Summer Vacation: The Ohio Bobcats And Negative Positivity

COLUMBUS OH - SEPTEMBER 18: John Simon #54 of the Ohio State Buckeyes fights off a block to get to ballcarrier Phil Bates #5 of the Ohio Bobcats at Ohio Stadium on September 18 2010 in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

Frank Solich has gotten Ohio U. into the doorway. Before Solich took over in 2005, the Bobcats had managed three winning seasons in 23 years and been to two bowl games (losses in the 1962 Sun Bowl and 1968 Tangerine Bowl). No Ohio coach had left Athens with a winning record since local legend Bill Hess retired in 1977. With Solich in charge, Ohio has gone 40-36 in six years and appeared in three bowls and two conference title games. And lost them all ... by an average of 16 points.

2006 MAC Championship: Central Michigan 31, Ohio 10
2007 GMAC Bowl: Southern Miss 28, Ohio 7
2009 MAC Championship: Central Michigan 20, Ohio 10
2009 Little Caesars Bowl: Marshall 21, Ohio 17
2010 New Orleans Bowl: Troy 48, Ohio 21

As he was at Nebraska, Solich has been something of a disappointingly good coach. His teams win at a solid level -- and at Ohio, nobody in the last 35 years has won at a higher rate --  but they never make it quite as far as it seems they could, and when they lose, they often lose big. Of Solich's 36 losses in The Other Other Athens, 15 have been by 17 points or more. (Granted, six came in Solich's 4-7 debut season, but three more came this past season.) When it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and on the biggest stages Ohio has experienced in recent years, it hasn't worked.

But is that really a problem? Ohio is actually playing in some pretty big (for the MAC) games. And if you keep playing in them, you eventually win them, right? Maybe?

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk**: 91
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep Wofford 33-10 W 21.5 - 33.7 L
11-Sep Toledo 13-20 L 10.2 - 19.4 L
18-Sep at Ohio State 7-43 L 15.5 - 27.7 L
25-Sep at Marshall 23-24 L 28.9 - 37.2 L
2-Oct at Eastern Michigan 30-17 W 21.1 - 32.0 L
9-Oct Bowling Green 49-25 W 40.2 - 39.0 W
16-Oct Akron 38-10 W 34.4 - 30.5 W
23-Oct at Miami-OH 34-13 W 36.2 - 22.4 W
30-Oct UL-Lafayette 38-31 W 39.1 - 37.4 W
4-Nov Buffalo 34-17 W 34.6 - 28.4 W
16-Nov at Temple 31-23 W 35.8 - 27.9 W
26-Nov at Kent State 6-28 L 7.3 - 29.1 L
18-Dec vs Troy 21-48 L 25.3 - 38.6 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 27.5 55 23.8 51
Adj. Points Per Game 26.9 67 31.0 92

For six weeks, Ohio had one of the best offenses in the country. From October 9 to November 16, the Bobcats averaged 36.7 Adj. PPG, which for a full season would have placed them 11th in the country, fourth among mid-majors (behind the usual suspects: Boise State, Nevada and TCU). In all six of those games, they came away with an Adj. Win, meaning they would have beaten a perfectly average team all six week despite a less than impressive defense. It didn't last, of course; they couldn't get anything going against a strong Kent State defense, and they couldn't keep up with Troy State.

Despite the poor performances that sandwiched a wonderful hot streak, Ohio showed a strong level of overall athleticism on offense. Now they just need to figure out how to build the defense back up.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 76 71 77
RUSHING 82 69 89 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 62 79 54 50
Standard Downs 78 80 76 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 54 46 63 72
Redzone 49 36 65
Q1 Rk 76 1st Down Rk 80
Q2 Rk 111 2nd Down Rk 49
Q3 Rk 44 3rd Down Rk 98
Q4 Rk 13

By the end of his career, quarterback-slash-athlete Phil Bates will have racked up an interesting stat line. Here's what he's looking at so far:

  • 2007 (at Iowa State): 7 carries, minus-16 yards; 5 receptions, 76 yards
  • 2008 (at Iowa State): 11-for-24 passing, 137 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 24 carries, 166 yards
  • 2010 (at Ohio): 9-for-23 passing, 178 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT; 78 carries, 519 yards, 3 TD

