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A closer look at the IU-Ohio State game through advanced stats

The Hoosiers’s big-play rate and ability to get first downs and touchdowns on first down essentially matched that of the Buckeyes

Indiana v Ohio State
IU quarterback Michael Penix Jr. throws a pass during the third quarter of Saturday’s game.
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

How’s everyone feeling? Good? Or at least, good enough?

If you’re emotionally ready, grab a chair and let’s discuss IU’s 42-35 loss to No. 3 Ohio State.

If you’re an IU fan, which feels like it might be a term that could broadly apply to about half of the fan bases nationally given the Hoosiers’s start to the season, there are reasons to be encouraged after yesterday’s showing, and not in the moral victory, rah-rah, IU-didn’t-get-blown-out sense. It was like being named a finalist as a job candidate for a position for which you weren’t quite qualified enough and ultimately not getting the job. Sure, the final result isn’t what you wanted if you’re an IU fan, but there was some real substance and a proof of concept there that suggests the next time a big job opens, you might get that one.

CQ went through the play-by-play of the game, fired up Google Sheets and cranked out some numbers, to help better understand what happened yesterday – the good, the bad and the 40-yard plays for both teams.

Note: Success rate is defined as gaining 50 percent of the yards needed for a first down on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth downs.

The number of possessions is included in parentheses. IU’s end-of-half knee wasn’t included.

When Indiana was on offense

Success rate (number of snaps on each down in parentheses)

  • 1st down: 36.7% (30)
  • 2nd down: 35.0% (20)
  • 3rd down: 30.8% (13)
  • 4th down: 33.3% (3)

Well, Indiana was consistent across the board on Saturday in terms of its success rate, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing when the numbers were in the mid-to-low 30s. For the game, the Hoosiers’s overall success rate was 34.9 percent, and the team’s success rate on any individual down was plus or minus four percent of its overall average for the game.

Indiana, obviously, benefited from explosive plays. Its longest drive of the game was 10 plays, when the Hoosiers marched 75 yards in response to Shaun Wade’s pick-six. By the way, those were the only points Ohio State scored in the final 27 minutes of the game, as IU outscored Ohio State 28-14 after halftime and shut out the Buckeyes’ offense on its last six drives.

Big-play rate

  • 10+ yards: 27.3%
  • 20+ yards: 9.1%

Despite IU’s stop-and-start nature of its offense – where it finished with -1 rushing yards (including sacks and a fumbled snap) but still put up 491 passing yards – the Hoosiers went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes in terms of big plays.

More than a quarter of IU’s snaps (27.3%) resulted in gains of at least 10 yards. Ohio State’s offense had a 28.8-percent rate, so only slightly better than IU. Nine percent of the Hoosiers’s offensive plays resulted in gains of at least 20 yards, ever so slightly outpacing the Buckeyes at 8.8 percent.

So, while Justin Fields’s 65-yard connection to Garrett Wilson on the Buckeyes’s first play on offense was soul-crushing for IU fans, similar to Master Teague III’s 41-yard scamper for a touchdown, IU essentially matched Ohio State big play for big play during the afternoon.

First-down production

If we combine the previous two categories – success rate and big-play rate – and look at the Hoosiers on first down, IU’s offense was both boom-or-bust and lethal. The Hoosiers’s 36.7-percent success rate certainly leaves some to be desired, but the Hoosiers picked up a first down or scored a touchdown on 30 percent of their snaps on first down. They averaged 10.5 yards on first down plays, which outpaced Ohio State’s mark of 7.9 yards per first-down play.

That’s because IU’s big plays almost always came on first down:

  • Michael Penix Jr.’s 68-yard pass to Miles Marshall
  • Penix’s 51-yard pass to David Ellis
  • Penix’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Ty Fryfogle
  • Penix’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Fryfogle
  • Penix’s 25-yard pass to Fryfogle

With the exception of Fryfogle’s 56-yard touchdown reception on second down, almost all of IU’s explosive plays came on first down. I believe Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt mentioned on the FOX broadcast how Ohio State started the game with scripted plays in which the Buckeyes were repeatedly looking for the kill shot, and their two-play, 75-yard drive the first time they touched the ball indicated that it might be a sustainable approach.

