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Opponent Defense Preview: Ohio State

Like the USC of the B1G, if USC didn’t suck so bad.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Intros suck; moving on.

Personnel and What to Expect

Ohio State’s defense is kind of a funky case.

On one hand, their front four are 11th in the country in pass rush (averaging three per game) and 26th in tackles for loss (averaging 7.2 per game) with a secondary including Shaun Wade, who allowed less than 50% of targets to be complete. Yet they also allow 234 passing yards per game for 7.18 yards per attempt (83rd in the country). Yet yet, that same less-than-shut-down secondary tightens up when it comes to scoring points, allowing 17 passing touchdowns, far less than statistically comparable passing yardage defenses. (For those of you who’d like context, Washington allows 5.74 yards per attempt and 184 passing yards per game, along with nine touchdowns through the air.)

While OSU isn’t incredibly likely to force a turnover in the air, they make up for on the ground; they’re 11th in the country in fumble recoveries with 12 in 13 games.

Yet despite having an affinity for forcing and recovering fumbles, the Buckeyes are only 60th in the country in rushing yards per game allowed, giving up on average 160 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns on the year plus 4.59 yards per rush.

Finally, where OSU struggles the most is in the red zone, where they allow an 89.7% scoring percentage for opponents; two-thirds of opponents’ red zone trips end in touchdowns. This is almost certainly the worst statistic they can provide: good — or not, rather — for 118th in the country. For a program that is known to more often than not kick ass, being 118th in the country in any statistic isn’t something I thought I’d find.

In the end, all these boring stats come down to one important one: The Buckeyes allow 25.7 points per game so, knowing Washington’s statistically, perfectly average offense, will score exactly that, right down to the decimal.

Alright, that’s enough of stats, and I apologize profusely for including so much of them.

The basic stuff of OSU is to expect to see primarily 4-2-5 split often with a 4-3. And regardless of which they pick to go by more often against UW, who really cares — whether nickel or not, you’re almost always gonna see the Buckeyes in a 1-gap scheme. They also really like to line up guys quite far on the edge, what looked like beyond seven tech. It’s a fun time.

Speaking of the edge, if you weren’t paying attention, OSU lost edge rusher Nick Bosa pretty early in the season, which begs the question: Hi, OSU, care to share a Bosa with the rest of us? (The answer’s no, probably.) It also begs the question: Who fills in?

It’s not like the backups and ensemble cast are starved for talent; the two-deep of the front four includes three five stars and a bunch of other guys who were highly recruited for a reason. Remember back to that whole “11th in the country in sacks and 26th in TFLs” stat? Yeah. Furthermore, the vast majority of contributors up front are fourth-year juniors, with only former Bishop Gorman star Haskell Garrett, defensive end Chase Young, and Tyreke Smith any younger. Essentially, the first line of defense is super talented and experienced. Deal with it.

While this unit is quite stellar at producing havoc in the passing game, against the run they’re somewhat boom or bust, with any given hand-off seeming to either A) be stopped at or before the line of scrimmage or B) end up going for a fat chunk of yards. This seems to me to be the most clearly weird part of the defense, with both the film and the high rate of TFLs yet ironically high amount of yards given up corroborating each other.

Behind the front four, the linebackers are perhaps the least “talented” of the defense, with — can you believe this — three whole players that weren’t rated .90 or above as recruits. Ha, what scrubs! Can you imagine having a unit on defense with three full three stars in the two-deep? Of course you can’t, nerd. *Cries in Pac-12*

Tuf Borland and Baron Browning are the first and second string, respectively, in the middle, while Malik Harrison and Pete Werner have the outside covered, with Keandre Jones and fifth year was-maybe-gonna-retire-or-transfer-but-then-didn’t senior Dante Booker the second strings on the outside.

In the film I saw, Harrison seemed to have a particular affinity for closing running lanes that otherwise looked like a sure thing for a running back. Furthermore, while this defense as a whole underperforms pretty significantly for the level of athletes they have on the field, the linebackers, although imperfect, can pretty quickly shut down an offense if there’s no air threat. This was pretty clear against Northwestern and in the latter parts of the Michigan game, although especially against Northwestern given the talent gap. Compounding this talent advantage was the fact that Northwestern had pretty much no ability to push the ball downfield, and OSU clearly knew that.

While imperfect and prone, as previously mentioned, to giving up big plays, the linebackers really can shut things down when they don’t respect a passing game.

