Two. Point. Nine. (Big Box Score)
[Notes: there's an error in this chart. OSU only has 2.2 yards per pass. Data is sack-adjusted. More info on Bill Connelly's Five Factors here. The MSU kneeldowns to end the first half have been removed.]
And in graphical form:
Ohio State averaged 2.9 yards per play. To put that into context, since I've been doing this weekly column, the only time the MSU defense had a similar overall day was when Eastern Michigan put up 2.8 yards per play in a 73-14 rout in East Lansing in 2014. The last time MSU had a day like this in terms of pass defense was when they held Indiana to negative yards per pass attempt (-0.3, to be exact) in 2014, when Zander Diamont was thrust into action. But for this to happen against the unbeaten, defending national champions, ON THE ROAD? Surreal. The longest play of the day for Ohio State was a 16-yard pass on their second drive of the game.
Another way to look at it: in 2014, Ohio State averaged almost three times as many yards per play at 8.5. They averaged 9.9 yards per pass attempt in 2014, more than four times as many per attempt. In fact, here's last year's five factors:
Five Factors, 2014
Last year, the Buckeyes got 90% of the yards available to them. This year? 17.8 percent. The one-year turnaround is absolutely stunning.
Connor Cook Is Good
In the two games so far this year where Cook has been injured, the yards per pass attempt have fallen off of a cliff:
Michigan State Offensive Yards Per Play
I don't know what Cook's status is for Penn State or beyond, but this offense has a lot less room for error when Cook isn't playing.
Ohio State Playcalling
I thought this was a good point by KJ:
In fairness to Urban Meyer, Elliot got the ball on over 25% of OSU's offensive plays. It's just that they only ran 45 plays.— KJ (@KJfromTheDeck) November 22, 2015
Tempo matters in college football just like it does in college basketball. Perhaps moreso, because you've got more control on offense.
The other thing: Ohio State averaged 3.4 yards per rush compared to 2.2 yards per passing attempt. The winning answer was to pass the ball more? I'm a little skeptical that the playcalling so desired by many Ohio State fans would have panned out as well as they think.
Michigan State Playcalling
Like I did with KJ, I'm gonna give Pete a shout out on this one:
Also, props to Mark Dantonio to turning MSU into Air Force in a 1 week period.— Pete Rossman (@PeteAtTOC) November 21, 2015
The deception of claiming Connor Cook would play all week, coupled with the decisive offensive shift, made the offense serviceable enough to win. You have no idea how much it pains me to say this, but the WHYldcat package used all year with Damion Terry was quite helpful in this game.
Also: this was the right game to slow the tempo down! Fewer possessions yields greater variance in the overall score, and also leads to a generally lower score, which benefits the underdog. Ohio State only got 11 possessions all game (though MSU only got 10 true possessions). Dinosaur football FTW!
I give up trying to explain the performance of this special teams unit. In the three biggest wins of the year, special teams provided the final margin: against Oregon a Michael Geiger field goal provided the winning points, against Michigan LOLOLOLOL, and against Ohio State Geiger's walk-off field goal ended the game. But in all three of those games, the special teams were huge reasons why MSU needed those heroics: the punt return touchdown against Oregon, any number of plays against Michigan, and the muffed punt against Ohio State all were huge mistakes.
So, like pretty much every week this season, I'm telling you that if MSU gets healthy and eliminates special teams errors, they'll be much better. #Fire2E
Upon rewatching the game, one nugget stood out to me: this was the first game all season that Ohio State played in adverse weather conditions. Despite the horror I felt during the Purdue game (and to a lesser extent, the Indiana game), those games were likely helpful to MSU. That 2.2 yards per passing attempt was partly the defense but was generously aided by terrible weather.
Remember, the spread offense will never work in the Big Ten. ;)