COLUMBUS — After winning its biggest game of the season so far, the Ohio State football team got the weekend off.
That meant more time to celebrate the Buckeyes’ 17-14, come-from-behind win at Notre Dame.
At least a little more time.
“Yeah, I mean that was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of,” senior linebacker Cody Simon said. “Their crowd and their stadium was was off the charts. And there was definitely a deep breath that you let out like ‘Wow, that really happened.’ And it definitely helps with the bye week so you can kind of let yourself collect your emotions.”
Two thirds of the regular season remains and including potential top 10 matchups with Penn State on Oct. 21 and Michigan on Nov. 25, so the Buckeyes see little time to stop trying to hone their game.
“It’s an amazing event, but now everybody’s gonna watch that film and we know that we have to get back on our on our grind,” Simon said. “It’s all about how can we follow up with that game. And like (head coach Ryan) Day said, it doesn’t matter. This game could be so great, but unless we back it up week after week, after week, it won’t mean anything. So we have to keep pressing and keep getting better every week.”
Through four games, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes have started to develop identities on both sides of the ball, and some of them are more familiar than others.
Bigger challenges are ahead — starting with 4-0 Maryland on Oct. 7 — but so far Ohio State ranks second in the country in points allowed per game (8.5) and sixth in yards allowed per game (255.5).
The Buckeyes are 18th in pass efficiency defense, fifth in passing yards per game (149) and 35th against the run (106.5).
More noteworthy, though, is how the Buckeyes have done it in the second season under Jim Knowles.
After being a boom-or-bust unit in 2022, Ohio State has worked more at keeping the ball from getting behind it with more positive than negative affect.
That was evident at Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish were able to bite off a few decent-sized chunks of yardage but never gained more than 28 on one play.
The defense also came through to force a punt after the offense turned the ball over on downs still trailing 14-10 with just over four minutes to go.
“Sometimes you’re up against the breaks, and we were for a couple series,” Knowles said. “But I’m proud of the guys. Fourteen points is still a really good effort. We were up against it for a couple of series and to be able to get a stop was great.”
For the season, Ohio State is a respectable 43rd in the nation in success rate — which measures how often the offense gained four yards or more on first down, at least half the yards needed for a first down on second down and all the yards needed on third down.
That ranking is down from eighth for the whole of 2022, but it comes with a reversal in rate of explosive plays allowed, too.
Last season, the Buckeyes were undone by those, ranking 123rd nationally in opponent explosiveness. This season they are 14th so far.
The change in style has been evident on the scoreboard (for the good) but also in the rate of “havoc plays” (for the bad), as their ranking has dropped from 30th to 63rd.
(Havoc plays are defined as tackles for loss, pass breakups, interceptions and forced fumbles.)
“When you play at Ohio State, everyone kind of attacks you different ways and gives you new, different new looks,” Simon said. “So we’re still working through all the little tricks and nuances that the offense will bring. So yeah, we’re definitely more mature as a defense, but there’s always gonna be new issues and new problems that arise.”
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State’s statistical profile might not be too surprising.
The Buckeyes are 40th in the nation in scoring (34.5 points per game) while ranking 34th in total offense (447.5 yards per game), numbers likely dragged down a bit by one of their four games being against the defensive-minded Irish squad ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press when the teams squared off.
As has typically been the case during the Day era, Ohio State has thrown it better than run it, ranking 19th in the former category (298.5 ypg.) and 73rd in the latter (149 ypg.).
The Buckeyes have been average on third downs, ranking 52nd with a conversion rate of .440, but struggled in the red zone, where they are tied for 93rd at 76.9 percent.
From an advanced stats perspective, the Buckeyes have been more explosive, ranking 19th in the country, than successful on a play by play basis (40th).
Short-yardage rushing has been an obvious weak point with their conversion rate of 63.1 ranking 128th.
Day said he was “sick” over multiple missed chances to convert on third- and then fourth-and-short in South Bend, but he chose to look on the bright side after Chip Trayanum scored the winning touchdown from a yard out with one second left.
“There were four opportunities where the whole game could be different if we convert in those situations, so I’m upset about that, but I’m not gonna be upset right now because that was one heck of a win for our team,” Day said.
Maryland at Ohio State, Noon, Fox, 1410