Behind them, the defensive backs are, again, a group of mega highly-rated athletes; CB Kendall Sheffield, a former Bama player, is, per the internet — and this is the scientific term for it — really f***ing fast, the aforementioned safety Shaun Wade is versatile enough to play more like a corner when needed and shuts opposing receivers down more often than not, then there’s Jordan Fuller, Damon Arnette, plus the second string of guys like Brendan White, Amir Riep, and former All-World recruit Jeffrey Okudah.

Not to mention, their two-deep defensive backs’ recruiting rating coming out of high school — an imperfect value, but helpful in large sample sizes and typically accurate when comparing talent that’s disparate — averaged .94, compared to Washington’s five starters’ average of .87. (This number goes up to .953 when you take out the secondary’s lone three star.)

Like previously mentioned, the secondary has the athletes that should — and can, against significantly inferior talent — shut teams down. And on plenty of plays and drives, they do; the second half of the Michigan game, the Wolverines just looked like they were giving up, or at least horrifically anemic. But again, they just... Aren’t consistent, or spatially disciplined, or whatever it is, enough.

Still, this Ohio State defense isn’t the USC of the B1G, whose motto would probably be something like “Talented as crap and blowing it all.” (I say USC since they’re the most comparable team in the Pac, athlete-wise.) If USC hordes all the West Coast talent and then promptly wastes it with exactly zero development of its players and subsequently blows their whole season, Ohio State hordes all the talent and then develops it just enough to not totally screw it up for their high-flying offense, and even to occasionally take command of a game.

In other words, the Buckeyes could either suffocate a mediocre offense (See: State, Michigan) or almost ruin the season to a mediocre offense (See: Maryland). But whatever happens, they’re better athletes than your team so long as “your team” isn’t Bama or Clemson, and you’re gonna see that on display.

Lastly, if you’re interested, here’s a big fat message I sent out to the other UWDP writers a couple weeks ago regarding some fun advanced stats about the teams’ defensive and offensive performances. And by advanced stats, I mean “mostly unadvanced stats.” Check it out, or don’t:

So, got distracted and did some digging on OSU and UW’s metrics -- looking at the latter half of each team’s season, OSU won their games by an average score of 33-29, while UW won their games by an average score of 24-16 (not including OT scoring so the official scores at the end of regulation, just to keep variables constant). If you then go by those numbers and say OSU’s PPG averaged with UW’s Opponent Avg PPG, they should score ~24.5 in the Rose Bowl, while vice versa UW should score 26.5...

I thought that was all I was gonna do, then the rabbit hole sucked me in even more and I averaged OSU and UW’s average points scored above opponents’ average points given up during that same time span, with OSU scoring on average 6.38 points more in regulation (Michigan game notwithstanding since that was an outlier from the second highest value by almost 25 points) than their opponent’s scoring defense averages, with UW scoring on average 1.23 points less in regulation than their opponent’s scoring defense averages. If you plug those in next to OSU and UW’s scoring defense, that means UW should score ~24.5 and OSU should score ~21.9.

Then doing the same thing but with how much they limit the opponent’s scoring relative to said opponent’s average offensive output, OSU’s opponents’ offenses perform almost completely to their average — scoring between .0003 more and .325 more, while UW’s opponent’s offenses score on average 13.83 points less than their otherwise average output. With those numbers plugged in to UW and OSU’s scoring offenses, that means OSU should score ~29.7 and UW should score ~26.7.

So pretty much, in two of these analyses UW wins, and in one OSU wins. If we combine all of them, UW scores 25.9 and OSU scores 25.4.

I’m still gonna write my official prediction in as OSU winning cuz they have an insane talent advantage and generally scare me and also I’ve convinced myself that me predicting UW will win bowl games is what jynxes them to lose them but still... TIL.

Bottom Line

As always, Washington’s offense is going to rely on its run (duh), and should have a decent amount of success doing so, so long as the passing game isn’t totally worthless. If the latter happens, then OSU’s typically inconsistent run defense will in all likelihood take control of the game, and the Dawgs’ll be screwed.

Furthermore, the turnover battle is completely strength versus strength: Washington almost never gives up the ball via fumbles — especially if a certain Mr. Gaskin is playing — while giving it up in the air not infrequently, while Ohio State recovers fumbles a bunch and doesn’t have a lot of interceptions.

If you’re a Husky fan, prepare yourself for plenty of running plays that get blown up followed by running plays that go for 20. In the passing game’s version of this, there’ll probably be a couple of painful sacks of Jake, followed by plays where the pass rush blows lane discipline and gives him yards to run. In other words, you know, the definition of inconsistent. In the end, though, OSU has the athletes to usually make up for these mistakes, while UW does *ahem* not.

As always, any Buckeyes fans feel free to chime in with your thoughts, or call me mean names like “turd-for-brains” or “ugh I hate her.”

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.