Both the numbers and strategy indicate that Ohio State's performance against Iowa should leave plenty for Buckeye fans to feel good about heading in to Penn State week. Iowa may only barely make bowl eligibility this season, but their defense is top-notch and you have to give Greg Davis credit for his offensive gameplan.
While Penn State has been an on-and-off team this season, the fact that Bill O'Brien has Christian Hackenberg, Allen Robinson, and fifty tight ends on the roster to work with against the Ohio State secondary should make you a little nervous. How nervous exactly? Well, that's what we'll take a look at below:
The Nittany Lions Cometh
My main concern going in to the Penn State game is the fact that O'Brien has Hackenberg, Robinson, a legion of tight ends, and film of the Iowa game. The Buckeye defense was generous enough to allow Jake Rudock 245 yards and three touchdowns, despite Iowa not having a receiver close to Allen Robinson's caliber. There's also no doubting that Hackenberg is much more dangerous than Rudock:
Not bad at all for a freshman.
The not-quite 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio probably has Withers and Fickell (and Roby and Grant) licking their chops for turnovers. It will be interesting to watch whether the defense plays more man coverage with Roby back on the field or opts for more cover-3 zone looks with the possibility of triggering on short passes or emphasizing turnovers and big plays. Regardless, the defense must begin to better align to offenses' strong side and play with sufficient zone depth.
Below are what I believe to be some of the most important metrics for comparing teams: offensive and defensive points per play, offensive and defensive yards per point, explosive play ratio, the turnover ratio, and red zone efficiency.
|Off PPP||Def PPP||Off YPP||Def YPP||Ex Play||Turnovers||red zone|
- The Buckeye defense has a better PPP than Penn State and a worse YPP, which might indicate a couple of things. First, it's possible that Penn State's opponents have scored with better field position than Ohio State's opponents. Alternatively Penn State might have allowed more drives that end in points relative to Ohio State, which has given up a lot of yards, but less points. It's probably a combination of both.
- However, I'm interested in the "better field position for opponents" hypothesis because of Penn State's poor turnover margin. It's hard to win consistently with a -4 turnover margin, and I wouldn't be surprised if Penn State's offensive turnovers have given opposing offenses good field position.
- For all of the explosive plays that the OSU defense has given up this season (like that terrible, lumbering 85 yard pass to the Iowa tight end), the Buckeye defense is actually fourth in the country in limiting plays from scrimmage of more than 20 yards. Peers? Florida State, Oregon, and Michigan State (Alabama has allowed four more than the Buckeyes).
- Building off of that, Ohio State has the advantage in both explosive plays allowed and created this season. However, the Buckeye defense has been much steadier and consistent than I initially expected, stringing together longer drives as opposed to relying on big plays. This has led to a high drive efficiency rate, as we saw against Iowa (86%).
Finally, I have some random observations courtesy of digging through cfbstats.com:
- Some good news? Penn State allows an average of 2.3 sacks per game, which is worse than the FBS average. The defensive staff will likely hope to rattle the freshman quarterback early and often. Ohio State, coincidentally, is averaging 2.3 sacks per game as well.
- 24% of Penn State's receiving yards have gone to tight ends. In particular, watch out for Jesse James and Kyle Carter, as well as former Buckeye target Adam Breneman.
- The normally stringent Penn State defense is 48th in the country, allowing 23.7 points per game. Like Iowa, the strength is in the rush defense, which allows just 118 yards per game on the ground and 218 (6.7 yards per pass) through the air. Almost every team in the Big Ten seems to boast a top rush defense these days, with seven in the top-30.
- Ohio State is sixth in the country in total points scored, with an average of 45 per game. This is despite being "just" 15th in yards per play (6.58).
- Against Michigan, Zwinak had just three of eight carries as efficient according to the RBSR, while Bill Belton had eleven efficient carries out of 27 total.