As a passer, Bates ... leaves something to be desired. The senior has a career completion percentage of 43% and more interceptions than touchdowns. But as a runner, he has shown extreme potential. He has averaged 6.7 yards per carry (great) and 6.7 yards per pass (less than great). With Boo Jackson finishing up his eligibility, Bates has worked his way into the discussion for the starting gig this fall, but with the potential emergence of sophomore quarterback Tyler Tettleton this spring, people have been predicting a position change for Bates (who missed most of the spring to injury) instead. (Multiple youngsters could emerge as well, including redshirt freshman Kyle Snyder; this would further complicate the situation.) It hasn't actually happened yet, however, so it's almost as if you have to preview two different Ohio offenses.

If Bates is Ohio's starting quarterback, expect the run-pass ratios to skew even more in favor of the run. Bates was very effective in this regard, and in Donte Harden and sophomore Ryan Boykin (combined: 457 yards, 5.0 per carry, +1.5 Adj. POE, 6 TD), he has a nice running backs tandem with which to work.

If Tettleton is the starter, however, then the run-pass ratios should shift back toward the national averages. Bates would, in theory, join what would become a deep receiving corps alongside Riley Dunlop (387 yards, 14.3 per catch, 77% catch rate, an impressive 11.1 yards per target) and Jordan Thompson (204 yards, 9.7 per catch, 72% catch rate). Despite the losses of their starting quarterback, starting running back (Vince Davidson) and two leading receivers (Terrence McCrae and Steven Goulet), it does appear that Solich has a strong set of skill position options. But the offense's personality will depend on which direction he goes with the quarterback position (and which direction Bates is willing to go, I guess).

Other tidbits:

  • No matter who the starting quarterback is, he will be protected by an extremely experienced, talented offensive line. The line was a relative strength last year, especially in terms of run blocking, and basically 4.5 starters return. All conference right tackle Joe Flading (6-foot-4, 290 pounds) is a potential star, with 24 career starts and first-team all-conference honors in 2010, and Florida State transfer John Prior joins the rotation as well. This unit returns 93 career starts, one of the higher totals in the country.
  • Despite his inaccuracy, it probably isn't accurate to definitively write Bates off as quarterback. Solich has had strong success in recent years with run-pass quarterbacks -- Jackson went for 1,897 passing yards and 496 pre-sack rushing yards in 2010 (despite splitting time with Bates) and 2,355/460 in 2008, while Theo Scott went for 2,369/306 in 2009. Bates' per-pass averages (7.7) were the same as Jackson's thanks to some deep balls, so he isn't a completely lost cause. It also bears mentioning that his season stat line was skewed a bit by his stat line against Ohio State: 4-for-9 for 13 yards and two interceptions. His other 14 passes in 2010 went for 165 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He still wasn't at all accurate, but he had some value. In the end, his ability to consistently complete shorter passes will likely determine his fate. That, and his willingness to switch positions of course.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 106 113 90
RUSHING 97 96 91 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 101 116 87 112
Standard Downs 112 115 113 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 109 116 99 77
Redzone 114 95 116
Q1 Rk 101 1st Down Rk 108
Q2 Rk 103 2nd Down Rk 113
Q3 Rk 80 3rd Down Rk 111
Q4 Rk 120

It's interesting how much can change in a year. In 2009, Ohio's offense ranked 104th in Off. F/+, but they finished 9-5 thanks to a defense that ranked a mighty 31st in Def. F/+. The Bobcats ranked in the Top 50 in both Def. Success Rate+ and Def. PPP+, and in the Top 40 in both Standard Downs S&P+ and Passing Downs S&P+. They were extraordinarily well-rounded and solid.

Then 2010 happened. Ohio lost five starters, including all-conference linebacker Lee Renfro, but the more damaging attrition took place after the season started. Middle linebacker Noah Keller (109.5 tackles, 9.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF, 3 PBU in 2009) got dinged up and only played three games. Outstanding young free safety Gerald Moore (50.0 tackles, 6 INT as a freshman in 2009) missed the entire year. Suddenly Ohio was replacing eight starters, including possibly their three best players. Funny how much that can make a difference, eh?

