Data Against Common Opponents – OSU vs MSU

We haven’t done one of these in a couple of years… We’re resurrecting the format in honor of the B1G Title Game.

The info here complements our earlier By The Numbers post, but is limited to the two teams’ performances against common opponents. It’s not necessarily a perfect way to compare the teams, but it offers a more apples-to-apples comparison between the good and bad guys.

Tables 1 and 2 detail the performance of each team’s scoring offense and scoring defense, respectively, against the numbers the opponents typically give up.

PF = Points For; PA = Points Against, DEV = Deviation from opponent’s average

Table 1: Scoring Offense

  Opp PA Avg OSU PF (Dev) MSU PF (Dev)
NW 27.1 40 (+12.9) 30 (+2.9)
IA 18.8 34 (+15.2) 26 (+7.2)
PUR 38.0 56 (+18.0) 14 (-24)
ILL 35.4 60 (+24.6) 42 (+6.6)
IN 38.8 42 (+3.2) 42 (+3.2)
MI 26.5 42 (+15.5) 29 (+2.5)
AVG 30.8 45.7 (+14.9) 30.5 (-0.3)

Not a lot of surprise, here; Ohio State routinely scores significantly more points against these opponents than is typical for said opponents. (Over two TDs more per game, actually.)

MSU’s average is pretty close to the opponents’ average, indicating that the Spartan’s offense is competent, but not necessarily strong. It might be a sign that the MSU offense tends to play to the level of the defense it is facing.

Table 2: Scoring Defense

  Opp PF Avg OSU PA (Dev) MSU PA (Dev)
NW 26.2 30 (+3.8) 6 (-20.2)
IA 27.3 24 (-3.3) 14 (-13.3)
PUR 14.9 0 (-14.9) 0 (-14.9)
ILL 29.7 35 (+5.3) 3 (-26.7)
IN 38.4 14 (-24.4) 28 (-10.4)
MI 33.8 41 (+7.2) 6 (-27.8)
AVG 28.3 24 (-4.4) 9.5 (-18.8)

Again, surprise-surprise, MSU’s defense clearly outclasses OSU’s defense against these opponents. But what’s more interesting is how inconsistent the Buckeyes look. From game to game against these teams, OSU’s defense vacillates. Not terribly, mind you – even at their worst (against TTUN), they still only gave up one more TD than the opponent would have typically scored – but from game to game, it was hard to say which Bucks defense would show up.

What does it mean?
Against these opponents, Ohio State’s offense was unstoppable and its defense was intermittently solid. Michigan State’s offense was competent, while its defense was dominant. Yeah, yeah, I know, we knew all that.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the teams meet “halfway” when they play against each other this weekend. That is to say, both OSU and MSU give and take a little, each team’s average performance being counteracted by the other’s to an equal extent. (For example, imagine a situation where Team A usually gets 100 points, Team B usually allows zero, and if all things were equal, we think Team A would score 50.)

Ohio State is averaging 48.2 ppg this season to the Spartans’ 29.4. Defensively, the Buckeyes are giving up 20.3 ppg to Michigan State’s 11.8.

Based on their performance against these common opponents, if the teams “met halfway,” each team would score about 4 points below their average. This implies that OSU has the advantage – this hypothetical game would end with OSU scoring in the low 40s and MSU scoring in the mid-to-upper 20s. My spidey sense says OSU 40-28.

Of course, this is all hypothetical, and you can never predict all the intangible factors that usually affect the outcome of a game. Someone is going to make a mistake, get a turnover, get a favorable call (or no-call) by the officials, etc. As the old saying goes, that’s why they play the game.

But another intangible aspect of Saturday’s matchup is the fact that none of Michigan State’s opponents were built like OSU, with a solid offensive line and rushing game.

In fact, the best offense that MSU has seen belongs to Indiana. The Spartans did not play Wisconsin or Penn State. They lost to a decent, but not elite, Notre Dame offense. They gave up 28 points – on long, punishing drives – to a Husker team that did not have a starting QB and had turned the ball over 5 times. It’s entirely possible that the Spartans’ defensive numbers are not indicative of their actual strength. And even if it is, the numbers still tend to favor the Buckeyes – providing both teams play like they typically do on average.


  1. […] Men of the Scarlet and Gray breaks down some common opponent data for the Buckeyes and Spartans […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: