To the Booth: Northwestern and Mid-Year Review

By Chad Peltier on October 10, 2013 at 11:15a
These two have been crucial to 6-0

A mid-season bye week gives both us fans and the team a week to relax, chart some games, and review the season so far. Below I reviewed the Northwestern charting data as well as the entire year's charting data for general trends and the team's evolution so far.

This is the point in the season for guys to get rest, but also to become more consistent and grow in to the team that squashes Michigan at the end of the year. At this point last season the Buckeyes had just gone off for 63 on Nebraska and apart from the shootout with Indiana, wouldn't give up more than 23 points for the rest of the season. That will be a tall order without Christian Bryant patrolling the secondary, but the coaches have had six games and now two weeks of practices to identify structural and personnel weaknesses and gameplan for the easier matchups to come. 

Below I'll warm up with some Northwestern charting statistics before breaking down the season thus far. 

Charting Northwestern: Roll Hyde

Ross has already pointed out several of the tactical moves that Herman and Meyer implemented in the second half of the Northwestern game, including Heuerman slice blocking, play action, checking down to Hyde, and bouncing runs outside. 

Both Guiton and Miller have been clutch with play action this season, but Miller broke his personal bests in play action completion percentage and explosive plays against Northwestern. 

Below is a breakdown of Miller's play action vs. regular passing, courtesy of ESPN's stats department:

  Play Action No Play Action
Comp-Att 11/15 4/11
Yds 163 40
Yds/Att 10.9 3.6
20+ Yd Comp 4 0

Braxton Miller completed 11-of-15 passes for 163 yards off play-action on Saturday, with four of the completions going for 20-plus yards. Miller set career highs in completions, attempts, yards and 20-plus yard completions off a play fake. Miller completed six of his play-action passes to Philly Brown, four of which went for 20-plus yards.

Herman and Meyer debuted or reintroduced a few interesting play variations against Northwestern, including the play action pass from initial inverted veer look that opened the first quarter (for a 20 yard gain).

This play action pass and a quarterback draw were two of the only plays to be run out of the Buckeyes four-wide with double slot receiver look. The formation itself certainly wasn't new, but the playcalling out of it was very particular. Some other innovations:

  • Philly was excellent in yards after carry against Northwestern, totaling 27 YAC on two passes in the first series alone. He would add another 25 YAC tiptoeing down the sideline in the fourth quarter on his 40 yard gain. 
  • The first five games saw extensive running back motion from the pistol to the gun. This was almost nonexistent against Northwestern, where Herman instead opted to motion Heuerman from being split out to a wing or to trips.
  • Another relatively new formation was to bunch two wide receivers in tight next to the offensive line and have them block down. In the fourth quarter the Buckeyes ran this play four times for 28 yards, or 7 YPC. They also did a quarterback outside zone with Hyde lead blocking and the receivers crashing inside in order to get Miller to the edge. The Buckeyes found plenty of success running this play against Michigan last season with Heuerman in the wing. 
  • Miller charted six minuses in the first quarter, all for different reasons: inaccurate passes, tentative reads, throwing into coverage, and not following blocks. All of these improved in the second half as Herman adjusted to Northwestern's extra box defender. In contrast, Heuerman had a weaker showing in the fourth quarter by missing on two blocks that could have resulted in big runs on the edge for Hyde and Miller.

Mid-Year Review

After reviewing the stats from all six games as well as the charting data, I noticed a couple of interesting things:

Meyer and Herman have a workhorse for their offenseHyde will be essential to another undefeated season
  • The play calls that were most explosive were quite a bit different against Wisconsin and Northwestern than when Guiton led the team against SDSU, Cal, and Florida A&M. Against Northwestern and Wisconsin, almost all of the biggest gaining explosive plays were through the air, including the play action off of inverted veer, drop back pass with a check down to Hyde, and a vertical stretch from an empty open look. Guiton's games had several rushing explosive plays, including Elliot's 56 yard run from inside zone in the base set and Kenny's 44 yard scramble with the quad receiver formation. Many of the differences in explosive plays is due to the the quality of the opponent. 
  • The defense is still apt to sub in an additional defensive back and go to a dime look on third downs.
  • I looked at the ratio of charted passes for Miller and Guiton (dead on, catchable, bad, and throw away) and found that either our charters have gotten harsher for Miller or his passes are slightly less accurate overall. While his completion percentage is still high, Miller went from a 5:1 ratio of good to bad passes against Buffalo to a roughly 2:1 ratio against Wisconsin and Northwestern. Guiton was fairly constant, posting equal numbers of dead on and catchable passes, and a 4:1 ratio overall of good to bad passes. 
  • The Buckeyes have improved their yards per play from 6.33 at this point last season to 6.62 now. 
  • Sacks were a problem for the defense last season, but the Buckeyes have six more sacks (16 total) than last year's squad did after six games. Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, and Joey Bosa are all key here, as are the backups defenders like Steve Miller and Jamal Marcus. 
  • Turnovers are fairly random, but the Buckeyes had three more interceptions last year compared to this year (7). 
  • It's been shown to not really affect the outcome of games, but the Buckeyes have 12 fewer penalties and 103 fewer penalty yards than last season. 

