Hartman: Ohio State probably passed itself out of playoff contention

Jan 05, 2018
  • By Marcus Hartman

I ended up in a little bit of a college football stats rabbit hole Thursday night and came away with one of those realizations I wish I’d had at least a month ago. 

It was something I suspected but never did enough research to confirm until now. 

Alabama is probably playing for the national title because the Crimson Tide trusted its running game more than Ohio State did.

I mean, yeah, this is admittedly a fun assumption for any old-school football lover like myself to make. 

It felt much of the season like Ohio State over-relied on J.T. Barrett’s arm, but sometimes feelings are wrong, right?

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Well, some numbers back up these potential ramblings of a crazy person better than I might have expected.

Barrett and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts posted very strong passer ratings and similar completion percentages. (Barrett finished ninth in the nation in pass efficiency while Hurts was 11th.) 

I don’t know how many of Hurts’ completion were screens of various type, but I doubt it was much (if any) more than Barrett, who averaged slightly more yards per attempt while leading an attack that was frequently assailed for not pushing the ball down the field enough. 

Here’s the thing, though: Barrett threw 125 more passes (in one more game so far).

He also ran more times than Hurts despite averaging fewer yards per carry (not to mention being hurt in the last two games). 

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And here’s the kicker: Ohio State’s running game, though less utilized, was better statistically than Alabama’s, too, according to Football Outsiders

Weird, huh? 

That’s especially interesting when considering the narrative that became dominant in the latter part of the season and throughout December: Ohio State’s defense was to be respected, but the offense just wasn’t championship-worthy. 

I’ve seen plenty of Ohio State fans wave off being left out of the playoff with this justification*. 

Well, guess whose offense scored a significantly higher S&P+ at Football Outsiders? Yep, it was the Buckeyes

And the obvious conclusion to be drawn from that? 

Urban Meyer, Kevin Wilson, et al, may have mismanaged this offense even more than anyone realized -- until it was too late. 

*This is not an argument about who should have made the playoff but rather an example of how Ohio State might have really screwed up offensively by continually treating him like a combination of Drew Brees and Braxton Miller rather than Alex Smith.