Things Got a Little Weird Statistically in 2017 for Ohio State Football, and if History is Any Indication, So Will 2018

By Johnny Ginter on August 17, 2018 at 10:20 am
Former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett

In football (and any sport, really), the idea that a balanced offense and a consistent defense leads to wins is basically the ultimate dogma of every micromanaging control freak head coach that ever lived. And for the most part, it's true; if you can pass and run the ball with equal success and also be average-to-good on defense, you're going to win a lot of games.

Which is, you know, fine. I guess. I don't watch college football for predictable consistency. If I wanted that, I'd watch the ol' National "Regression to the Norm" Football League more often than "I'm feeling masochistic and the Bengals are on CBS in a late afternoon game." I watch college football precisely because of its unpredictability and rejection of any attempt to normalize it beyond getting the ball in in the end zone for points.

And the truth of the matter is that you can score points and win games without really needing to follow all of those hoary old mantras about taking care of the ball and being balanced and whatever else your 7th grade Pee Wee football coach yelled at you. The 2014 National Championship-winning Ohio State Buckeyes lost the turnover battle five times and won all five of those games, including their glorious victory over the Oregon Ducks.

Of course, the problem is, you can't really throw logic to the wind unless you've got overwhelming talent and incredible coaching.

Oh hey, Ohio State has that! Turns out that maybe general weirdness is a feature of college football, not a bug. Let's see how weird things got in 2017 to see how weird they might turn out in 2018!


In 2017, Ohio State was able to hold their opponents to a pretty respectable 32% third down conversion rate, but one team ended up being able to convert on over 50% of their third down conversions against the Buckeyes. It wasn't Oklahoma, or Penn State, or even Iowa (although of those three PSU came the closest).

Turns out the Michigan Wolverines were able to keep the chains moving the most against the Buckeyes, converting 9 of 17 third downs. Those nine conversions were the most by any team all season, tied with, uh... Indiana.

Ohio State had 10 third down conversions twice last season, and which was especially funny against Nebraska where they were 10 for 13 on getting out of third down.


Ohio State had a typically great rushing attack in 2017, in every situation that I could find except for literally one. On third down situations with 4-6 yards to go, Ohio State's runners averaged a measly 2.76 yards per carry, despite averaging 5.78 yards per carry overall.

Defensively, if you're remembering that Iowa torched Ohio State on the ground, you are indeed correct; Army was unsurprisingly second, but the real shock was which team got the bronze medal for taking it to the Buckeyes via the running game: UNLV, with 176 yards. That's more than Penn State and USC had against Ohio State combined.


Maybe I buried the lede a bit, because some of the stats from the passing offense and defense are just completely bonkers and were by far my favorite part about compiling this whole thing.

I want to start with overall passing defense, because while the fact that Ohio State prevented their opponents from completing at least five passes in an entire game three times during the season, their efforts against Maryland (where the Terps completed only 3 of 13 passes for just 16 yards) were historic. As far as I can tell, that's the most dominant passing defense in at least a decade, and that includes the times that the Buckeyes played triple option offense aficionados like the various service academies. Army had more passing yards against Ohio State than Maryland did. Army!

On the flip side, let's talk about the tale of J.D. Spielman, receiver for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Spielman had 200 yards receiving in a losing effort, but holy hell, what a damn effort. Those 200 yards accounted for more receiving than eight of Ohio State's opponents were able to manage during the season, and they came in a 56-14 blowout.

My favorite overall passing game has to be against UNLV, as J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins, and Joe Burrow combined to throw for 474 yards and complete passes to a ridiculous 13 different receivers. Even crazier was that 10 of those guys caught at least two passes.



Outside of the Iowa debacle, I will tell you that here at 11W, the angriest that college football made us in 2017 was in the 11th game of the season against Illinois, as the Fighting Lovie Smiths ruined one of the most amazing runs of luck in college football history.

Up until that point, none of the 27 or so punts kicked by Drue Chrisman had been returned for a single solitary yard. And then the Fighting Illini ruined it. There'd be six other punt returns for varying amounts of yards after that, but the meaningless effort by Illinois to break the streak also broke my heart. Drue was a bright spot in an improving kicking game, except for one little thing, which I've been gleefully keeping track of for several years now.

Since Urban Meyer started coaching at Ohio State, his teams have managed to kick the ball out of bounds 30 times on kickoffs, which might be the single greatest contributor to his latent rage on the field and the single greatest source of laughter for me on football Saturdays. That's almost triple the amount of out of bounds kickoffs by Ohio State's opponents, which is also very funny to me.


Sam Hubbard tied for the national lead in tackles for loss against ranked opponents (8.0). That's cool.

Speaking of which, Ohio State defenders ended up with a very respectable 45 sacks on the season, but what's most impressive (and important) is the fact that 24 of them came in the final five games of the year. Particularly the eight levied against USC's Sam Darnold.

Oh, and no one from Ohio State registered 100 tackles in a season for the first time since 2011.


  • Oklahoma had 27 first downs against Ohio State. That's the most all season. Yeesh.
  • Second most? Indiana. Seriously. They had 22 through the air alone.
  • The Buckeyes ran only 55 plays against USC. That's tied for second-fewest in the Urban Meyer era.
  • But it pales against the 40 plays that Tressel's 2009 squad ran in their 31-13 defeat of Wisconsin.
  • The -4 turnover margin against Iowa was the worst of Urban Meyer's time at Ohio State. The six other times they were -3? All wins, including the 2014 championship.

Every year brings new weirdness. Here's hoping we see some more for 2018.

Props to both and for the data.

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