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11 Jan 2015

SDA: National Championship Preview

by Chad Peltier

College Football Playoff Championship: Ohio State (+7) vs. Oregon -- 8:30 p.m. Monday January 12 (ESPN)

Ohio State and Oregon will square off in the very first College Football Playoff National Championship. It's the game that college football deserves, but would not have had last season or in any other in the BCS era, when there's little doubt that undefeated Florida State and one-loss Alabama would have left the Buckeyes and Ducks stuck in a New Year's Day bowl. After thrilling performances in the Playoff Semifinals, the two teams are ranked first and second in the F/+ rankings. Alabama's actual F/+ score is close to Oregon's (38.3 percent to 37.5 percent), but after those three teams there's a steep drop-off to fourth-ranked TCU (31.0 percent): the Playoff seemed to do its job in its first season. The Buckeyes and Ducks both have top-three offenses and top-ten defenses (and even top-25 special teams units), but the similarities don't stop there.

Their wins stack up well with one another. The Buckeyes' best victories are over Alabama (third), Michigan State (11th), Wisconsin (17th), and Minnesota (38th). Oregon can claim wins over Florida State (10th), Michigan State (11th), UCLA (15th), Stanford (18th), Utah (29th), and Arizona (30th). That's four top-20 F/+ wins for Oregon and three for Ohio State. The difficulty of the Buckeyes' schedule ramped up near the end of the season, beginning with the November 8 matchup with Michigan State, and now Ohio State is facing its third Heisman-finalist in a row in Marcus Mariota after holding Melvin Gordon to 2.9 yards per carry and Amari Cooper to 71 total receiving yards. Injuries robbed Ohio State of two Heisman-contending quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, but the Ducks still have to deal with quarterback Cardale Jones, who averaged exactly 250 yards passing against the Badgers and Crimson Tide, and running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has amassed 1,632 rushing yards in his first year as the starter.

Overall Ohio State Oregon
Record 13-1 12-1
Overall F/+ 1 2
Field Position Advantage 4 7
Offensive F/+ 3 2
Defensive F/+ 6 9
Special Teams F/+ 23 10
When Ohio State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 1 7
FEI 8 13
Rushing S&P+ 1 48
Passing S&P+ 2 31
Success Rate 3 81
IsoPPP 15 10
Adjusted Line Yards 2 69
Adjusted Sack Rate 78 71
Value Drives 3 74
First Down Rate 11 95
When Oregon has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 4 3
FEI 11 3
Rushing S&P+ 52 2
Passing S&P+ 7 5
Success Rate 31 4
IsoPPP 24 2
Adjusted Line Yards 59 1
Adjusted Sack Rate 10 45
Value Drives 3 1
First Down Rate 9 1

Neither team has been completely perfect in this tumultuous first Playoff season. The Buckeyes and Ducks are both 13-1, with losses to Virginia Tech (33rd in F/+) and Arizona (30th in F/+)respectively. The two losses were somewhat similar in that the Buckeyes and Ducks allowed their opponents a better third-down conversion rate (both Virginia Tech and Arizona converted 53 percent of their third-down attempts) and had crucial turnovers late in the games. J.T. Barrett threw a pick-six (in his second career start) as Ohio State attempted a game-tying drive in the final minutes, while Arizona's Scooby Wright forced a Mariota fumble with under a minute left to preserve the Wildcats' lead. Both games were also penalty-ridden, with the Buckeyes and Hokies combining for 169 penalty yards, and the Ducks and Wildcats losing 157 to penalties. All of that is to say, while it looks like the Buckeyes and Ducks are the top two teams in the country, neither team is perfect, especially compared to each other.

Many are predicting a shootout for the first Playoff Championship game, with the over/under set at 75. In fact, both offenses do have advantages over the opposing defenses, but those advantages are slight (third to ninth for Ohio State, second to sixth for Oregon). With these two offenses and the personnel who run them -- looking at you, Marcus Mariota and Ezekiel Elliott -- it's no wonder why many are projecting plenty of touchdowns. Mariota, as the national leader in yards per pass (10.1), is the top quarterback that the Buckeyes have faced this season, though they have already beaten three other quarterbacks ranked in the top 20 for average yards per attempt: Blake Sims (sixth, 8.9), Connor Cook (eighth, 8.8), and Gunner Kiel (20th, 8.3). The Buckeyes' injured quarterback J.T. Barrett ranks fourth, averaging 9.0 yards per attempt. Mariota also had the country's second-best interception rate for quarterbacks who played a full season.

