The Buckeyes beat Bowling Green, Tulsa, and Rutgers by a combined 183-13. They went to Norman to play Oklahoma, had the game pretty well in hand after 16 minutes, and won by three touchdowns. They rank in the top 10 in offense, defense, and special teams in the latest S&P+ ratings (in which they are No. 1 overall); only one other team (Texas A&M) is in even the top 25 in all three.
Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes have thus far been the most well-rounded, ruthless team in the country. They have shown almost no vulnerability to date. They drastically exceeded early projections, and even last week, ranked No. 1 in S&P+, they still beat Rutgers by far more than projected. The ratings have yet to catch up to them.
Anytime you have a team playing this well overall, I find it interesting to dive into the numbers to find potential cracks beneath the surface. Sometimes they're pretty hard to find.
If you squint, you can basically find four red flags for this Ohio State team.
1. If you can force them to pass, they might not be able to.
This is probably the biggest question mark. The offense ranks 40th in Passing S&P+ and 94th in passing-downs success rate. If you can leverage them into uncomfortable downs and distances, they might not respond well.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett has completed only 9 of 18 passes on third-and-4 or more, and against the only opponent with a pulse (Oklahoma), he averaged just 6.9 yards per pass attempt (6.4 on passing downs). Not terrible, but not world-beater good.
Ohio State has basically a three-man receiving corps. Curtis Samuel, Dontre Wilson, and Noah Brown have caught an incredible 45 of 53 passes for 641 yards, 12.1 per target. Each has at least a 60 percent success rate (which measures how well they get the yardage to keep the chains moving on schedule) and 71 percent catch rate.
The next five targets on the list: 5 yards per target, less than half as many. If a top receiver gets hurt, or if an opponent slows these top options, Barrett might struggle to figure out where to go with the ball. That could mean some three-and-outs.
Of course, Ohio State has fallen into passing downs (second-and-long or third/fourth-and-medium or longer, basically) less frequently than any team in the country. The Buckeyes rank first in Standard Downs S&P+ and third in Rushing S&P+. So these last few paragraphs have amounted to: "Stop an unstoppable run game, and you might have a chance!" Good luck.
2. The big gains on the ground are minimal.
Ohio State's ground game has been the most efficient in the country. Mike Weber is gaining at least five yards on 46 percent of his carries, Samuel on 71 percent, and Barrett on 52 percent. Only 8 percent of Buckeye carries are getting stuffed at or behind the line (fewest in the country). The Buckeyes fall forward every time, even if you make a solid play.
While the Buckeyes are 13th in the country with 39 rushes of 10-plus yards, they only have 10 20-yarders (22nd), and zero 50-yarders. It's nitpicking to point out that a ground game so good at gaining seven yards isn't great at gaining 50, but that's what this entire exercise is about.
If you encounter an opponent that is turning your 7-yard rushes into 4-yarders, and you can't rely on huge plays, you must be error-free for eight to 10 plays at a time to score. That can be difficult.
3. Not much of a pass rush.
It hasn’t had an impact because of a dominant secondary (safety Malik Hooker and corner Marshon Lattimore have combined for six interceptions and six breakups), but Ohio State ranks 104th in standard-downs sack rate and 62nd in passing-downs sack rate. Opponents are almost exclusively passing on passing downs, because they don’t fear the pass rush (well, that, and Ohio State has played some pass-happy opponents).
Linemen Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, and Sam Hubbard have combined for 5.5 sacks, and Bosa and Hubbard are young enough to improve as the season progresses.
While there aren't any great quarterbacks left on the schedule, there are some decent ones. If Trace McSorley (Penn State), Richard Lagow (Indiana), Tommy Armstrong Jr. (Nebraska), or Wilton Speight (Michigan) have enough time in the pocket, they might be able to make things happen.
4. They're still crazy young.
Youth was why the Buckeyes were projected outside the top 10 by S&P+. Clearly they have overcome inexperience with raw talent, but this is still a team with a freshman running back, a true freshman and sophomore on the offensive line, and seven freshmen and sophomores (and no seniors) among the top 13 tacklers.
The presence of a veteran quarterback and been-around-forever options in Samuel and Wilson helps. And junior linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Chris Worley are steadying presences on defense.
But this team is still young enough to lay an egg. If some Saturday, the run game isn't working quite as well for some reason, the opponent is shutting down third-and-longs, and the Buckeyes give up a couple of big plays on defense, then palms will get clammy in the fourth quarter.
That is still on the table. And there are still road trips against three S&P+ top-40 opponents (Wisconsin, Penn State, Maryland), plus an always-tricky trip to East Lansing.
There’s still time for a misstep, though it gets increasingly unlikely by the week.
Georgia’s 0.23% loss probability
Tennessee's chance to win fell to 0.23 percent after Georgia's extra point with 10 seconds left. pic.twitter.com/NotZYM3DhB— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 2, 2016
But chin up, Georgia fans. Saturday’s last-second Hail Mary loss to Tennessee wasn’t your most statistically stunning of the last the last three years!
