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Non-Conference Review 2014

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A quick look at our non-conference opponents and where the Huskers rank statistically after four games.

Eric Francis

Four games in the books. Four wins. It was not smooth sailing *cough* McNeese *cough* but the Huskers got the job done. They are undefeated in the non-con for the first time since 2011, a.k.a. "The UCLA rotation dropped off our schedule".

How has each of our non-con opponents fared and where do the Huskers rank?

Opponent Watch

Florida Atlantic - The Owls sit at 1-3 with their lone win against Tulsa. Their most recent loss was by one point to Craig Bohl's Wyoming squad in Laramie. Don't feel too bad for FAU. They are probably still counting the piles of cash earned while being outscored 96-7 by Alabama and Nebraska. While most analysts do not expect FAU to be a serious Conference USA contender this year, this is a program that seems to be trending in the right direction.

McNeese State - These weird double-bye weeks have resulted in a slow start to the season for McNeese, who has just played two games. They are 1-1 in those with their win coming handily against Prairie View A&M (an 0-3 team FWIW). McNeese is ranked 4th in current FCS polls.

Fresno State - The Bulldogs are 1-3 and finally collected their first win against FCS Southern Utah. It is definitely a rebuilding year for FSU. Time will tell if they can return to being a mid-major headache for Power 5 programs, but it is not looking like that will happen in the very near future.

Miami - The 2-2 Hurricanes have backed off their pre-season hopes of a Coastal Division championship and fans are pretty openly questioning coaching on the defensive side of the ball. Freshman quarterback, Brad Kaaya, is a clear talent and something this team can build around for the near future. This team could challenge for national prominence, or it could disappear (sound familiar?).

Where the Huskers Rank

These numbers include the standings in all of FBS (128 teams) and then the B1G. H/T to Mister Mike for providing most of the FBS stats/ranks and saving me a boatload of time.

The Good

Total Offense
8th FBS - 559.8 ypg - 1st B1G

Scoring Offense
10th FBS - 45.5 ppg - 2nd B1G
Author's note: The highest scoring offense in the Big Ten right now is....drum roll....Sparty! A year ago at this time, we would have laughed ourselves silly at that prospect. My, how times have changed.

Yards Per Play
1st FBS - 8.0 yards per play - 1st B1G
Dammit Tim Beck!....oh wait....nevermind.

Rushing Offense
6th FBS - 329 ypg - 2nd B1G
If you have not checked out Paul's article comparing the ‘95 offense with 2014 -- do it. I'll wait.

Yards per Rush Attempt
4th FBS - 7.1 yards per rush attempt - 2nd B1G
Ameer Abdullah doing Ameer Abdullah things. His friends in the backfield are no slouches either.

Passing Yards per Completion
6th FBS - 17 yards per completion - B1G N/A
Can you say "Arm-strong?"

Net Punting
4th FBS - 45 net yards per punt - 1st B1G
Sam Foltz is off to a very good start. I just hope we do not see him often. No offense Sam. All fans of teams with a good punter have that love/hate thing going on. Interesting [perhaps only to me] trivia: Foltz has yet to put one in the end zone for a touchback in 2014. Nice.

Sacks Allowed
t4th FBS - .25 per game - 1st B1G
Our big guys up front have had quite a few good moments, and Tommy is really difficult to bring down when he scrambles or runs. They all deserve some kudos here. Will this hold up when we face some defenses with teeth?

Tackles for Loss Allowed
3rd FBS - 2.50 per game - 1st B1G
The next closest Big Ten team is Minnesota checking in at 32nd in FBS allowing 4.5 TFL. See my comment above. A competent O-line + a slippery backfield = positive yardage.

Team Passing Efficiency Defense
17th FBS - 104.03 - B1G 2nd
This seems to be a hallmark of Pelini defenses. They might allow yards, but they make the other team work for everything they get in the passing game. This is especially impressive in 2014 given the injuries Nebraska experienced in the secondary.