All in all the Buckeyes have improved of Meyer's first year, though I think all would agree that the pass defense and pass offense have room for growth this bye week. 


Comments Show All Comments

saevel25's picture

Except for a few big passes by Braxton against Wisconsin, both Wisc. and NW have done a good job forcing OSU to go the length of the field. I still think Braxton struggles with timing routes over the middle. He's good at hitting curl routes against Zone, but quick slants, and attacking the middle of the field with seam and crossing routes, he still lacks. So i think he still forces a few bad passes, cause they are the ones in his comfort zone.

NitroBuck's picture

Great work Chad.  This is an eye opening look at a number of issues.

Ferio.  Tego.

Boxley's picture

Quite shocking that KG has better performance stats this year;)
Well at least to the coaches anyway.

"...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

InHartWeTrust's picture

Conveniently he's also faced up against high school level defenses as well.
I am sure that isn't a shock to the coaches.


Chad, what is the turnover margin, for and against? I think our turnovers in the NW game almost killed us but for the other games, has the turnover rate been positive?

"Woody is a God-fearing man. It's good to know that he's afraid of somebody." --Archie Griffin

ibuck's picture

Chad, thanks for the analysis. Would you please give us the source for this claim about game outcome?

It's been shown to not really affect the outcome of games, but the Buckeyes have 12 fewer penalties and 103 fewer penalty yards than last season.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Chad Peltier's picture

Sure. There have been multiple studies , but here's a commonly cited analysis from Mike Leach:

Penalty yardage is usually considered a negative statistic, but its impact is situational. An untimely penalty can have a devastating impact on the outcome of a football game, but no distinction is made in the box score between penalties that changed the course of a game and those that were merely irritants. In fact, Sample 24 teams won more frequently without an advantage in penalty yardage (81.6 percent) than they did with an advantage (77.2 percent), suggesting that aggression is a necessary attribute of winners, even though the aggressive attitude prompts the occasional slap on the wrist.

ibuck's picture

Sorry, to me, Michael Nemeth's article is an overly simplistic, and fairly meaningless, look at football statistics. If the author were Nate Silver, or used multiple regression analysis (simultaneous analysis of multiple factors), I might buy in.  But Nemeth makes many assumptions, and at least one factual error. (Touchdowns of 10 yards or more indeed do count as a first down in the NCAA.) He complains that defensive penalties are not separated from offensive ones. And he says he studied only the games of 24 top ranked teams. Top-ranked teams are obviously good football teams who overcame adversity, like penalties, rather than have them kill drives and diminish scoring.
And he is not a statistician. In fact, he looks at each statistic in a typical box score to see if it alone is the cause of victory. The only valid claim he made, IMO, is that you cannot always tell who won the game just by looking at the box score. Except, of course, box scores always show how many points each team scored. And that statistic is what determines who wins: which team scored more points.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Chad Peltier's picture

I mean, Leach isn't going to be the keynote speaker at the Sloan conference anytime soon, but it's a decent "pop-stat" piece. 

Football Outsiders makes a similar claim with more robust analysis. They note that offensive penalties are worse than defensive ones. 

jccavanaugh's picture

Chad -
I'm not familiar with the "yards after carry" stat. Did you mean yards after catch or yards after contact? (1st bullet, re: Philly)

Chad Peltier's picture

Whoops! Yes, yards after catch. 

zhamilton05's picture

Guiton is a phenomenal backup who was well-prepared to dissect Cal and FAMU - two teams with truly awful defenses. He makes better reads on the option and he does have a nice touch, but he doesn't have the explosive arm or legs that Braxton does. Well, at least the explosive legs that Braxton did have before he started getting dinged up and defenses started taking away his running lanes, late last year and into this year. But regardless, I'd rather have the more experienced QB with a higher ceiling (and maybe lower floor) at the helm of our offense in a championship run. And Miller still has improvements to make and one more year in the program in which to make them, so let him play as much as possible!

AndyVance's picture

I love the charting project, and these types of statistical analysis. Thanks for the work, Chad and charters.

MN Buckeye's picture

Another reason why this is the most informative and intelligent OSU site on the web!