One of the best books ever written on the subject of numbers and the folly of trying to glean anything useful from them at all is the 1954 masterpiece, "How To Lie With Statistics." Using examples such as "why a young man from Harvard making $2,500 a year at a top flight law firm isn't quite that impressive" and "the amount of cigarettes a small child can smoke safely is deceptively low, despite what Harry Truman says" and "apples are a Communist plot to infiltrate our grocery stores," the book points out that by skewing your perspective on various statistics and numbers, you can really prove just about anything as long as you don't have any hangups about lying to people.
For the past few years I've done the "Weird Stats" part of our season preview, and I've always taken great care to point out that people are dumb, and become dumber when trying to make sense out of these magic runes that we call numbers. I am not exempt from this idiocy, which is why, once more, I implore you to take what follows with an enormous grain of salt.
These are stats, yes. But for better or for worse, they are not really indicative of how the team or individual players performed as a whole. They are obtuse, unusual, ridiculous, and unlikely to be replicated.
They are the weirdest stats of the 2016 Ohio State football season.
Overall, the offense performed pretty much as you might've expected during the 2016 season. Ohio State started off amazingly well, got slightly less great as the season went on and the opponents got tougher, and ultimately looked like garbage against Clemson. But this is weird stats, baby, so let's dive deeper.
One especially interesting thing about the Ohio State offense is how poorly they performed on the road. They were 13th overall last season (with 39.4 points per game, better than even Clemson!), but once they were away from the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium, the offense sputtered, raking up only an average of 29.2 points and good for 51st in the country. It's their worst road scoring average under Urban Meyer. Also in terms of plays going 30 yards or longer, the Ohio State offense was... 86th in the country. Bad.
But hey, we're not entirely about doom and gloom! So how about this: in 2016, Ohio State's offense got 20 first downs through a penalty, which was their most under Urban Meyer and their most in nearly a decade. Progress!
J.T. Barrett still hasn't completely recaptured his form from that electric first season when we were introduced to him, but he's still a legitimate force to be reckoned with. So I hate to point this out (and it's obviously not entirely on him), but Ohio State was tied with freaking Rutgers on pass plays over 40 yards, with four, good for 116th in the country.
However, if there's one really weird stat about J.T. last year, it's how eerily consistent he was throughout the entire game. 1st quarters of all games: 60.2% completion rate. 2nd quarter: 60.7% completion rate. 3rd quarter: 62.5% completion rate. 4th quarter: 60.0% completion rate. And before you tell me that that should be expected, consider that in 2015, Barrett's completion percentage in quarters one through four was 81%, 50%, 72.1%, and 60% respectively, and in 2014 he had a 10-15% variance from quarter to quarter as well.
Last season Ohio State ran the ball 15 times on 3rd down with 10 or more yards to go. I do not know why they did that (they managed to get a 1st down only three out of those 15 times). Weirdly, the Buckeyes did their best rushing on 3rd down with three or fewer yards to go, averaging almost six yards per carry. Add that extra yard, however, and their yards per carry dropped to 3.56.
Mike Weber had a decent season and became another piece of evidence in the now-debunked "Urban Meyer running backs don't get yards" club. Still, only one touchdown on the road compared to eight at home doesn't look too great.
Ohio State only gave up eight touchdowns at home in 2016, which is better than the 12 they gave up in 2015, and way better than the 20 (!) they gave up in 2014, somehow. They were also impressive with regards to yard per play allowed at home; 3.69 is not a bad number no matter who you are or what conference you're in, which is why it's particularly annoying that Ohio State gave up 5.14 yards per play in away and neutral site games.
That's actually probably not that weird; teams tend to play better at home than on the road, obviously. But what is weird is the fact that when it comes to 3rd down conversion rates, the pattern is reversed. At home, the Buckeyes allowed their opponents to convert 34.21% of their 3rd downs, but on the road they were nearly five percent better (despite often playing tougher opponents).
Malik Hooker's seven interceptions with 181 return yards means that he had a higher offensive production than Parris Campbell did last season. Hooker was also seventh on the team in total touchdowns, which is pretty good for a guy who, you know, doesn't play offense.
Also, despite having a ridiculous 21 interceptions last season, Ohio State didn't manage to get a single one of those takeaways in their own red zone.
For whatever reason, Ohio State as a whole was significantly better at stopping the run in the second quarter than at any other time in the game; the only quarter in which the Silver Bullets held opponents to under three yards per carry was right before halftime. It actually gets even funnier though, because while Ohio State did a great job at stopping the run in general, they actually got worse the closer the other team was to their own end zone.
In fact, Ohio State allowed teams to rush for 5.63 yards per carry in the opponent's red zone, which is literally less than a tenth of a yard better than what Rutgers was allowing in the same situation.
SPECIAL TEAMS AND OTHER WEIRDNESS
- Tyler Durbin had an incredible field goal made streak last year and then missed four of his last five. That's not a weird stat, I'm just still mad about it.
- Ohio State only forced two fumbles in November of last year. Way to go, jerks!
- On punt returns, the Buckeyes only averaged a little over a third of what they did in 2015.
- Since Urban took over as head coach, his teams have shanked a kickoff out of bounds 23 times.
- Ohio State got some typically incredible punting from Cam Johnston, but in the first month of the season he was absolutely destroying the football at over 50 yards per punt.
- Conversely, in October the Buckeyes faced some garbage punting; opponents averaged only 38.06 yards per punt.
And that's about it! There will most assuredly be more to come in 2017, and frankly, I welcome it. Lopsided, strange, unpredictable football is fun football, and if I wanted a bunch of soulless automatons running the same offenses and defenses and being predictably "good," then I wouldn't be either a fan of the Bengals or a fan of college football.
Here's to hoping for a little more weirdness this season.