By the Numbers
By Jeff Amey
Ohio State travelled to Illinois this week and came away with a result that left a lot of people scratching their head and wondering what might have gone wrong. Despite a 17-10 win, to some people, this game ended up feeling more like a loss than a win. Is the sky falling? Should we all be worried as the Buckeyes travel again this week to Northwestern? Could it be that Ohio State will have wasted one of the best starts in Buckeye football history by faltering down the stretch before they even reach the Michigan game? The answer to all of those questions is almost definitely no.
Let's take a look at the Illinois stats (be sure to put the children to bed before you start...these are R-rated). Then we'll get into some of the how's and why's of the struggles the offense went through this week.
70 Plays--225 yards--3.2 ypp
23 pass (33%)--13/23 for 107 yards one INT
47 runs (67%) for 118 yards 2 TD--2.5 ypc
ave. of 5.8 plays--18.8 yards
ave. start--OSU 37
First Down--28 plays (40%) for 86 yards
Eight pass (29%)--5/8 for 31 yards
20 runs (71%) for 55 yards--2.8 ypc
ave. gain of 3.1 yards
Second Down--24 plays (34%) for 82 yards
six pass (25%)--4/6 for 33 yards
18 runs (75%) for 49 yards--2.7 ypc
ave. of 8.3 yards to go
ave. gain of 3.4 yards
Third Down--17 plays (24%) for 55 yards
nine pass (53%)--4/9 for 43 yards one INT
eight runs (47%) for 12 yards one TD--1.5 ypc
ave. of 8.0 yards to go
ave. gain of 3.2 yards
Fourth Down--1 play (1%) for 2 yards
one run (100%) for 2 yards 1 TD--2.0 ypc
ave. of 1.0 yards to go
ave. gain of 2.0 yards
1/3 for 16 yards 1 INT
nine by run
six by pass
one by penalty
Two-back formations--31 plays (44%)
three pass (10%)--2/3 for 10 yards 1 INT
28 runs (90%) for 70 yards 2 TD--2.5 ypc
Shotgun formations--25 plays (36%)
15 pass (60%)--10/15 for 87 yards
10 runs (40%) for 35 yards--3.5 ypc
One-back formations--14 plays (20%)
five pass (36%)--1/5 for 10 yards
nine runs (64%) for 13 yards--1.4 ypc
RUN TYPE BREAKDOWN--47 attempts
draw--four (9%) for 19 yards--4.8 ypc
QB run/scramble--9 (19%) for 27 yards--3.0 ypc
option--four (9%) for 28 yards--7.0 ypc
power--19 (40%) for 47 yards 2 TD--2.5 ypc
stretch--11 (23%) for -3 yards--(-0.3) ypc
Other Stats of Note
* two offensive penalties for the game
* OSU started on Illinois side of the 50 four times--one TD
* 2/2 in red zone scoring--(two TD)
* three sacks against (one intentional grounding) and two turnovers (one fumble, one INT)
* 34 of 70 plays took place on the Illinois side of the 50--(49%)
* 25 of 70 plays went for no gain or loss--(36%)
* number of OSU drives of seven plays or more--five
* first half OSU offensive output--40 plays for 195 yards--4.9 ypp
* second half OSU offensive output--30 plays for 30 yards--1.0 ypp
* number of EARNED first downs in second half--four
* number of three and out possessions--six (five in second half)
Before we go any further, a lot of credit needs to go to Illinois for the way they played in this game on Saturday. The Illini defense did a very good job of bottling up the Ohio State running game and putting pressure on Troy Smith all game long, but especially in the second half. What was pretty clear through the whole game is that the Illini really wanted this game. Their offense wasn't able to do much with the ball, but their defense kept them in it until the end. Illinois is starting a lot of young players this season, and are much improved over the team that started this season. This might be a team to look out for in the Big Ten for a few years to come.
Switching over to Ohio State, it has been a long time since we had to do a breakdown where the offense didn't look dominant over the course of the game. Since halftime of the Michigan State game in 2005, the offense has been able to move the ball almost at will, outscoring opponents 577-164 over that time up until the game this week. That kind of dominance could not last forever. For the first time since this current main group of offensive players took over the helm of the Buckeye machine, it looked like complacency set in.
While it wasn't very fun to watch the Buckeyes lose momentum to an opposing team, and watch that team maintain it over the course of a full half, it wasn't the end of the world. As ugly as it was, it's also important to realize that this was truly only for the second half of the game. Ohio State, while not completely dominating the first half, controlled the ball for most of it and put up 17 points fairly easily, which could've been more if not for Chris Well's fumble on Ohio State's fourth possession of the game. While the Ohio State offense was rolling up 195 yards of offense in the first half, the Illinois offense struggled to 83 yards and crossed the 50 yard line only once.
Most of the talk about the Ohio State offense this week is going to instead focus on the second half, and the Buckeye's offensive struggles during it. It was a very ugly half for the offense in just about every way possible. The stats don't lie. The Buckeyes gained four first downs, gave up two sacks, threw an interception, and were held to three and out possessions five times out of seven in the half. The Buckeyes squeaked out only nine yards of passing on eight second half passing attempts as well. So the question is...After blowing through every other opponent this season, what happened against Illinois?
