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Football
By the Numbers - Mid-Season Report
By Jeff Amey

We've just passed the midway point of the 2009 season, and it's time to take a look at what the offense has done to this point.  The Buckeyes are sporting a 5-2 record, and while that would be a good start for a lot of programs, at Ohio State it has caused a lot of anger and disappointment in the fan base.  The record itself isn't really the thing upsetting Buckeye fans, but how the Buckeyes got to that point.  The offense is in the lower half of most offensive categories and have struggled quite a bit the past two games, losing their first game to a team that won't finish ranked since 2004.

I don't think you will be surprised by very much you see in this column.  The problem areas of the offense are pretty evident, and the grades will bear this out.

Run/Pass Breakdown

427 Total Plays--2,318 yards--5.4 ypp

            61 plays--331.1 yards per game

            167 pass (39%)--93/167 for 1,218 yards  10 TD  8 INT

            23.8 passes for 174 yards per game

            260 runs (61%) for 1,100 yards  9 TD--4.2 ypc

            37.1 runs for 157.1 yards per game

84 Offensive Possessions--12.0 per game

            Ave. of 5.1 plays--27.6 yards

            Ave. Start--OSU 34

First Down--190 plays (44%) for 1,046 yards

            27.1 plays for 149.4 yards per game

            64 pass (34%)--36/64 for 496 yards  1 TD  2 INT

            9.1 passes for 70.9 yards per game

            126 runs (66%) for 540 yards  3 TD--4.3 ypc

            18.0 runs for 77.1 yards per game

            Ave. gain of 5.5 yards

Second Down--142 plays (33%) for 699 yards

            20.2 plays for 99.9 yards per game

            51 pass (36%)--31/51 for 332 yards  3 TD 2 INT

            7.3 passes for 47.4 yards per game

            91 runs (64%) for 367 yards  6 TD--4.0 ypc

            13.0 runs for 52.4 yards per game

            Ave. of 8.1 yards to go

            Ave. gain of 4.9 yards

Third Down--90 plays (21%) for 576 yards

            12.9 plays for 82.3 yards per game

            49 pass (54%)--25/49 for 387 yards  5 TD  4 INT

            7.0 passes for 55.3 yards per game

            41 runs (46%) for 189 yards--4.6 ypc

            5.9 runs for 27.0 yards per game

            Ave. of 7.2 yards to go

            Ave. gain of 6.4 yards

            Conversions--34/90 (38%)

Fourth Down--5 plays (1%) for 7 yards

            3 pass (60%)--1/3 for 3 yards  1 TD

            2 runs (40%) for 4 yards--2.0 ypc

            Ave. of 6.0 yards to go

            Ave gain of 1.4 yards

            Conversions--2/5 (40%)

Playaction Passing

            29/57 for 366 yards  3 TD  3 INT

First Downs Earned--110--15.7 per game

            40 by pass

            64 by run

            6 by penalty

Formation Breakdown

Two Back Formations--88 plays (21%)--12.6 per game

            21 pass (24%)--11/21 for 148 yards  3 TD

            3.0 passes for 21.1 yards per game

            67 runs (76%) for 235 yards  4 TD--3.5 ypc

            9.6 runs for 33.6 yards per game

Shotgun Formations--282 plays (66%)--40.3 per game

            128 pass (45%)--72/128 for 929 yards  6 TD  7 INT

            18.3 passes for 132.7 yards per game

            154 runs (55%) for 756 yards  4 TD--4.9 ypc

            22.0 runs for 108.0 yards per game

One Back Formations--51 plays (12%)--7.3 per game

            18 pass (35%)--10/18 for 141 yards  1 TD  1 INT

            2.6 passes for 20.1 yards per game

            33 runs (65%) for 116 yards  1 TD--3.5 ypc

            4.7 runs for 16.6 yards per game

Victory Formation--6 plays (1%)--0.9 per game

            6 runs (100%) for -7 yards--(-1.2) ypc

RUN TYPE BREAKDOWN--260 attempts

Base/Iso--36 (14%) for 160 yards  1 TD--4.4 ypc

Cross/X--2 (1%) for 9 yards--4.5 ypc

Counter/Trap--11 (4%) for 112 yards--10.2 ypc

Draw--0 (0%)

End Around--2 (1%) for 10 yards--5.0 ypc

Option--36 (14%) for 225 yards  3 TD--6.3 ypc

Power--41 (16%) for 125 yards  2 TD--3.0 ypc

QB run/scramble--66 (25%) for 249 yards  3 TD--3.8 ypc

Stretch--52 (20%) for 180 yards--3.5 ypc

Sweep--5 (2%) for 35 yards--7.0 ypc

TEAM--8 (3%) for -8 yards--(-1.0) ypc

Unknown because of fabulous TV coverage--2 (1%) for 17 yards--8.5 ypc

Other Stats of Note

~ 24 offensive penalties for 150 yards--(3.4 for 21.4 yards per game)

