I've always been a fan of statistics and using them to better understand sports. Most of the time, they simply affirm what we believe and see on the field. Other times, though, stats tell a very different story from what we see.
Neither stats nor the "eye test" by themselves tell the entire story; the synthesis of these two provides a clearer picture. With that in mind, let's look at some numbers from last season that tell us something that we might not expect.
The tale of four quarters
The general perception during the Urban Meyer era has been that Tom Herman, the Buckeyes' great offensive mind, was excellent at in-game adjustments and Luke Fickell, the defensive stalwart, was rather poor. However, a closer look at last year's numbers doesn't exactly support this.
Here are Ohio State's points per quarter both scored and allowed, accompanied by national rank:
|OHIO STATE OFFENSE||15.0 (1)||11.4 (13)||10.4 (8)||6.4 (74)|
|OHIO STATE DEFENSE||5.3 (38)||7.2 (51)||4.2 (23)||7.6 (81)|
Notice how the Buckeyes' best two quarters, offensively and defensively, are the first and third quarters? These are the times when Urban Meyer himself has the biggest impact on the game. The strong first quarter is a product of Meyer's game-planning ability, while the third quarter is a testament to halftime adjustments. In the second and fourth quarters, Herman and Fickell were a bit more on their own for adjustments. In the fourth quarter especially, they appeared to have a hard time against opposing coordinators.
Chris Ash steps in to renovate the passing defense, so defensive adjustments in the second and fourth quarters should improve. But what about the offense? Tom Herman has done a great job, but in-game adjustments don't appear to be his strength.
A side note: the theory that these numbers are skewed by blowouts in which the Buckeyes used backups in the fourth quarter doesn't explain away the disparity. Michigan State and Clemson were the best two teams Ohio State faced in 2013, and the offense scored a combined six points against them. In both cases, the fourth quarter was Ohio State's worst quarter of the game.
It should also be noted that Ohio State actually had the ball more in the second half. They had possession 54% of the time in the second half compared to 48% in the first half, yet scored fewer points. Time of possession isn't a valuable statistic, kids.
Without Braxton Miller's overwhelming talent, in-game offensive adjustments will have to be much better to beat Sparty this year and make a run at the College Football Playoff.
This off-season, Ohio State ran a press release about Braxton Miller leading active quarterbacks in game-winning drives. However, some of the other "clutch" indicators don't exactly sing the same tune. Here is Miller's 2013 season by the numbers:
Whether it was a product of the offensive play-calling, Braxton wearing down over the course of the game or some other combination of factors, Miller was significantly worse away from the Horseshoe, later in the season and in the fourth quarter.
In Miller's absence, the Buckeyes will need more in the fourth quarter from their quarterback and offense. Can they deliver?
Cardale is the man?
Now that Miller is confirmed to be out for the season, the battle between JT Barrett and Cardale Jones on the depth chart is hugely important. Barrett had just recently surpassed Jones on the depth chart, but I'd like to point out Cardale Jones' 2013 stats: 1-for-2 for 3 passing yards to go with 17 rushing attempts for 128 yards (7.5 yards/attempt). Jones had a limited output, but at least one "advanced" metric thought highly of it.
According to ESPN's College Football Total Quarterback Rating, a metric for measuring all-around quarterback play, Jones was the third best college quarterback in "Adjusted QBR," which is supposed to account for the fact that all of his plays came in blowouts against FAMU, Penn State and Purdue. Mind you, Jones' small sample size could also be skewing the results.
According to ESPN, Cardale was better than Braxton Miller, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Johnny Football last season; by that standard he clearly deserves to be the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. I don't put much stock into a rating with such a small sample size, but those are weird stats for you.