Whereas the Ohio defense was more-or-less equally good at everything in 2009, they collapsed equally in 2010. They couldn't stop the run, they really couldn't stop the pass, they couldn't stop standard downs, they couldn't stop passing downs. They couldn't stop teams on a plane, they couldn't stop teams in the rain. They couldn't stop teams on the road, they couldn't stop teams ... uh ... in their abode? They couldn't stop teams, is the general point.

In theory, we could see a decent-sized rebound in 2011, if everybody stays healthy, anyway. Their best player from last year, end Stafford Gatling (36.0 tackles, 13.5 tackles, 2 FF, 2 PBU), is gone, but their best players from 2009 are back. Keller bolsters what could be a decent linebacking corps, joining Eric Benjamin (40.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 3 PBU), Jay Edwards (34.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks) and Alphonso Lewis (30.0 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks). Meanwhile, Moore's return should soften the loss of two second-team all-conference safeties, Donovan Fletcher (56.5 tackles, 5 INT, 4 PBU) and Steven Jackson (53.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 3 PBU). The cornerback position has at least a little bit of potential with the returns of Travis Carrie (32.0 tackles, 5.5 TFL/sacks, 2 FF, 5 PBU) and Omar Leftwich (26.5 tackles, 2 INT, 7 PBU).

Other tidbits:

  • Depth might still be an issue on the line. Tackle Carl Jones (29.0 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks) has all-conference potential, but the only end with any true experience is Tremayne Scott (10.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF). The good news, I guess, is that the line wasn't really any good last year, so regression isn't likely. (Now that is some 'silver lining' action.)
  • There's never any good segue into this subject, but Ohio suffered a tough blow this spring when tackle Marcellis Williamson, who had just finished up his eligibility, died unexpectedly in late-April. The apparent cause of death: a blood clot in the lungs. I have a close, personal history with blood clots (my wife suffered through a pulmonary embolism a couple of years ago), so this one hits close to home. Needless to say, Ohio players are still working through the grief. It's one thing to lose peers when you're older -- you shouldn't have to deal with it much when you are 21 or 22 years old.

Ohio's 2010 Season Set to Music

"October Is Eternal," by Of Montreal. Now ... I have no idea how Of Montreal is on my iPod -- must have ended up there via large file exchange with a friend whim purchase -- but unfortunately for Ohio, October was not, after all, eternal.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Okay, so this tidbit isn't so much a nerd tidbit as one of courtesy. In pulling these profiles together, I typically end up scrolling through a team's weekly game notes from last year. (To the teams who either do not have last year's game notes available, or at least easy to find, I am not a fan of yours.) Well, Ohio's game notes last year featured an entertaining (to me) request:

The "thank you" at the end might be my favorite part.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 87
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 92
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -7 / -3.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (8, 4)
Yds/Pt Margin***** -3.0

Ohio U. Ohio probably wasn't as good as their eight wins suggest last year, but while their YPP margin suggests some luck was involved, their negative fumbles luck -- and a couple of devastating injuries -- probably balance that out. The MAC East race could be a highly entertaining one this year, and Ohio should be right in the thick of the hunt, along with Temple, Miami and maybe Kent State. (Everybody but Buffalo and Akron, basically.)

The Ohio offense is a complete question mark right now, but no matter which direction the quarterback race goes, there are enough athletes to make the machine run rather well. Whether Ohio wins the East or not could simply come down to how the defense rebounds from a year of serious regression and injury. For what it's worth, the schedule sets up nicely -- Temple, Miami and Kent State all, amazingly, come to Athens this fall, and aside from maybe the trip to Rutgers, there isn't a single unwinnable game on the slate.

Even with a team that ranked just 91st, Ohio managed eight wins last year. With a friendly schedule and a better defense, they should be able to match that. And if they can sneak into the 70s range, then double-digit wins are certainly possible. Ohio could be playing some more high-visibility games in November and December this year -- is this the year the Bobcats break through and win them?

 

 

---

* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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