Mariota isn't the only danger for the Buckeyes defense, even though he's certainly the focal point of both media attention and the Ducks' offensive attack (the Ducks actually passed on 44 percent of standard downs this season). The Buckeyes' defense has been far better than expected after the addition of co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who also helps coach the defensive backs (the Buckeyes' Projected Defensive F/+ was 31st), but their one weak point has been against the run -- particularly against efficient runners. The Ducks happen to be ranked second overall in Rushing S&P+ (behind the Buckeyes) and first in Adjusted Line Yards. In fact, the Buckeyes' rushing defense issues can really be narrowed down to facing quality run-blocking offensive lines. For instance, while Melvin Gordon leads the 11th-ranked rushing offense and is ranked fourth in Highlight Yards per Opportunity (and he also leads the country in rushing yards by more than 500 total yards while averaging 7.54 yards per carry), his offensive line is slightly lower in Adjusted Line Yards (13th) and he is just 22nd in Opportunity Rate. The Buckeyes were able to keep Gordon in check in the Big Ten Championship. However, against Alabama, running back Derrick Henry dominated in his limited opportunities, as he averaged 7.3 yards per carry and had a 77 percent Success Rate. While Henry had a lower Opportunity Rate than Gordon (ranking 29th), his Alabama offensive line is second in average Opportunity Rate and seventh in Adjusted Line Yards. That means that the Buckeye defense's primary concern is likely actually the Oregon run game, which is ranked first in Adjusted Line Yards and 12th in Opportunity Rate.

As we've talked about before, Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman is much more efficient than he is explosive, ranking 23rd in Opportunity Rate but 60th in Highlight Yards per Opportunity, which makes him more comparable to Derrick Henry than Melvin Gordon. The concern for Ohio State is giving Oregon manageable third downs, as it's fair to project that the more efficient team on third downs will likely have the edge overall. Ohio State was masterful on third downs in the Sugar Bowl, holding Alabama to just two conversions in 13 plays. Oregon passes nearly as often as they run on standard downs, but they also run on 43 percent of passing downs (13th-most), so the Buckeyes rush defense will likely have to win the rushing battle on third-and-short.

The matchup between Mariota and the Ohio State secondary will be fun to watch, given how efficient both units have been. Ohio State is seventh in Passing S&P+ while the Oregon offense is fifth in Passing S&P+, but the Ohio State secondary is also fourth in the country in generating interceptions, with 24 on the season (the Buckeyes defense is also seventh overall in Havoc Rate). Mariota's passing offense is also second-overall in fewest interceptions lost. One of these obviously has to push. The Ducks unfortunately lost third-leading receiver Devon Allen (36th in RYPR) to injury in the Rose Bowl, and second-leading receiver Darren Carrington has been ruled ineligible for the game, but receivers Byron Marshall (1st in RB RYPR) and Dwayne Stanford (62nd) are explosive threats in the Oregon offense. With the Buckeyes ranked 24th overall in IsoPPP and the Ducks ranked second, look for Oregon to try and balance a consistent run game with an explosive passing attack on early downs.

The one area where the Buckeyes might have a clear advantage on defense is in pass rush, where the Buckeyes are tenth in Adjusted Sack Rate to the Ducks at 45th, and the Front Seven Havoc Rate is third overall. Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, and Darron Lee are all quick and explosive members of the Ohio State front seven who are all among the top-100 defenders in total sacks this season. Oregon has only faced two defensive lines ranked higher in Adjusted Sack Rate -- Utah (third) and Stanford (eighth) -- and Utah managed four total sacks (and Washington State, at 54th in Adjusted Sack Rate, had seven).

The Ohio State offense has even more statistical advantages over the Oregon defense than vice versa. The Oregon defense is ranked highly overall (both per-play and per-drive), but isn't ranked among the top 20 in many other areas. The Ducks are ranked tenth in Defensive IsoPPP, though they have allowed 224 opponent plays of 10-plus yards. Much like they did in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes will look for Ezekiel Elliott for consistency (he is third overall in running back Opportunity Rate at 49.7 percent) against the 48th-ranked Rushing S&P+ defense and the 69th-ranked defensive line in Adjusted Line Yards. Ohio State is the best rushing offense that the Ducks have faced all season. UCLA was the previous-best rushing offense the Ducks have faced, ranking sixth in Rushing S&P+, and the Bruins rushed for 328 yards, including 187 from Paul Perkins. With the Buckeyes' stout offensive line that ranks second in Adjusted Line Yards, Taylor Decker and company look to have an advantage in opening big holes for Elliott and freshman running back Curtis Samuel to run through (with a similar rushing advantage as Oregon has against the Ohio State defense).