Georgia fans don't wanna look at this one. Them Dawgs have been on wrong side of two of the four least-likely comebacks in the last decade pic.twitter.com/OIggrypaZp— David Ching (@ESPNChing) October 2, 2016
Florida’s 19 possessions for 20 points
At halftime on Sept. 24, Florida led Tennessee 21-3 and appeared well on its way to a 4-0 start and status as SEC East favorite. The offense, still finding its way with quarterback injuries and inconsistency, looked more than good enough to complement a nasty defense.
Florida's drives from its last six quarters: three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, interception, three-and-out, touchdown, turnover on downs, three-and-out, three-and-out, punt, punt, touchdown, field goal, punt, punt, field goal, fumble, three-and-out.
That's 19 possessions, eight three-and-outs, and four scores. The Gators collapsed against Tennessee and barely survived Vanderbilt, 13-6, thanks to field position and defense.
Quarterback Luke Del Rio might be back for Saturday's game against LSU and its No. 9 defense (per Def. S&P+), and maybe that solves some problems. But offense has been the bugaboo for quite a while; the last six quarters have caused flashbacks.
Washington’s 56 percent success rate vs. Stanford’s 28 percent success rate
Washington's dominance over Stanford was comprehensive. The Huskies created more than double the Cardinal’s scoring opportunities, averaged nearly three times more points on said opportunities, created more big plays, and even scored a little bit of turnovers luck.
Washington's Jake Browning averaged 10 yards per pass attempt, and Stanford's Ryan Burns averaged 4.2.
Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman averaged 6 yards per carry, and Christian McCaffrey averaged 4.1.
Washington had eight sacks (five from Psalm Wooching and Joe Mathis alone), and Stanford had none.
Washington did this ...
... and Stanford did not.
This was potentially Washington's biggest game in about 15 years. The Huskies seized the moment, playing dominant, creative, physical, weakness-free football. They now have a hangover to fight and another hurdle to clear — this week, they travel to Eugene to face an Oregon team they haven’t beaten since 2003. Survive Saturday, and they have at least a 71 percent chance of winning each remaining game on the schedule.
Hope you got your “Washington? Yeah, right,” jokes in before Friday.
NC State might have a really high ceiling
Five weeks into the season, the percentiles concept becomes a little more useful. In my weekly Football Study Hall stat profiles, I produce opponent-adjusted percentile figures as single-game measures of effectiveness; by the end of the season, they can show you peaks and valleys and trends. At this stage, they just hint at ceilings and floors.
The numbers will continue to hone in as more data about each team becomes available. But to date, 11 teams have played at least 60 percent of their games at the 80th percentile or higher. Most are obvious; Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Louisville, Clemson, and Wisconsin make up six of the 11. Others make some semblance of sense: Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Tennessee, UCLA.
The 11th team might be a surprise: NC State. Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack are 25th in overall S&P+ at the moment. They hit the 80th percentile in a 48-14 win over William & Mary, 82nd in a 49-22 win over ODU, and 87th in Saturday's 33-16 romp over previously unbeaten Wake Forest.
Their lone loss was a frustrating one -- 33-30 at East Carolina -- but it was a little forgivable. Against the Pirates, they had a much better success rate, created more scoring opportunities, and won the field position battle by nearly 6 yards per possession. It counts as a loss, but S&P+ says they would have won that game 79 percent of the time and doesn't penalize them much for it.
Because of a brutal schedule that still features four teams in the S&P+ top 13 (Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Miami), State isn't projected to finish with a breakthrough win total. But they could be a much tougher out than expected, especially after the ECU loss. The defense is aggressive, and the offense has been ultra-efficient.
New quarterback Ryan Finley has taken to Eliah Drinkwitz's offense with aplomb, which shouldn't be a surprise, considering they both came from Boise State. He is completing 72 percent of his passes, the trio of Jaylen Samuels, Stephen Louis, and Bra'Lon Cherry is averaging 10 yards per target, and backs Matthew Dayes and Reggie Gallaspy II are averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
State hosts Notre Dame this weekend with a chance to make a statement against a marquee name (if not a marquee defense). Maybe the Irish make too many big plays, but Doeren's troops have been mostly awesome thus far.
And know this: The Podcast Ain't Played Nobody Bump is real. Donate at least $250 to Democracy Prep, and we’ll talk for at least 15 minutes about your team ... and your team will benefit. We did NC State last week. Can't argue with the math.
876 combined rushing and passing yards from only two players
Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson combined to complete 47 of 75 passes for 601 yards and six touchdowns in Saturday night's Clemson-Louisville duel. Not including sacks, they also rushed 40 times for 275 yards and two more scores.
Despite both defenses playing pretty well -- Louisville picked Watson off three times, and Clemson sacked Jackson five times -- both more than lived up to their billing in Clemson's 42-36 win, and Jackson and the Cardinals proved their Playoff-caliber bona fides despite the loss.
What a damn game.