~ OSU has started on opponent's side of the fifty 18 times--57 points (7 TD 3 FG)

~ 21/28 in the Red Zone (75%)--14 TD  7 FG

~ 13 sacks against and 14 turnovers (8 INT 6 fumbles)

~ 230/427 plays have taken place on opponent's side of the 50--(54%)

~ 144/427 plays have went for no gain or loss--(34%)

~ Number of plays of 10+ yards--85 (12.1 per game)

~ Number of 3 and out drives--23/84--(27%)

 

There are only a few things that I found interesting that didn't really show up in those stats.  Since the Buckeye started running a more shotgun-based offense four games ago, they have taken 87% of their snaps from some type of shotgun formation.  Before those four games, it had only been 41% of the snaps.  What I found more interesting was the difference in the offensive numbers in those two separate time frames.

In the first three games, the Buckeyes averaged 382.3 yards per game and 65.3 plays per game.  That was good enough for 5.9 yards per play.  After changing to the shotgun based attack, the offense has averaged only 292.8 yards and 57.8 plays in those four games.  The yards per play also dipped to 5.1.  The shotgun based attack has increased Terrelle Pryor's on-field responsibility quite a bit.  It's really no surprise the numbers have dipped considering how much he's struggled at times this year.  Especially troubling has been the dip in rushing yardage over the past four games from 232 and 212 vs Illinois and Indiana, respectively, to 105 against Wisconsin and just 66 against Purdue.

I don't know if it's time to scrap the shotgun experiment, but it certainly hasn't seemed to help the offense produce much.  I think the coaching and game plans have had just as much to do with the offense struggling since the switch as Pryor's struggles, however, so we'll just have to wait and see if the offense can improve.  Let's take a look at the position groups.

Quarterbacks

While I was compiling the grades and putting this together, I expected this one to be the lowest and it was...barely, and it shouldn't be very surprising.  Pryor has become the focal point of the offense, and he has shown his inexperience in several different games this season.  Fundamentally, he is better than he was last season.  His mechanics are still ugly at times, and especially when he's getting rushed, but he's shown flashes of improvement here.

I think one of the most troubling aspects of Pryor's game this season has been his turnovers.  He hasn't taken care of the ball as well as he should when he's getting hit in the pocket, and he's thrown several more interceptions than he did all of last season already.  While it IS troubling, it also had to be expected this season as his role expands.  You have to remember that last season the coaches sheltered  him from making a lot of decisions.  Having a back like Beanie helped with that.  He's having to shoulder a lot more of the offensive load this season, and with his lack of experience, there was going to be mistakes in judgment as he learns what he can and can't do on the field at this level.

All of this might sound as if I'm being pretty easy on him, and in a sense I guess I am.  He is probably the biggest cause for Ohio State's offensive woes, but he's also going to be the biggest reason for future offensive success if he's able to turn things around.  He's improving, albeit slowly, and we simply all must remain patient to see if the experience he's getting in his current struggles pays off down the road.

Composite Grade--C+   Four above average grades (all B's) combine with three below average to come out to just above average.  I'm not sure if there are going to be many of you out there that agree with that, though.

Running Backs

This has been an interesting year for the Buckeye backfield.  Losing Beanie Wells to the NFL after last season was a huge loss, and we weren't sure what to expect from this group going into the season.  Boom Herron filled in pretty well when Beanie was injured last year, and while he wasn't expected to fill Beanie's shoes, he was supposed to at least be competent.  He's been struggling with injuries this season, but before that, I think it's safe to say he's been a bit of a disappointment this year.

His injury has allowed for one of the few bright spots on the offense to shine in backup Brandon Saine.  After struggling with injuries all of last season, he's shown more of the promise he did as a true freshman.  He's been the starter since Boom's injury, but I'm not sure if he hadn't seized that spot before the injury.  With how good he has looked at times this season, I think we're all still surprised he had only 7 touches against Purdue.  Will Saine remain a forgotten man in the game plan, or will we see a return to some kind of commitment to the running game this season?

As for the rest, Jordan Hall has looked decent in his very limited time this season, but the freshman fullbacks have all struggled.  This is part of the reason why I think the coaches decided to scrap the offensive approach at the beginning of the season for the shotgun-based offense we're seeing now.  The fullbacks just weren't getting the job done in the I formation.