The Buckeyes offense doesn't have to be explosive (though it's certainly capable of that), it just has to be efficient. With the third-best offense in Success Rate and in creating Value Drives (in turn contributing to the fourth-place ranking in Field Position Advantage), the Buckeyes combine high-percentage, short passing plays and efficient running with explosive passing plays off of play action. The Ducks are ranked 31st in Passing S&P+, but the biggest advantage for Cardale Jones might be in his offensive line. The Ducks are 71st in Adjusted Sack Rate, so the lack of a pass rush could give Jones time to hit deeper passes on play action, which typically take longer to develop. Star senior receiver Devin Smith has a knack for explosive plays during big games -- witness his 87 yards against Wisconsin and his 27.7 average yards per catch over the course of the season. With star Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu out with injury for the bowl season, the Oregon secondary will have that much tougher of a time against the explosive Smith and reliable Michael Thomas.

Ultimately this game will likely come down to just a few crucial metrics: each offense's rushing efficiency (Offensive Rushing S&P+); whether the Ohio State secondary or Marcus Mariota is more efficient (Oregon's Passing S&P+ versus the Ohio State Havoc Rate and Adjusted Sack Rate); and the turnover margin. The two teams are balanced enough according to the advanced metrics that any turnovers could drastically swing the balance in favor of one team or the other.

F/+ vs. Spread Pick: Ohio State
F/+ Outright Pick: Ohio State

Record last week outright:7-7
Record last week against the spread:9-5
Season record outright:108-54
Season record against the spread:82-83

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 11 Jan 2015

19 comments, Last at 14 Jan 2015, 6:13pm by Will Allen


by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 01/12/2015 - 1:50pm

TCU true champs in 2014 (and 2011)

Anyways, are the rules the same for OT in the new NCG as in the regular season if it's tied at the end of regulation?

Hopefully Oregon wipes OSU out.

The standard is the standard!

by Sid :: Mon, 01/12/2015 - 2:02pm

big blow for Oregon at receiver

lost one to injury, another ruled ineligible, and it was hoped Bralon Addison would return.

No such luck:


by justanothersteve :: Mon, 01/12/2015 - 10:23pm

I'm watching the game, the 1Q is almost over, and wondering how the heck Cardale Jones is the third string QB.

by Dan_L :: Mon, 01/12/2015 - 10:48pm

I'm seeing a young Daunte Culpepper, is that what you're seeing?

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 1:33am

Will be interesting to see how he handles a situation in which his run game isn't dominating. That didn't happen to Ohio State much this season (VPI and Penn State only teams to hold them under 5 ypc) and certainly didn't happen in the three games he played. I thought they were more dynamic with Barrett under center.

As for comparisons, he looks like a bigger Vince Young.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 2:40am

Jones throws the ball so much better than Young there is no comparison, and Young had more foot speed. We'll see how he develops in decision making, but he's a much, much, better NFL prospect, strictly from a physical perspective, than Vince Young. I'd say the best comparison is a much more fast Ben Roethlisberger.

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 4:39pm

His ball is better but hit remains to be seen if he can process defenses worth a damn. There was a reason the kid was 3rd string and it's clearly not physical. ESPN reported today he'd probably be a 5th/6th round prospect should he declare now, a far cry from Young's projections coming out of college.

Again, it's fairly easy to play QB when your running game is plowing for 6 YPC minimum. Next year it will be very interesting to see how he does, IF he wins the job back from Barret/Miller.

