The Spread, Week Seven: Mo’ Plays, Mo’ Problems

It’s difficult as an Ohio State fan these days to find things to be unhappy about, but that doesn’t stop some of us from looking. If that’s you, chances are you’ve settled on the exciting new sport of Luke Fickell Scapegoating.

Fickell, as you know, is the linebackers coach as well as handling some unknown percentage of the defensive coordinating job. Naturally, this makes him entirely and exclusively responsible for every single defensive breakdown that occurs over the course of a game.

I’m not sure why Fickell is the target of so much outrage. Maybe it’s because we were pretty bad when he was thrust into the head coaching job in 2011. Maybe it’s because he’s the only Ohio State coach to lose to Michigan since 2003.

Regardless, it certainly is fair to say that the defense has gotten worse under Urban Meyer than it was under Jim Tressel. If by “worse” you mean that we give up more yards and points than we used to.

But the question is: why?

I promise you the answer is not “Luke Fickell.” In fact, it probably doesn’t have anything to do with the defense at all.

Last week, Ohio State beat Maryland 52-24. In 2010, the Buckeyes took out Minnesota 52-10. How were the Terps able to score two more touchdowns than the Gophers? First, that Minnesota team was way worse than this Maryland team, but that’s still probably not the reason.

In 2010, Minnesota ran 52 plays on 12 drives. Last week, Maryland ran 65 plays on 14 drives. Is that because this year’s defense couldn’t get off the field the way the 2010 D could? Not at all. In fact, this year’s team held the ball for over two and a half minutes longer than the 2010 team did.

The reason we’re giving up more points and more yards than before is the offense. The high-tempo, no-huddle approach results in more offensive plays, but also more defensive plays because we’re getting into the end zone faster.

In that 2010 game, a 3:00 scoring drive consisted of six plays and covered 49 yards. Last week, a 3:01 scoring drive consisted of eight plays and covered 75 yards.

This is a shift that can be seen around the nation. Teams everywhere are running more plays and scoring more points than they did just a few years ago. With that comes more pressure on the defense.

Since 2012, the team that leads the nation in plays per game has given up 30 points per game on average. In that time, Ohio State has given up 22 points per game. The Buckeyes are also doing better in scoring defense this year than the average team that runs a similar number of offensive plays.

You can thank Luke Fickell (among others) for that.


  1. Yep, been trying to explain this to people for years — when a team scores often and quickly, the other team is going to have a lot of chances. There needs to be a stat that can compensate for that discrepancy. I’m sure there is some advanced stat I should know about, but I’m guessing points per play or yards per play would be a good place to start.

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