Ohio State is coming off its bye week and preparing for it’s toughest game of the season against Penn State on Saturday afternoon. So there’s no better time than now to look back at the first half of the Buckeyes’ season.
Using our advanced stats, we’ll take a look at some areas where Ohio State is excelling, as well as some players who have room to improve down the stretch.
Denzel Ward is a Superstar
After allowing a few receptions in the season opener against Indiana, fans were rushing to jump off the Denzel Ward bandwagon. But since that game, Ward has been flat out dominant.
Ward allowed five receptions against Indiana, but has allowed just five receptions in the six games since.
Even more impressive than Ward’s completion percentage allowed is his contested target rate, which sits at 50 percent. Here’s how those numbers stack up against some of his former teammates:
Contested target rate is a far better tool than completion percentage allowed in terms of predicting future success because it’s almost entirely in the cornerback’s control (unlike completion percentage which is heavily influenced by wide receiver and quarterback talent). Ward’s success in this area indicates he should be taken seriously as an elite cornerback prospect.
Ward’s ability to compete for the ball will definitely be a factor against Penn State due to Trace McSorely’s tendency to throw jump balls down the field.
J.T. Barrett’s Downfield Passing is Improving
We wrote more in depth about J.T. Barrett‘s downfield passing last week, but it’s worth mentioning again given how much of a storyline this was early in the season.
In three of the last four games, Barrett has completed over 50 percent of his throws at 10 or more yards downfield.
It’s easy to dismiss those numbers given the defenses Ohio State has faced, but it’s not like Indiana and Oklahoma are known for their dominant secondaries. There seems to be some meaningful progress occurring in the passing game as Barrett looks more comfortable making those throws and his accuracy has noticeably improved.
Isaiah Prince is the Most Improved Player in the Big 10
There’s no point in sugar coating it; Isaiah Prince was terrible in 2016. He allowed 39 QB pressures and had the worst pass block efficiency rating we’ve ever charted.
In 2017, however, Prince hasn’t just improved, he’s completely swung his production in the opposite direction and developed into a real asset on the Ohio State offensive line.
Prince’s pass block efficiency rating (graded on a 0-100 scale) sits at 88.3. Between Prince and Jamarco Jones (97.6 pass block efficiency rating), the Buckeyes have the potential to shut down Penn State’s pass rush on Saturday.
Steady Linebacker Play Can Help Contain Saquon Barkley
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is too dominant to bottle up completely, so the key to slowing him down is preventing long runs. And Ohio State may have the personnel to make this happen.
Linebackers Jerome Baker, Tuf Borland, Dante Booker and Chris Worley (who may finally be healthy and ready to see increased action) have made 88 tackles this season with just seven missed tackles—that’s an impressive missed tackle rate of just 7.4 percent.
The defensive line will have a hard to getting to the elusive Barkley, so containing him will often fall on the shoulders of the linebackers. The margin for error against a player like Barkley is minuscule, but this group has the talent to minimize the damage he causes on Saturday.