Ultimately, the Buckeyes settled into a rhythm of letting Master Teague III seemingly fall forward for five yards on some of his worst carries, and score from 41 yards out on his best. Justin Fields’ mobility and escapability in the pocket was as dangerous as ever, and Trey Sermon made the most of his nine carries.

But as it turns out, whether by design or not, IU’s offense often operated in a way over the course of a game that would seem more characteristic of Ohio State’s first-half plans, where the Hoosiers and offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan weren’t afraid to take shots on first down. Maybe they had no choice, especially given how much Ohio State stifled IU’s rushing attack to the tune of 12 attempts for 27 yards (when you remove yards lost on sacks, IU’s end-of-half kneel down and the yards lost on a bad snap in the first quarter).

It’s unlikely there will be another IU game all season that matches the pass-run imbalance of IU’s 53 pass attempts (including sacks) versus its 12 true rushing attempts, but it weirdly may not matter much if IU has to be so pass-heavy, as long as Michael Penix Jr. continues playing like a quarterback that Pro Football Focus believes is one of the 10 best in the sport, and as long as Ty Fryfogle continues to play like a legitimate Biletnikoff Award finalist.

There were six possessions on Saturday in which IU didn’t run the ball once, including its 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive the started late in the third quarter and that ended early in the fourth with a 16-yard David Ellis touchdown reception. Sure, that was late in the game when IU was facing a 21-point deficit against a superior opponent, but it showed that when IU needs points, and even a methodical drive, it’s going to pass – and pass a lot.

Stevie Scott III was more dangerous as a receiver than as a runner on Saturday, and while Davis Ellis’s fumble and a dropped pass the play before Shaun Wade’s pick-six will mark two clear what-if moments for the Hoosiers, the versatile Ellis set a career-high in receiving yards, so IU has shown a willingness to set up members of its backfield as receiving threats, too.

When Indiana was on defense

Success rate (number of snaps on each down in parentheses)

  • 1st down: 52.5% (40)
  • 2nd down: 48.0% (25)
  • 3rd down: 42.9% (14)
  • 4th down: 0.0% (1)

IU’s defense played progressively better on each down, in terms of success rate. More than half the time, Ohio State picked up at least half of the necessary yards on first down and the Buckeyes’s success rate on second down wasn’t much worse, at 48 percent.

While those percentages won’t have Tom Allen or Kane Wommack celebrating this week, the Hoosiers’s overall performance on third and fourth down is commendable.

While a season-long defensive third-down percentage of 42.9 percent would only rank 84th nationally, the Buckeyes’s offense ranks fifth nationally in third-down conversion percentage after Saturday at 54.4 percent. So, prior to playing IU, Ohio State was converting more than 58 percent of the time on third down – roughly 15 percentage points better than it fared against IU.

A 43 percent defensive third-down conversion percentage isn’t sustainable for a top-flight defense over the course of a season, but against the Big Ten’s Death Star, you’ll probably take it.

It shouldn’t be overlooked, either, how important the IU defense’s 1-for-1 mark on fourth-down was to the game and its lasting narrative. Ohio State had the chance to go up by 10 points with less than six minutes remaining, but instead, Ohio State coach Ryan Day elected to go for the knockout punch. Instead, IU’s defense was the one that delivered the blow, holding the Buckeyes to runs of four yards, two yards and three yards, before Justin Fields’s 4th-and-1 pass to Luke Farrell fell incomplete and Ohio State’s drive stalled on IU’s 7-yard line.

When this game is discussed for years to come, which it almost certainly will be among IU fans, it will be remembered for IU’s furious comeback and the fact that the Hoosiers had the final possession with the chance to tie the game or to even take the lead, if they were to drive down the field and score in the final 34 seconds. Let’s not get it twisted, IU’s offense never really threatened Ohio State on that last drive, but the facts of the last sentence remain, and that’s because of IU’s fourth-down stop on defense.