for them by non B1G refs, and that if they were called for them more consistently in conference play, Wisconsin would have to develop better technique along their offensive line rather than just holding on every single play.

Wesleyburgess1's picture

We'll blow them out in my opinion. This team has so much talent but they just haven't broken through yet this season.

airbuckeye's picture

I for some reason think D Wilson is going to have his break out game this Saturday and he will house two long runs for TDs. Plus i think we see Roby at lot more than we think in the game. If NW wants to sell out and press the line in force BM to throw i do believe this is a huge mistake for them.
I don't yet believe we have seen what BM can do after all the workout he went through in the off season here is to hoping UM does not let up in the 2nd half in this game and tOSU runs away with the score in this one.

Buckeye_Ryan's picture


Born a Buckeye, raised a Buckeye, will die a Buckeye.

Ethos's picture

only remaining challenge?  How has everyone forgotten about penn state?  They may be struggling but they still have a good team.  After Penn State, then i'll feel a lot better.
I'm nervous about this game, but I don't want to forget about PSU as they've stung us before.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Buckeye.383's picture

I agree, it's a little presumptuous to call this our only remaining challenge. But with the PSU game being in Columbus under the lights, I see it less challenging than if it were an away game. Also I think after the IU and TTUN games we'll have a better idea of how tough PSU will be because IMO their schedule hasn't been too challenging yet. And when they did play a 'better' team, in UCF, they lost.

Born, raised, educated, and will die a Buckeye ~ BuckeyeNation

RedsBuckeyeBoy's picture

I'm thinking the biggest hurdle is complacency. Although complacency hasn't seemed like a problem under UFM and his staff, you never know when it will rear its ugly head.
With that in mind, I think a close game could come from anywhere- Purdue? Iowa? It's bound to happen at some point.

dlb72osu's picture

As redsbuckeyeboy accurately points out, ANY game can be the one to bite the team's butt. Last year, on an unbelievable ride of 12-0, remember the so-so teams that stayed with us through the entire 60 minutes.
Call it complacency or a-bullseye-on-the-back or a letdown or whatever, it is possible any game anywhere from anybody. All of the great Buckeye teams of the past 50 years, except the few, have had a subpar game against a team that didn't match up with them on paper. And we watched an incredible promising season turn to "almost, but not quite".
UM and his collective staff have been alert to this possibility every game for the last 17. Now, onto Evanston...and then one at a time until it's 12-0, 13-0, 14-0!

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

- Invictus

Boxley's picture

Really should not be a close game, but it is away.
Still we should prevail by 14 plus.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

Doc's picture

I'm worried the weather may play a big factor in this one.  If it is raining then no matter how craptastic their secondary is it won't matter.  I still think we win, because our D line is better.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

ChillitownBuck30's picture

Right now it's looking like a 30% chance of rain.  15 mph winds.  So maybe we will see a run fest on Saturday.  If so i believe we have the upper hand there for sure.

“Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.”

rosycheeks's picture

likely the Buckeyes' only remaining challenge until the Big Ten Championship

Man, I hate Michigan as much as anyone, but I cannot fathom that they won't be a "challenge" to Ohio State. It's a rivalry game on the road. Ohio State will definitely be favored, but it will not be a gimme. 

BeijingBucks's picture

Mehagain?  Name one position group the Bucks are not far superior on?  I absolutely reFUSE to give them any credit at ALL until they manage to show they can play... Someone without needing a last second prayer.  

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton