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Numbers, Statistics & Lies: Week 6

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A dive into the Husker books, kneejerk analysis, and why you should not believe everything the numbers are trying to tell you.

Gallery: Late Husker Surge Toppels Illinois David McGee

I promised some extra digging during the bye week, and I was especially perplexed by the red zone offense - which has not been good. I found some fun stuff comparing the first five games of this season to the first five games of 2015. Yes, I dug through those box scores and drive charts (even Illinois) so you didn’t have to - you’re welcome.

Numbers - Statistics - Lies I

Numbers: 4 and 1

Statistics: The Huskers have turned the ball over in the red zone (at or inside the opponent’s 20 yard line) 4 times through the first 5 games in 2016. They turned the ball over in the red zone only once through the first 5 games in 2015. One of the 2016 turnovers was the bogus “fumble” at the goal line vs Northwestern but even taking that out, the Big Red is coughing it up in scoring territory more than last year.

The poor performance in the red zone (scoring on 19 of 24 red zone trips or 79% of the time) ranks a putrid 93rd in FBS. The 2015 Huskers also had 24 red zone trips in their first 5 games. Last year’s version scored on 22 of 24 red zone trips (92%).

Lie: The 2015 offense was better than 2016.

In 2015 the Husker offense (first 5 games) scored 15 red zone touchdowns and 7 red zone field goals for a total of 126 points (assuming we kicked and made a PAT each time, I didn’t dig to see if there were any two point conversions made/missed or PATs missed). In 2016 the Huskers have 16 red zone touchdowns and 3 red zone field goals for a total of 121 points (again assuming PATs and no 2 pt conversions). I could be off a point or two depending on 2-point tries, but you get the idea. The 2016 Huskers are still scoring almost as many points in the red zone through 5 games as the 2015 Huskers (more points if you add back the “fumble” vs Northwestern that should have been a TD).

While it would be great if the 2016 Huskers hung on to the ball better in the red zone, they are scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. Glass half full?

Outside of the red zone, the 2016 Huskers have only turned the ball over twice in five games while the 2015 version turned the ball over 9 times (outside of the red zone) in the first 5 games. As I guessed in last week’s NS&L, the 2016 Huskers are waiting to turn the ball over until they reach the red zone, but are turning it over less as a whole. Reduced turnovers are always good, but an added bonus is that the offense is not putting the Blackshirts in tough spots re: field position.

I dive into more on differences between 2015 and 2016 (first 5 games) below the tables and graphs.

Numbers - Statistics - Lies II

Number: 88

Statistic: The Blackshirts have allowed opponents to score 88 points this year for an average of 17.6 points per game. This ranks #15 in FBS. We boast a national top-15 scoring defense. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Even with this outstanding performance, the Blackshirts rank 5th in the B1G in scoring defense. Yes, the Big Ten has 5 teams in the top 15 in scoring defense.

Lie: Suck it SEC. Start playing some defense or go home.

The SEC does have 4 teams in the top 15 in scoring defense, but the B1G is clearly the conference subscribing to the most obstructionist interpretation of gridiron movement right now. The Big Ten boasts the two best scoring defenses (Michigan at 10.3 and Ohio State at 10.8 points/game) and the 4th best (Wisconsin, 12.2 ppg). Of course, SEC defenses don’t get to play Rutgers, but I digress.

You may have noticed, but the Huskers play two of the best scoring defenses in the country in the next 4 weeks.

Obligatory Pile of Numbers

As promised I added some special teams performances and rankings to the table. It wasn’t quite as horrific as I thought. The returners (kick and punt) are more than holding their own, but special teams are, ummm, not doing a special job at stopping other teams from getting good returns.

As promised, below are more comparisons between 2015 and 2016 Nebraska (offense). The eye test tells us that the 2016 offense is humming along far better than 2015 but what about the numbers?

graph comparing things like touchdowns, number of plays, number of drives between 2015 and 2016 nebraska football

You will notice that the 2015 offense (blue bars; through five games) had more drives and more plays than in 2016 (orange bars). Despite that, this year’s version of the offense is sustaining longer drives (an average of 6 plays per drive compared to 5.4 in 2015), scoring more points (185 to 158), and punting much less (18 compared to 26 in 2015).

The 2016 offense is also more explosive just judging by the number of touchdowns that have come when the ball was snapped outside of the red zone. In 2016, Nebraska has scored 9 such touchdowns compared to only 4 in 2015.

Another really interesting effect of the commitment to running the dang ball? Even though the Huskers have run 12 fewer plays than they did through the same time in 2015, they are possessing the ball for almost 2 12 minutes more per game than they did in 2015. Right now, the Huskers are #9 in FBS in time of possession. While it is a rather meaningless predictor of success by itself, the ball-control offense we all wanted to see last year is playing out before our eyes. It is also probably a small factor in the improvement we’ve seen from the Blackshirts.

All hail the great and powerful Langsdorf. (Did I really just say that?)

Husker Haiku

What is a Hoosier?
Dunno, but they have defense
Good test for NU