Inside the Box: A Tale of Two Quarters Defines the Game and Ohio State Avoids a Season-Worst Rushing Game on Its Final Drive

By Vico on November 27, 2017 at 2:35 pm
J.T. Barrett taken down against Michigan

Ohio State secured its sixth-straight win over Michigan and kept its faint playoff hopes alive in the process.

It wasn't pretty, though. Michigan had two things going well for it after the first quarter. It had Ohio State poised for a first-quarter knockout and did well to keep Ohio State on pace for its worst rushing game of the season.

The Buckeyes corrected both as we'll see in this Inside the Box feature. We'll conclude with using Michigan to size up Wisconsin since the Wolverines closed their regular season with both Big Ten Championship Game opponents.

A Tale of Two Quarters

The game was replete with talking points but a more practical take will highlight the contrast between Ohio State's fortunes in the first and second quarter. Michigan had Ohio State primed for a first-quarter knockout before the Buckeyes roared back in the second quarter.

The statistics tell a stark contrast between both football teams between the first and second quarter.

A Tale of Two Quarters: Ohio State and Michigan in the First Half
Statistic Ohio State (1Q) Michigan (1Q) Ohio State (2Q) Michigan (2Q)
Points 0 7 14 7
Total Yards -6 105 123 41
Rush Att/Yds 6/-12 13/51 15/99 6/32
First Downs 0 5 8 2
3rd Downs 0/3 4/6 3/4 0/3
Time of Possession 4:32 10:28 9:03 5:57
Average Yards/Play -0.7 4.6 6.5 3.4

Do note Michigan nominally scored just seven points in the first quarter despite that touchdown early in the second quarter for Michigan coming off the punt return and penalty that ended the first quarter. Beyond that, the statistics are quite lopsided from one quarter to the next.

Ohio State had -6 total yards of offense, including -12 rushing yards, in the first quarter. Michigan, by contrast, had 105 total yards and 51 rushing yards that same quarter. Thereafter, Ohio State had 123 yards of total offense in the second quarter, 99 of which were on the ground. By contrast, Michigan had just 41 total yards in the second quarter.

Ohio State had zero first downs in the first quarter to Michigan's five. In the second quarter, Ohio State had eight first downs to Michigan's two.

The third-down differentials are interesting as well. One sad fact of this game is Michigan has one of the worst third-down offenses in the country (No. 104 after this week). It converts just 34.68% of its third-down opportunities. However, Michigan had its best third-down conversion game on the season, converting nine of 17 (52.94%) opportunities. You saw that in the first quarter for Michigan, but incidentally not in the second.

Again, there were any number of stories from Ohio State's 31-20 win. If you want a synopsis that avoids proper nouns and calling out particular players, look at the first and second quarters. Michigan could've knocked Ohio State out after 15 minutes but that second quarter belonged to the Buckeyes.

Ohio State Avoided Its Worst Rushing Game of the Season on Its Final Touchdown Drive

I felt pretty good Ohio State was going to win the game after Michigan's turnover on downs with 6:53 left. Granted, that drive ended with a missed field goal from Sean Nuernberger and a puncher's chance for Michigan. However, John O'Korn's interception effectively sealed it.

By that point, I was checking the live stats and noticed Michigan was likely going to hold Ohio State to its worst rushing game on the season. It was always going to hold Ohio State to its worst yards/carry average this season (4.71), beating the previous worst in the Oklahoma loss (4.91).

Fortunately, Ohio State avoided its worst rushing game on the season in total yards on its last drive. That three-play, 66-yard touchdown drive put Ohio State from 160 rushing yards for the game to the 226 rushing yards it had by the final whistle.

Ohio State's rushes vs. Michigan 2017
Ohio State was poised for its worst rushing game on the season until the final touchdown drive.

In other words, Ohio State "back-doored" to avoiding its worst rushing game this season. It took advantage of Michigan effectively giving up the game after John O'Korn's interception. The Wolverines defense did its part but conceded that touchdown drive knowing a Michigan loss was a fait accompli by that point.

Using Michigan to Size Up Wisconsin

Michigan is a conspicuous opponent for Ohio State right now because the Wolverines concluded its regular season with both Big Ten Championship Game opponents. As such, we can use Michigan as an imperfect measuring stick for how the Buckeyes might match up against Wisconsin on Saturday.

Ohio State and Wisconsin vs. Michigan, 2017
Metric Ohio State Wisconsin
Score 31-20 24-10
Rush Off. vs. Michigan 48 carries, 226 yards (4.71), 3 TDs 40 carries, 182 yards (4.55), 1 TD
Rush Def. vs. Michigan 36 carries, 100 yards (2.78), 2 TDs 37 carries, 58 yards (1.57), 1 TD
Pass Off. vs. Michigan 9/15 (60%), 124 yards, 1-0 TD/INT 9/19 (47.4%), 143 yards, 1-1 TD/INT
Pass Def. vs. Michigan 17/32 (53.1%), 195 yards, 1-1 TD/INT 11/26 (42.3%), 176 yards, 0-0 TD/INT

Both games were roughly similar in outcomes. Wisconsin beat Michigan by 14 in Madison whereas Ohio State beat Michigan by 11 in Ann Arbor. We can importantly quibble that Wisconsin had a special teams touchdown in its win and that Brandon Peters was the starter in that contest but we're not claiming this to be the perfect instrument. Indeed, we could select Iowa as a mutual opponent and note Ohio State would get killed by Wisconsin.

Regardless, the two different performances against Michigan underscore a casual observation about Ohio State's opponent on Saturday. Wisconsin likely has the better defense. Its defense held Michigan to fewer passing yards and rushing yards. This makes sense when you realize that Wisconsin has the No. 1 total defense in the country (236.9ypg).

Ohio State is no slouch on defense (291.8ypg, No. 8 total defense) but the Buckeyes have a greater variation from game to game. Indeed, the standard deviation for Wisconsin from game to game is around 80 yards. For Ohio State: around 130 yards. Qualify that as you see fit by referencing Wisconsin's schedule vis-a-vis Ohio State and you'll just be softening a harsh truth Wisconsin has the better and more consistent defense this year.

Yet, Ohio State probably has the better offense. The Buckeyes started abysmally against Michigan and still out-gained an otherwise fantastic Wisconsin rushing offense against that common opponent. Wisconsin managed just 19 more passing yards with an even worse completion rate despite not losing its starting quarterback to a meniscus injury. That Ohio State's offense did more damage against Michigan than Wisconsin did should lend some optimism the Buckeyes could contain Wisconsin's powerful offense on Saturday.

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