The answer to that question is pretty complex, but the underlying answer to it all is that it should be nothing to get too worried about. For one thing, it all starts up front for any team, and it was no different in this case. As good as the offensive line has been over the past two seasons (it has been one of the main reasons the OSU offense has been dominant), the O-line did not have a very good game against Illinois. Things weren't all that bad in the first half, but in the second half, they were getting beaten on play after play all across the front. It was apparent that Alex Boone was missed at left tackle, but it was far from just his absence that was the problem.
Did the Illinois defense really do anything all that creatively different to stymie the Buckeye offensive attack and render the offensive line ineffective? Of course not. The Buckeyes came out in this game with the same drive on their running plays as normal, but coming out of halftime with a 17 point lead, the line didn't seem to have the same fire as it did, and as a result were dominated by a defense that seemed to want it more than they did. There is a lot that can be learned from this mainly because the downside of it all was that Troy Smith took a lot more hits in the second half than he does normally this season.
If you look at the play-by-play of the OSU offense in the second half, you'll see that the Buckeyes ran the ball on first down every time but one (a three yard loss on a screen pass). What you won't see is that at the beginning of the second half, the Buckeyes ran the SAME PLAY on first down four straight times (out of different formations) for a grand total of one yard. It was clear that the Illinois defense was doing a very good job getting penetration on Ohio State's stretch plays, but the Buckeyes kept calling them (11 times for -3 yards in the game...seven of those called in second half). Part of the problem with the Ohio State offense in the second half has to be the coaching staff, who also seemed to get a little complacent and stubborn with the play-calling.
A big turning point in this game was Chris Wells' fumble in the second quarter as the Buckeyes were putting together another good drive with the score 14-0. This play ended up being much more than just a turnover in this game. Wells did not re-enter the game after the fumble, leaving Antonio Pittman to pick up the slack on his way to a career high in carries with 32, and Troy Smith adding a little more than usual this season in the running game, ending the game with a season high 11 carries (3 of those sacks...2 option runs). Pittman seemed to tire a bit as the game wore on, which may have aided in the decision to shut the offense down near the beginning of the fourth quarter. What does Chris Wells' absence from the lineup along with Maurice Wells' shoulder injury mean to the future of the running game for the Buckeyes? Next week's game with the Wildcats should be very enlightening.
Lastly, what didn't really come across very well in the TV coverage of the game was that the weather conditions weren't all that great for this game. There was a pretty steady wind throughout the game (Illinois' stadium is famous for its windy conditions), and it rained lightly at different points in the game. It's not really much of an excuse, but it probably did a little bit to influence the coaching staff to pull in the reigns of the offense and lower the risk factor in the playcalling with the Buckeyes enjoying a double digit lead for much of the game.
There's little to be said about the other facets of the Ohio State offense this week. Troy Smith did not have a very good game statistically, but seemed to be affected with the same general malaise the offense had in the second half. He had a pretty good first half, going 10 of 15 for 99 yards. The receivers were pretty much held in check the second half, but had their usual type of game up until halftime. The top three receivers all got in the act, with Robiskie, Gonzalez, and Ginn all getting two or more catches. The only three passes caught by Buckeye receivers in the second half were all screen passes that didn't gain much yardage.
The credit for this win has to go to the defense more than anyone else. We talk about the Ohio State offense struggling this week, but what is lost in the discussion is that the Illinois offense barely outgained the Buckeye offense, and put up most of that offense late in the fourth quarter when the game was almost out of reach for them. Illinois quarterbacks combined to go 14 for 35 passing for only 134 yards, and the Illini running game didn't reach the 100 yard plateau for the entire team combined. The Buckeyes also dominated time of possession by twelve and a half minutes.
It seems every week this group only gets better, and has really become a strength on the team. Did the defense's dominance have anything to do with the complacency in the second half? It's hard to tell, but it's not out of the realm of possibility here. It is truly amazing how far things have come on this side of the ball. A lot has been made of the Michigan defense this season, but it's starting to look like November 18 will feature two of the best defenses in the nation instead of just one.
There are a lot of opinions about this past game floating around out there, such as this game was kept close on purpose by the coaching staff so the team had experience in tight games, or that the coaching staff didn't want to show much offense in this game because Michigan will only get game film from Ohio State's prior two games. There might be a little truth to the second of those two theories (and there are many more out there, these are just two of the most prevalent), but I doubt that is the full story. I don't think the coaching plan was for the offense to struggle to just over 200 yards and 17 points, and I don't think the coaching staff is going to be very happy in team meetings this week with the play in the second half, no matter how bland the play-calling might have been.
It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes react to the Illinois game against Northwestern this upcoming Saturday. The game against Illinois sucked a lot of confidence out of the Buckeye fan-base, but the question is going to be whether or not it affected the team at all. If anything can be learned from this game, it's that the Buckeyes aren't good enough to go to sleep on offense for a game and easily win, even against inferior competition. I think this is just the kind of wake-up call the Buckeyes needed heading into these final two regular season games, and we'll see a much different team out on the field this week against the Wildcats.