Travis provided y’all with a cursory overview of the Oregon State match up, but I think a deeper dive is warranted. It doesn’t make a difference in the outcome, but I like to understand what I’m watching. I’m going to show a bunch of stats. If you’re not interested, in reading through them, skip down to the bottom for my quick take away (if you’re so inclined, you’ve already clicked on the article, so you may as well).
Oregon State 2020 - Offensive Coaches
The Beavers only won 2 games in 2020, but it wasn’t due to their offense. Head Coach Jonathan Smith has been associated with a few high powered offenses in the past, and that shows up both on film and in the score book. He was the offensive coordinator for Montana from 2010-2011, and the Grizzlies made the FCS semi-finals in 2021, mainly on the strength of Smith’s offense. After his stint in the FCS he made his way to Boise State as the quarterbacks coach under Chris Peterson. When Peterson defected to Washington in 2014, he thought enough of Smith to bring him along as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He helped develop Jake Browning into the Pac-12 player of the year, and helped Peterson lead the Huskies to the 2016 College Football Playoffs and the 2017 Fiesta Bowl, again, based on the strength of the Smith offense.
In 2017, he left the Huskies for the head job at Oregon State. The Beavers were at rock bottom upon his arrival, and he’s been attempting to build a foundation to climb out of the hole during his entire tenure. Last season, despite the 2-7 result, showed a tremendous amount of progress, which he will look to build upon in 2021.
Assisting him in the rebuild is offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren. Smith hired Lindgren away from Colorado in 2018, and the results, thus far, have been promising. His 2018 offensive, in particular, showed his coaching acumen. The Beavers averaged 31 points per game, and led the nation in Red Zone TD% (84.6) and turnovers committed (6). He was nominated for the Broyles award in 2019, despite the offense taking a step back, mainly due to roster turnover due to graduation in 2018. Much like Coach Brohm at Purdue, Oregon State had decent starters in 2018, but no depth. Once the 2018 seniors graduated, the offense was destined to take a step back while Smith attempted to rebuild the roster.
I know 2020 data set isn’t great because the season, especially in the Pac-12, was a complete mess, but it’s the best metric we have at the moment. To give y’all a reference point, I thought it would be helpful to compare the 2020 Oregon State offense to the 2020 Purdue offense. It’s obviously not an apples to apples comparison, but it gives you an idea about what they do well, and how their game plan differs from the Boilermakers.
2020 Oregon State Offense vs Purdue Offense
*All rankings are 2020 national rankings
Scoring Offense (Points Per Game)
Oregon State - 28.9 (60th)
Purdue - 27.2 PPG (73rd)
The offensive output of both teams were similar last season. Oregon State played 7 games, compared to Purdue’s 6. The Beavers separated themselves slightly from the Purdue offense by putting up 27 total touchdowns compared to Purdue 20.
Total Offense (Yards Per Game)
Oregon State - 408.9 (56th)
Purdue - 390.5 (70th)
18 yards per game isn’t a huge difference, neither team was wracking up huge yardage last season. They also had similar yards per play. Oregon State averaged 5.8 yards per play and Purdue averaged 5.7 per play. As you’ll see in a moment, Oregon State was better at sustaining drives than the Boilermakers, giving them the slight edge in yards per game.
3rd Down Conversion Percentage
Oregon State - 40.4% (65th)
Purdue - 37.5% (86th)
Again, we’re not looking a huge gulf, but the OSU offense separated itself from the Boilermakers, at least nationally, in this category. They utilized a more run heavy approach offensively, and that appears to have helped them convert a few more first downs than the more pass oriented Purdue offense.
Rushing Offense (Yards Per Game)
Oregon State - 197.6 (33rd)
Purdue - 81.5 (124)
This gives you a clear picture of the differing offensive strategies. Oregon State ran the ball at an elite level last season. They averaged 5.36 yards per carry, good for 16th in the nation, compared to Purdue’s 3.26 yards per carry (4th worst in college football, shout out to Mississippi State, UMass and ULM for keeping the Boilermakers out of last place).
If you’re looking for a metric Purdue’s defense needs to hit, holding the Beavers below 5 yards per carry will be critical for the Boilermakers success.
