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Football Five Factors: Bent and Broken

Quantifying the pain

Joe Robbins

After the game, my friends suggested we get some pizza and beer and drown our sorrows. I initially protested the pizza suggestion, because I couldn't handle the irony. But I was overruled; pizza it was.

Six of us split 4(!) Hot-N-Ready pies and a 30 of Red Dog (we were going for volume, not quality). That first beer and the entire first pizza were awful - we were hungover, distraught, and the first pizza wasn't fully cooked. But as the alcohol and processed food entered our systems, things improved. The second pizza was much better. The third better still. The Red Dog was going down easier. By the time we got to the fourth pizza, the pain was at least no longer throbbing.

So here is how I'm going to present this game: split into four pizzas. By the time the fourth pizza is done, you still won't be happy. But you'll be somewhat content. (Big box score):

Sad Pizza #1: #BreakButAlsoBend

This was the worst defensive performance by an MSU team since probably the 2011 bowl beatdown by Alabama. It was significantly worse than the Oregon game; Oregon averaged "just" 32.3 yards per drive and 7.2 yards per play. Of Ohio State's ten true drives, seven ended in touchdowns. There were just two punts, and the first drive had a missed field goal. Ohio State was highly explosive and highly efficient.

This defense seems poorly matched to this offense. In 2012 and 2013, the strategy of defensive hyper-efficiency with the occasional broken play made sense when the team couldn't count on the offense. Now, the offense is quite good. It seems like bend-but-don't-break would actually be more effective than break-but-don't-bend. But it was sort of moot here, anyways, as there wasn't efficiency, either.

The sky isn't falling, yet. This is just one highly visible, painful data point.

Sad Pizza #2: Finishing Drives

The other obvious issues were on the two drives that went deep into Ohio State territory that resulted in zero points. The holding call reversing Jeremy Langford's touchdown, and the brutal fourth down run play sucked. But the offense did a passable job finishing drives overall (4.69 points per drive inside the 40 is the national average). You can nitpick the offense (and Connor Cook, if you must) but they generated 536 total yards. They were good enough to win.

The running game looked quite efficient based on the eyeball test and that is backed up here. Unfortunately, game situations made passing plays obligatory, so MSU didn't get the opportunity to shove the ball down tOSU's throats much in the second half. If the defense could have held once or twice in the second half, I think the offense would've been even better, too.

Sad Pizza #3: Special Teams

I thought that special teams would be largely owned by Ohio State in this one, but I was wrong. The two turnovers generated on special teams setup one Jeremy Langford score and what should've been another. Though Ohio State did best MSU in terms of punt and kick return yardage, their kicker also missed what was a reasonable-distance field goal try. The turnovers outweighed any other small advantage Ohio State had in a few categories, and I think this was an encouraging sign for the rest of the year.

Sad Pizza #4: The Crowd and Perspective

Urban Meyer gave a shout-out to the MSU crowd, and I agree with him. Despite the cold, people stuck around and made it a great atmosphere up until the end. The Nebraska game was a wake-up call for the students, too, it seems. I was very proud.

Barring a major meltdown by either MSU or tOSU, this team is headed towards a solid bowl game and between nine and eleven wins. Though it's not the playoff or the Rose Bowl, that's a very successful season. A recalibration of expectations is in order, but the program is in an unbelievable place.

Going forward, I'm hoping for the Peach Bowl against an SEC team (maybe Auburn?). That's one of the bowls selected by the Playoff Committee, is an opportunity to win some respect for the Big Ten, and is pretty easy for potential travel. That doesn't sound so bad, does it?