With all that said he played exceptionally well and is a phenomenal physical specimen.

by SuperGrover :: Wed, 01/14/2015 - 5:17pm

What about JaMarcus Russel as a comparison? My memory is fading but I recall him having a monster arm with adequate mechanics for the most part. Size and speed also much more like Jones than Young.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/14/2015 - 6:13pm

Jones' release is significantly better than JaMarcus Russell's. I never could figure out why people raved bout Russell's throwing in they manner they did, because I've never been a fan of big guys with a big wind-up. When Jones identifies his target, the ball gets out of his hand a lot more quickly.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/12/2015 - 11:52pm

Why do people entering the end zone drop the ball at the goal line?

by Joshua Northey :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 12:40am

This isn't even really close. OSU is killing Oregon without the fluky INT. The failed drives are 2-6.

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 1:29am

Yeah but the first two failed drives for Oregon were giveaways as well. The second drop was especially painful.

Thought Frost called an awful game for Oregon. Ohio State was selling out to stop the run but he kept going to the read option on first down, especially at tempo. After the first quarter that play barely worked. To wit:

1st and 10 after Q1

Runs - 7
Plays 4+ yards - 1
Plays 10+ yards - 0
Plays 0 or less - 2

Passes - 10
Plays 4+ yards - 5
Plays 10+ yards - 3
Plays 0 or less - 4

Yes the pass plays had a bit more negative outcomes (primarily due to the holding which wiped out a huge gain on the last 4th q drive), but the run game simply wasn't working. Ohio State was selling out to stop the run and leaving guys in one-on-one matchups across the middle. They threatened Oregon to beat them, and Frost didn't do it. Considering their front 4 is their strength that is hardly surprising.

I though Mariotta played very well. I saw three mistakes all night. You have to put the ball in his hands when the run isn't working. Oregon didn't do that and couldn't keep up with what most figured would be a very effective Ohio State offense. Poor coaching on the game's biggest stage.

by Joshua Northey :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 2:38am

As much as people are taking about OSU's offense, their defense was more impressive.

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 4:50pm

Oregon had a monster first half offensively, being stopped only in the red zone and by their own mistakes. But, once Ohio State began selling out for the run Oregon didn't respond well. As I mentioned, I believe that was a play calling issue.

Oregon still managed 6.5 yards per play. What Ohio State managed to do was limit their scoring in the red zone and explosive plays. The 3rd down drop that might very well have been a 72 yard TD pass was huge in that regard.

IMO, it was a game of inches until the 4th quarter. Lots of mistakes on both sides but OSU made more plays, often by the slimmest of margins (4th down stop at goal line, 4th down conversion with flanker end around, a couple deep throws that were great ball plays by OSU's wideouts, the huge drop by Oregon). It was a very even game by two very evenly matched teams. I think we would have had a similar game with any of the truly elite teams in the nation (OSU, Oregon, Baylor, TCU, Mich State, Alabama...not you FSU). Great game and a great beginning to the playoff era.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 2:54am

I'll still maintain that Mariota simply doesn't throw the ball well enough, at NFL standards, to be worth a top 5 draft pick. When they talk about Oregon's offense becoming very dysfunctional in third and long, well, to be a good NFL starting qb, you simply can't find third and long a daunting prospect, except against the very best defenses.

Mariota wouldn't be the first guy to improve his throwing skills upon turning pro, so it isn't hopeless, especially given his reported work ethic. I just don't see the arm talent to make him worthy of such a high pick, however. Heck, I don't think he throws nearly as well as a third round pick did his last year in college, Russell Wilson. I watched every game Wilson played in college his last year,and thought the emphasis on his stature was dumb, because he made above average NFL quality throws with frequency. I've only seen Mariota four times this year, so its possible I've seen something unrepresentative, but so far I've not seen a guy who can stand in the pocket, and successfully throw into tight coverage, in the manner that the better NFL qbs do with consistency.

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 4:42pm

"When they talk about Oregon's offense becoming very dysfunctional in third and long, well, to be a good NFL starting qb, you simply can't find third and long a daunting prospect, except against the very best defenses."

I think that has less to do with Mariota and more to do with Oregon's play calling. Scott Frost is no Chip Kelly and I think it showed.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 2:55am

delete repeat

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 3:00am

It's ridiculous that Urban Meyer can recruit qb depth like that. This is the NFL equivalent of having Joe Flacco as your third string qb. Before his career is over, we may think it even more unbelievable that Jones as third on the depth chart. Given their receivers' ability to go deep, Jones may be a better fit for the Buckeyes offense than the first two guys.

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 4:40pm

Nah doubt it. Ohio State was unstoppable before Jones took the field. They simply were a ridiculously good offensive team.