3rd Down Conversion Pct Offense
t19th FBS - .500 - 2nd B1G

3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense
18th FBS - .292 - 3rd B1G

The OK

Punt Returns
30th FBS - 13.1 yards/punt - 4th B1G
We can haz punt returns!

Rush Defense
t33rd FBS - 116 yds/game allowed - 6th B1G
Hey, at least we are way ahead of where we were last year at this time. The B1G has 3 of the top 10 rush defenses in FBS right now.

The Bad

Red Zone Defense
t66th FBS - .846 - 7th B1G
B1G suckage alert. There are two (2!) Big Ten teams allowing opponents to score 100% of the time that they reach the red zone. One of those teams just beat a ranked SEC squad (LOLOLOL Mizzou!). Take your bows Indiana and Illinois. The first one to make a red zone stop should get a trophy or something....maybe a participation ribbon. Better yet, they get Brady Hoke if/when Michigan fires him.

Penalties per Game
t55th FBS - 6.0 penalties per game - B1G N/A

Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game
t71st FBS - 57.50 yards per game - 12th B1G
Another nagging bugaboo that seems to be a staple of the Pelini tenure. In past years there were enough of the agressive, playing-on-the-edge kind that we have simply accepted it. This year feels more like the sloppy, lacking-in-execution kind. I have no data whatsoever to back up that statement.

Turnovers Gained
84th FBS - 4 total - 12th B1G
We need to see more takeaways if this defense wants to reach its potential.

Turnover Margin
t66th FBS  +/-0   t5th B1G
It says something about our crappiness in the turnover category during the past few years that I look at this number and think, "Woohoo! We are movin' on up!"

Punt Return Defense
60th - 6.80 - B1G N/A

Kickoff Returns
75th - 19.92 - 12th B1G
Double sigh.

Kickoff Return Defense
95th FBS - 22.38 - B1G N/A
I'm done sighing.
/Throws something at wall.

The Ugly

Completion Percentage
101st - .544 - 13th B1G
But, but but.... "Tommy throws such a beautiful ball!"
OK, our young QB is developing into one of the better signal callers in the B1G and certainly inspires confidence. Some tweaks in mechanics (goodbye sail-ball), decision-making (say it with me -- checkdown*), and smart play-calling will make this number go up. Chasing a higher completion % for its own sake it not useful, but if this stat improves, I will take it as a sign of progress in the aforementioned areas.

*Please ignore any and all "captain checkdown" jokes made in comments on this website by the author during the Sam Keller administration.

In Summary

Compared to my preseason expectations the offense and defense have flipped places.

We have an offense that hardly hiccuped at replacing most of its starting O-line, has already produced two ESPN SportsCenter #1 "plays of the day" and boasts a legitimate Heisman candidate. They have exceeded my expectations and there seems to be plenty of room for improvement. Not just the type of improvement every biased homer hopes for, but small, realistic things. Drives have stalled because of communication, or a tendency to go YOLO in passing decisions. Can these things improve? Yes. Will they (especially as we  face some pretty stout B1G defenses)? I hope so and I am basing that hope on the "young faces in new places" type of improvements we have already seen.

What about the defense? Injuries and excessive pre-season expectations (at least on my part) aside, this is a group that is way ahead of where they were last year at this time (with the possible exception of the secondary). Pelini defenses at Nebraska have generally bucked the trend and moved up the statistical ladder as the season moves on and competition gets better.  I am still nervous about meeting teams with dominant run games (especially the team that /scored again). I have tempered my expectations because the mental lapses, missed tackles, and lack of takeaways just feel more endemic than my preseason self would like to admit. On the plus side, there seems to be more wherewithal to move on from a busted play and not let it snowball into a busted quarter, or worse.

There you have it in 1500 words or less. Your "State of the Huskers" post non-conference. At this point, I have confidence this team has the goods to challenge for a B1G title. Not cocky, but confident. No one knows what will happen over the course of conference play, but I like where we are at.

Where do you agree? Disagree? Fire up the CAPS LOCK and let me hear about it in the comments.