Ohio Vs. Utah State, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 2011: The Cardiac Kids

Ohio and Utah State have combined to play 16 games decided by a touchdown or less in 2011. Can the Cardiac Aggies continue the five-game winning streak that got them bowl eligible? Can Ohio finally win a postseason game for Frank Solich? One thing is certain: it will probably be close.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

THIS IS FOR ALL OF THE POTATOES.

 

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Ohio 9-4 NR 58 46 74 35
Utah State 7-5 NR 73 42 84 119
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Ohio 22 105 51 114
Utah State 35 60 32 91

When Utah State is involved, you can probably be assured of one thing: the game is going to be close. The Aggies incredibly played in nine games decided by one possession in 2011, losing their first four and winning their next five. (Ohio, meanwhile, played in seven, winning four.) They started the season 2-5, most notably with a last-second, onside-kick aided loss to Auburn, but they figured out how to close games as the season progressed.

They beat Hawaii, San Jose State and Idaho by a combined 12 points, then took out Nevada at home, 21-17, to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 1997. In the three years before Gary Andersen took over in Logan, the Aggies won a combined six games. In his third season at the helm, they have won seven. They take on an Ohio program that has gotten quite used to playing in the postseason ... and is getting quite tired of losing there. Since Frank Solich took over in 2005, the Bobcats have played in three bowls and three MAC championships; they are a combined 0-6 in those games. Will potato country change their fate a bit?

When Ohio Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Ohio Offense 46 65 49 60 69 89 50
Utah State Defense 84 90 70 106 83 96 87
Team Std. Downs
% Run
Rk Pass. Downs
% Run
Rk
Ohio Offense 64.1% 35 36.1% 36
Utah State Defense 54.9% 95 25.6% 99
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

At first glance, it appears Ohio is your typical MACtion-worthy offense. Top 50? Check. Swift pace? Check. Lots of shotgun? Check. Hell, general schizophrenia? Check. Only, Ohio tends to bring something to the table a little different to the table than your typical MAC offense: quite a bit of power. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton, somehow listed as only 200 pounds, carries the ball about 10 times per game; meanwhile, 220-pound backup running back Ryan Boykin tosses in another eight carries per game. This softens defenses up for shiftier backs like Donte Harden and Beau Blankenship, who toss in 20 carries of their own. All this running opens Tettleton up to find LaVon Brazill (95 targets, 64 catches, 1,063 yards, 10 touchdowns) and, well, mostly Brazill. He has been targeted 40 more times than No. 2 receiver Riley Dunlop.

The power/efficiency aspect of Ohio's offense provide an interesting matchup with a Utah State defense that is woefully inefficient versus the pass. Relatively speaking, the Aggies have been decent in terms of preventing big plays, but they have been a slow-motion sieve. Maybe you cannot rely on 20- or 30-yard gains to get by against Utah State' 3-4 front, but you can certainly pick up five to seven yards whenever you want them. Opponents respect the Aggie run defense, however -- though their overall rushing statistics are poor, they have made 46 non-sack tackles for loss (the leaders: end Bojay Filimoeatu with eight, linebacker Bobby Wagner with 6.5) -- and find plenty of passing lanes. Does Ohio attack with their run game, or do they double down on standard downs passing to Brazill, Dunlop, and other high-efficiency options like tight end Jordan Thompson (23 receptions) and Harden (23)?

When Utah State Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Utah State Offense 42 43 31 39 48 31 59
Ohio Defense 74 85 65 101 77 78 91
Team Std. Downs
% Run
Rk Pass. Downs
% Run
Rk
Utah State Offense 74.7% 11 44.3% 11
Ohio Defense 56.7% 78 31.3% 73
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Whatever advantages Ohio holds when they are on offense, Utah State basically holds the same. They, too, field a rather high-efficiency offense -- and Ohio, too, has a woefully inefficient defense -- but they go about theirs a little differently: they run, run, run. And that's basically what most offenses do against Ohio as well. Running backs Robert Turbin, Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams have combined for 34 carries per game and a plus-42.6 Adj. POE. They are one of the most effective trios in the country, and they take the heat off of a couple of newcomers at quarterback. True freshman Chuckie Keeton led the Aggies for the first two months of the season before a scary neck injury put him in the hospital; junior college transfer Adam Kennedy took over, and Utah State ripped off a winning streak. The two have combined to throw for 2,109 yards and 21 touchdowns and rush for 605 pre-sack yards. They lack a true No. 1 receiver -- Matt Austin and his 34 catches (on 54 targets) qualify by default -- but that's all right because they aren't going to pass 'less they have to.

So the goal for the Ohio defense, then, is simple: force Utah State to take to the air. Can they do it, though? Like USU, Ohio ranks in the nation's bottom 20 for efficiency (Success Rate+). They are a bit better at stopping the run than the pass, but aside from Eastern Michigan, the MAC does not feature a run-heavy offense like this, and Ohio didn't play Eastern Michigan in 2011. Perhaps Ohio's biggest strength is that they will attack you from anywhere. They racked up 74 tackles for loss despite the fact that only three players had more than five (end Tremayne Scott had eight, linebacker Noah Keller seven, tackle Corey Hasting 5.5) and no one had more than eight. And for what it's worth, they actually had more non-sack tackles for loss (53) than Utah State. Teams usually throw the ball to succeed against Ohio; Utah State won't.

The Verdict

Ohio by 4.6

This might not be a high-flying, light-up-the-scoreboard affair, but it will almost certainly be close, and there's something to be said for that. These two teams have combined for one bowl win in 10 tries (Utah State beat Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl), and while this is a bit of a novelty for Utah State fans, Ohio's continued failure in the post-season has to be a source of frustration for Bobcat fans (exacerbated by a blown 20-0 lead in this year's MAC title game), and Ohio isn't going to get a much better shot than this to take home a bowl trophy. Utah State will have a homefield advantage of sorts, but Ohio's play on the field has been better to date. Just go ahead and fast forward to the fourth quarter on this one.

 


A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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