Composite Grade--B   As the number of halfback carries have went down, so has the rushing production in the past four weeks.  The Buckeyes simply cannot abandon a commitment to some kind of back based running game.

Receivers

Seven games into this season, and the jury is still out on this group.  DeVier Posey has looked pretty good at times, and has been Pryor's go-to guy most of the year.  Dane Sanzenbacher has been steady when called upon and started the season with several big plays, though Pryor hasn't been able to find him the past few weeks.  Duron Carter has shown a few flashes of talent, but he has also made a few freshman mistakes and will probably get better with time.

Jake Ballard has been an interesting player in the offense this season.  We came in with declarations of the tight ends being more of a weapon this season.  While that hasn't really been true for the passing game, he did spend a couple of weeks being the focal point of the entire offense when the coaches put him at the H-back spot and used him as the lead blocker on many of the running plays in those games.  The Buckeyes gained 450 yards of rushing in those two games.  Since then, he has spent a total of 4 plays at H-back.  Why?  Are the coaches abandoning it?

Composite Grade--B   The jury is still out.  They seem explosive, but need to get the ball where they can do something with it.

Offensive Line

It seems as if anytime the Ohio State offense is struggling, critics are quick to point to the offensive line as a major culprit in the struggling.  Last season, this was clearly the case.  I'm not as quick to join that argument this season.  While last week was clearly not a very good week at least for pass protection, this hasn't really been the case most of the rest of the year.  Pryor has had time to throw the ball most of the time this season.  The run blocking hasn't been as good as we thought it would going into the year, especially out of the more conventional formations.

I find it no coincidence that the times I've graded the offensive game plan the worst this season, those are the times the line has looked the worst.  When the coaches don't do a good job putting their team in a position to succeed, it makes it tough for anyone to look good.  I thought the game plan against both USC and Purdue this year played right into what their defenses were doing.  Is it any surprise the line looked bad?  I will say that there were too many blocks missed on the edge against Purdue to feel comfortable the rest of the year.  Was that an anomaly or things to come for the rest of the year?

Composite Grade--B-   Is the line a cause for concern?  Yes.  Are they the main reason the offense is struggling?  No.

Offensive Coaching/Game Planning

If there was a group that might have under-performed Terrelle Pryor this season, this was going to be it.  They ended up slightly higher, but it wasn't by much.  They are certainly the other main reason the offense has struggled this year.

How so?  First, I have to put some of the blame on a flawed sense of this team's identity coming out of fall practice.  They came out trying to do a lot of the same things they did last season, with a lot more playaction passing to back it up, but it was clear from the start the coaches thought too much of the backs they had this season, especially the fullbacks.  The line wasn't getting the job done in the running game either.  Three games in, they had to scrap that approach for a shotgun-based attack and ramp up the responsibility of Terrelle Pryor in the offense considerably.

Secondly, in their search for an offensive identity, it seems as if they've hit on a few things that have worked, and promptly stopped using them.  This is not a new charge on this staff.  It has bothered fans for years now.  When a play breaks for a big gain in a game, we may see it only one more time, or possibly not at all the rest of the game.  This from the same guy who has a story about when he was the OC at Syracuse running the same play until the defense stopped it.  This season, it has been the use of the H-back in the running game.  Two games worth of successful rushing has been replaced by two weeks of floundering.

Lastly, will this staff ever learn from their past mistakes?  In all of the high profile losses of the past four seasons, there has been an abandonment of the running game with the Halfbacks to some degree.  Some were worse than others, but none have been as bad as what happened last week against Purdue.  Six halfback carries equaled the most embarrassing loss in Tressel's tenure at Ohio State.  Is the connection clear enough yet?

Composite Grade--C+   All of the experimenting had better work out for the coaches in the long run.  Another season like this and they might have a fan mutiny on their hands.

Defensive Coaching/Game Planning

We now come to the reason why the Buckeyes are 5-2 and not worse.  I think it's safe to say the defense has been way better than expected, especially the front seven.  The defensive line has been dominating at times, which has allowed the linebackers to flow to the ball freely most of the game.  The secondary remains largely untested, but Kurt Coleman has been all over the field...when he's actually on it.

The only real knock on this group has been in short yardage third and fourth down situations.  They've had trouble getting themselves off the field at times so far this year, and the number of plays they've spent on it as a result has skyrocketed.  Couple that with the offenses problems and...you get the picture.

Composite Grade--A-   This is a National Championship caliber defense coupled with a MAC-level offense...at best.

Special Teams

Not a whole lot to talk about here.  This group has been slightly above average, but not spectacular in any one area.  Jon Thoma has been a better punter than expected, but that's about it.

Composite Grade--B   This grade has been slowly going down over the course of the season.

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