A Stake in the Ground - An Early Look At Nebraska's Statistics

Statistics don't mean a whole lot after only two games, especially when one is against a FCS opponent, but I'm intending this a season-beginning place holder - something we can look back on as the season progresses.

During the offseason I had hoped to progress well enough with statistics to begin doing something more along the lines of what's going on with Bill Connelly and Football Study Hall, but I do have a real job and family that need my attention, so that got put off, most likely for another season.

It's typical that when football fans look at statistics we tend to go for the base, i.e., total offense, scoring defense, even though they don't tell us a whole lot because of the variety in strength of schedule between schools. They sound darned good when your team is doing well.

Nebraska finished third nationally in 2010 in pass efficiency defense! WOohooO!!

and when your team is doing poorly.... 

/ignore unfavorable stats and move on

FIVE NATIONAL TITLES, YEAH! 

A couple of years ago we used to compare schedule and base statistics on a fairly rudimentary level with a series we called "Under The Hood".  Ah, those were the days. In honor of the series, and because this is a place to put a stake in the ground, here's your current base stats for Nebraska after the first two games of the season (all stats provided by cfbstats.com):

Total Offense             401 yards per game - 55th nationally

Scoring Offense         41 points per game - 31st

Rushing Offense        224 yards per game - 24th

Passing Offense         177 yards per game - 91st

Total Defense             337 ypg - 45th

Scoring Defense        18 ppg - 41st

Rushing Defense       125 ypg - 55th

Passing Defense        212 ypg - 59th

What we'll look for is improvement over the course of the next few weeks. Obviously nothing looks better than a "W", but stats can still tell us a lot about whether or not the team is improving relative to other FBS teams.

Offense

First Downs - Total/Game

            2011 - 17 - 97th

            2010 - 18.1 - 86th              

            2010 - August/September - 19.3 - 63rd, December - 13.5 - 78th

Third Down Conversions

            2011  - 43.33% - 52nd

            2010 - 41.15% - 51st

            2010 - August/September - 45.45 - 36th, December - 25.81 - 75th

Total Offense - Yards Per Play

            2011 - 6.5 ypp - 35th

                 2010 - 6.1 ypp - 24th

Turnover Margin

            2011 - minus 1/game - 93rd

            2010 - minus .07/game - 61st

Penalties

            2011 - 29 yards/game - 13th

            2010 - 70.9 yards/game - 115th

Total Plays

            2011 -            124 - 91st

            2010 - 916 - 27th

Rushing Offense - Plays of 20+ Yards

            2011 - 7 - tied for 7th

            2010 - 36 - 6th

Rushing Offense - Plays of 10+ Yards

            2011 - 10 - tied for 46th

            2010 - 93 - tied for 12th

There are a few things that you jump out at you. On the positive side, penalties are way down from last season. Considering that you've got a new offensive coordinator and new, inexperienced offensive line that's an excellent improvement. On the down side, the new up-tempo offense was supposed to allow us to run more plays, but as you can see, we're not doing so well in that category. A better stat might be plays/game, but that's not available at the present time (at least without a fair amount of work).

The number of first downs per game is disconcerting, although not so way off from all of last season (although the team dropped badly towards the end of the season which drug down the full season average).

Nebraska suffered not from a single turnover against Fresno State, but if they keep occurring they will cost the Huskers a game or two.

If you looked at Nebraska's rushing situational stats, you'd see that the offense is just bloody awful on second down, averaging just 1.29 yards per carry. First down isn't so bad at 5.39, and third and long is just a bundle of suck. Comments welcome.

Defense

Opponent Third Down Conversions

           2011 - 39.47% - 68th

            2010 - 29.95% - 4th

Yards Per Attempt - Passing

            2011 - 5.5 ypa - 25th

            2010 - 5.5 ypa - 3rd

Yards Per Attempt - Rushing

            2011 - 3.52 ypa - 52nd

            2010 - 3.90 ypa - 44th 

Sacks Per Game

            2011 - 1.5/g - 59th

            2010 - 2.21/g - 43rd

Tackles for Loss Per Game

            2011 - 5 - 76th

            2010 - 4.29 - 112th

Opponent Long Passing Plays - 10+ Yards

            2011 - 17 - 49th

            2010 - 92 - 96th

Opponent Long Rushing Plays - 10+ Yards

            2011 - 7 - 60th

            2010 - 61 - 60th

Sacks and Tackles for Loss. As football fans we tend to make too much of these particular statistics - no doubt you heard the groaning after there were 10 TFL against the Mocs and zero against Fresno State. Check 2010 - Nebraska wasn't stellar in either category, yet you couldn't make the argument that the Blackshirts were a bad defense. Fact is, Nebraska's defensive line plays a gap defense, plug the running lanes, not an aggressive push upfield, but in order to keep everything in front of them. Ndamukong Suh (and Jared Crick to an extent) was a rare player, historical, and Husker fans should not expect massive sacks and TFL's on a yearly basis from someone who is a defensive tackle.

The Blackshirts struggled against Fresno State in one specific area - Nebraska couldn't seem to get the Bulldogs off the field on third down. Notice the difference in that third down conversion stat between this year and last (only two games, again, but..). If the defense continues along those lines it'll be damned difficult to win our Big Ten division (whatever the hell that's called again).

After looking at all the stats on the defense, i.e., long pass plays, long running plays, penalties, etc - you kind of have to conclude that there's one stat that matters most - scoring defense. You can give up all the long plays you want - as long as they ain't getting in the end zone it really doesn't matter all that much (a real stats guy would say, ah, but if you consistently let them drive to the two, you're hurting your own offense and that stats guy would be correct).

Turnovers should be included in that as well, and it's too early in the season to really get a read on how Nebraska is doing in forcing fumbles and picking off the ball. We'll look at that more closely in the coming weeks.

Versus Washington

Total Offense                                     358 ypg - 82nd

Scoring Offense -                   35 ppg - 44th

Rushing Offense                    149.5 ypg - 64th

Passing Offense                     208.5 ypg - 76th

Total Defense                        446 ypg - 103rd

Scoring Defense                    29.5 - 84th

Rushing Defense                   43 ypg - 7th

Passing Defense                    403 ypg - 120th

In looking at Washington's defense you might determine that they've got a horrible pass defense. They're dead last in yards per game and in yards given up, but they've also faced two teams that love to throw the ball. The Husky defense has faced 114 attempts already in two games, more than anyone in the nation, and in fact, 18 times more than Tulsa at 119.

That's why looking at yards per attempt is more meaningful and in that category Washington is fairing a little better, at 7.1 ypa, 68th nationally.

On the other side of the coin, Washington opponents have attempted only 39 runs against them (9th nationally), with a 2.21-yard average. Again, the two teams they faced, Eastern Washington and Hawaii, aren't exactly known for rushing prowess.

A really nasty stat for Washington is their opponent's third down conversion rate, which is currently last in the country - 70%, nearly a full nine percentage points worse than the next to last team. Perhaps this is the week in which we see ACHIEVEMENT - SUSTAINED DRIVE - UNLOCKED.

That'd make a lot of Husker fans happy.

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