Analytics Show Buckeyes Were Dominant In 2014

Ohio State won the national championship last year, so we knew they were good, but a look at the advanced stats shows just where the Buckeyes most excelled.

Noted football analytics expert Bill Connelly's SB Nation previews of each team are required reading each year for fans, and even us media folk who think they know a lot about the teams they cover can learn something each year when looking at his easy-to-digest summer breakdowns.

So just like I did last year, when I wrote a "things I learned from Bill" piece, I've decided to pen something from what can be learned from his 2014-15 Ohio State breakdown published today.

As someone who has tried to keep up with the analytics revolution in all sports, I believe some of the stats that Connelly and his crew at Football Outsiders have developed help illuminate the game in new ways. Football Outsiders is a constant source of data throughout the year along with sites like CFBStats.com that break down stats in new and deeper ways, and I've tried to use that in my writing each season when appropriate to show what the Buckeyes are both good and bad at.

For Ohio State, that means this season's look back is all about categorizing just how good the Buckeyes were. After OSU won its last 13 games to capture the national title, there wasn't much to be learned other than just how good the Buckeyes were as they decimated their schedule after an early-season loss to Virginia Tech.

There were a few surprises -- the way the team's run defense fared, for example, or the analytics' inconsistent view of the win vs. Alabama -- but by and large the stats compiled together by Connelly showed that the Buckeyes simply mowed down the competition last year.

So here are the take-home messages from this year as I look at Connelly's preseason preview, and be sure to check it out yourself.

Ohio State was really, really good in 2015
OK, this one is kind of silly to start with, but the way the Buckeyes played throughout much of the season was at a ridiculously high level.

The 2014 schedule and results chart included is eye-popping. 10 of Ohio State's games received percentile performance grades of at least 90 percent. Adjusted scoring margin, which according to Connelly is "intended to tell us how a team would have fared in a given week against a perfectly average opponent with average breaks," put the Buckeyes at at least two-touchdown victors in every game after the Virginia Tech contest, including +86.5 over Wisconsin (!) and +47.7 points over Oregon. The Buckeyes' win expectancy hit 100 percent in five games and was over 90 percent in six others.

The only game that skewed some of the marks was Alabama, in which OSU had a 74% percentile performance, an adjusted scoring margin of +14.9 (good but not great numbers) and thus given Alabama's quality had only an 18 percent predicted winning percentage. I can't quite intuitively figure out why considering OSU won the yardage battle, had more yards per play, was better on third down and won the turnover battle just 3-2, but that's an argument we can have another day.

Throw out that game and this was a team that eviscerated most competition. Simply put, the Buckeyes were a machine last year.

That Wisconsin game was ridiculous
According to Connelly, the Buckeyes adjusted scoring margin (which takes into account the game stats aside from score) vs. Wisconsin of +86.5 was by far the best performance of the year. Second was Alabama's +72.8 margin vs. Texas A&M in the Tide's 59-0 decimation of the Aggies.

According to Connelly, the game "belongs in a museum," and it's hard to argue that. The stats from that game almost sound like something out of a snuff film. Not only did Ohio State win 59-0, the Buckeyes outgained Wisconsin 558-258. They had 301 yards rushing to Wisconsin's 71, and let's not forget the Badgers boasted one of the best rushing attacks in the nation coming in. Wisconsin averaged 4.3 yards per pass attempt and threw three picks; Ohio State averaged 14.3 yards and had three passing TDs. Ohio State had 10 kickoffs to Wisconsin's one. The Buckeyes added three sacks and also averaged 10 more yards per punt. OSU had six plays of 30 or more yards; Wisconsin had zero.

I don't think it can be argued -- it was the best front-to-back performance in Ohio State history, given the stakes and the opponent. It was, in essence, the perfect game.

The offense was efficient and explosive
We knew the Buckeyes were good on offense last year, but there was a bit of a sense that in some ways they didn't quite match the 2013 outfit (they finished just shy of that team's school-record mark of points per game, for example).

But according to the advanced stats, when adjusted for opponent quality, the Buckeyes were No. 1 in the nation in both explosiveness (IsoPPP) and efficiency (Success rate of each play). This is a pretty stunning result, I think, because some offenses are known for their ruthless efficiency while others are known for big plays, but few combine both into the kind of machine that just shreds teams. According to further numbers, Ohio State was among the top 10 teams in the nation in rushing efficiency and explosiveness, passing efficiency and explosiveness, performance in the first quarter, second quarter and third quarter, and performance on all three downs.

Ohio State did that, too, while also finishing first in the nation in field position. The Buckeyes were a machine, and this was after losing Braxton Miller just 12 days before the first game. It's almost impossible to quantify how impressive this is.

The pass defense was elite last year
Last offseason, the narrative was that the Buckeyes needed to get better at stopping teams through the air, and that was obviously true as Ohio State ceded the second most yards per game passing in 2013 in program history.

Fast-forward a year and the team's major scheme overhaul didn't just work, it passed with flying colors. When it comes to passing defense, Ohio State was eighth in the nation in S&P+ (which is an overall metric measuring both explosiveness and efficiency), eighth in Success Rate (just that, the percentage of plays in each down-and-distance that are defined as a success), ninth in PPP+ (adjusted points per play) and 11th in the nation in passing down efficiency.

Simply put, when opponents had to pass, it often didn't go well. The Buckeyes were a very good pass-rushing team and had a ball-hawking secondary, things we already knew from traditional stats. The team's havoc rate, which tracks what percentage of opposing plays ends in a negative play (such as a sack, interception, etc.) of 20 percent was 11th in the nation. The only place teams seemed to have consistent success vs. Ohio State was in the run game (42nd in S&P+, 45th in Success Rate, 47th in adjusted line yards and 38th in PPP+), but those numbers will work if you can stop teams through the air and score better than anyone else in the nation.


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