Time of Possession (Average Time of Possession)
Oregon State - 28 minutes (102nd)
Purdue - 27 minutes (108)
It’s a little surprising that these teams are almost identical in time of possession based on Oregon State’s more run heavy approach last season, but if you look at my “Defense by the Numbers” article, you’ll see that both teams struggled to get off the field on defense last season.
Time of possession isn't a useful, “who won the game metric” because you can be up 21-0 after 3 quick touchdowns while getting crushed in time of possession, but is useful in identifying overall trends. It’s usually considered an offensive category, but in this case illustrates the defensive futility of both squads last season.
Passing Offense (Yards Per Game)
Oregon State - 211 (80th)
Purdue - 309 (16th)
The difference in offensive philosophy shows up in the passing game. It’s interesting, overall, in terms of points per game and yards per game, the two teams are similar, but they go about (or maybe went about is better) gaining those yards and scoring those points in totally different manners.
Yards Per Passing Completion
Oregon State - 11.04 (92nd)
Purdue - 10.53 (104th)
Neither offense pushed the ball down the field much last season. I was a little surprised to see a team with David Bell and Rondale Moore only average 10.5 yards per completion, but again, dump offs in the flats, screen passes, and shallow crossing routes were a staple of the Purdue offense last season. Oregon State moved the ball a little farther down the field with each completion, but not by much.
This stat is why I’m not as enamored with Jack Plummer’s completion percentage as some people. Yes, he completed most of his passes, but those passes weren’t going very far. Keep in mind that yards per completion includes any yardage gained after the catch. At the same time, if you’re going to run an offense predicated on the short passing game, having a guy like Plummer is ideal. I’ll be interested to see if Jeff Brohm attacks down the field more with Plummer in 2021.
Oregon State - 122.12 (92nd)
Purdue - 143 (41st)
Purdue was much more efficient in completing passes last season. Oregon State attempted 233 passes, competed 134 of them, threw 5 interceptions and 11 touchdowns over 7 games. Purdue attempted 261 passes, completed 176 of them, threw 4 interceptions and 15 touchdowns in 6 games. What Purdue’s offense lacked in an explosive passing game, they made up for in efficiency. Oregon State, on the other hand wasn’t particularly explosive or efficient when it came to passing the ball.
Red Zone Offense (Percentage of Scoring Inside the Redzone)
Oregon State - 89% (23rd)
Purdue - 75% (108th)
Purdue struggled in the red zone last season. That’s not unusual for teams that rely as heavily on the passing game as Purdue. The chance for something to go wrong in the passing game (holding/sack) and knock you out of makeable field goal range is much higher when you’re dropping back to pass. Oregon State was significantly more efficient at scoring points once they crossed the opponents 20 yard line.
Oregon State had 28 red zone attempts, resulting in 13 rushing touchdowns, 8 passing touchdowns, and 4 field goals. They came away with points in 25/28 trips inside the 20. Purdue had 28 red zone attempts resulting in 4 rushing touchdowns, 11 passing touch downs and 6 field goals. They came away with points in 21/28 trips inside the 20.
My Take Away
If Purdue and Oregon State employ a similar game plan in 2021 as they did in 2020, this game will be a battle of opposing offensive philosophies. Oregon State was a run heavy offense, with a poor passing game. Purdue was a pass heavy offense with an abysmal running game.
I think the team that comes closest to having a balanced offense has the advantage in this one. If Purdue can scrape together a functional running game to complement their efficient passing attack, I’m not sure Oregon State can hang unless Purdue turns the ball over or gives up something on special teams. At the same time, if Oregon State can figure out a way to pass the ball, it will be hard for the Purdue defense to get them off the field.
My key to the game is red zone scoring. When Oregon State made it inside the 20, they tended to score touchdowns. When Purdue made it inside the 20, it was an adventure (and not the fun kind). This ties back to Purdue’s ability to run the ball. I think the Boilermakers will have at least 1 more trip to the red zone than the Beavers. If they can cash that extra trip in for 7 points, they should win the game. If the Boilermakers have to settle for field goals, or worse, no points, it’s going to be hard to beat the red zone efficiency of the Oregon State offense.
The one thing that could make the red zone irrelevant is a more explosive Purdue passing attack. I don’t think that’s a strength of Jack Plummer’s game. I see him more as a “game manager” than a “push it down the field for 7” quarterback, but if he has added a consistent deep ball to his repertoire, Purdue has the athletes on the outside to negate any red zone struggles by skipping over it all together.