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Nebraska Football: Numbers, Statistics & Lies, Week 7

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

Gallery: Huskers Open Season with Win over Fresno St.

Hopefully you all know the drill by now. This is not an advanced stats article. All I am doing here is looking at basic stuff and seeing how the Huskers stack up across FBS. Advanced views or basic, this has been a much more fun year to examine than 2015.

We have also reached the halfway point in the season. While I am ecstatic about where the Huskers are relative to my early expectations, I am also a little sad that the season is half over. A difficult stretch awaits Nebraska, but this team seems to thrive under difficult conditions.

Numbers from Brian

Our own Brian Towle found some interesting numbers on the Huskers in 2016 compared to the first half of 2015.

  • Halfway through 2015, Nebraska had 58 accepted penalties against them. In 2016: 37. That has made a difference of 131 yards.
  • Compared to the first half of 2015, the Huskers have scored 33 more points and have allowed 33 fewer points.
  • In 2015, the team scored 27 points off turnovers. This year: 49.
  • Opponents in 2015 scored 23 points off Husker turnovers compared to 15 this year.
  • Tommy Armstrong, Jr. has 26 more rushes this year than last year at this time. He also has 65 fewer pass attempts. Part is the commitment to the run game, but part is that Nebraska is not trailing in games as much as last year.
  • Nebraska’s third leading ball carrier in 2016 is Devine Ozigbo with 77. Last year was Andy Janovich with 19.

Numbers - Statistics - Lies

Number: One. Tommy Armstrong was sacked once against Indiana’s rapidly improving defense (the intentional grounding penalty).

Statistic: The Huskers are allowing an average of 0.67 sacks per game which is good for the 5th best rate in FBS and 1st in the Big Ten.

Lie: This offensive line is one of the best in the business.

Well, the big fellas have been showing up when they are really needed (i.e. the fourth quarter, especially in the run game) but some of the pass protection has been bafflingly bad at times. Part of that is opposing teams knowing Tommy is hobbled so they can send extra pressure rather than spy him. The rest is probably a combination of inexperience, injuries, and the poor execution that comes at times with shuffling players in and out of the lineup.

Mark Philipp deserves a round of applause for strength and conditioning. There is no way the Husker line performs like they do in the fourth quarter if he isn’t doing his job well. After watching both lines tend to get blown off the ball the last two-ish years Pelini was coaching, I feel better about what I am seeing this year. At the same time, I recognize there is still a long way yet to go.

Numbers - Statistics - Lies II

Number: 29

Statistic: The Huskers are the only FBS team whose net punting is below 30 yards per attempt, ranking them 128th out of 128 teams.

Lie: Chalk it up to a true freshman punter who was put into an incredibly difficult spot replacing a beloved, deceased teammate.

Caleb Lightbourn has been a bit shaky, no doubt, but the two most terrifying jobs in football have to be punt returner and punter. He has a gross punting average of 39 yards. Sam Foltz averaged 44 yards per punt in 2015, but was the best punter in the Big Ten. At this point in his career, it might be more fair to compare Caleb to Tyson Broekemeier, who filled in for Foltz for a couple games in 2015. In that comparison, Lightbourn holds his own compared to Broekemeier’s 37 yards/punt. I fully expect to see Lightbourn get better as time goes on—assuming he gets some protection.

The punt return defense and protection have been the most disappointing part of this equation. While I want to blame it all on Bruce Read, I found it interesting that Mike Riley mentioned something about leaving the defense on the field several times when Indiana punted as Nebraska was worried about fakes.

The punt return defense is allowing an average of 14 yards per return (good, err bad, for 113th in FBS). On top of that, only four teams in FBS have allowed more than one blocked punt (Nebraska, Oklahoma St., and Vanderbilt have each allowed two and UNLV has allowed three). Ninety-six teams in FBS (out of 128) have not allowed a blocked punt in 2016. The Huskers are in a “special kind of awful” category and it could end up costing them a close game if not cleaned up. If you are wondering, blocked punts are charged to team yardage totals (scored as a zero yard punt), but not to the individual punter.

When you add it all up, I think we know why Mike Riley has been much more willing to go for it on 4th down than what I remember from 2015.

Obligatory Pile of Numbers

The defense is chugging along, with the rush defense continuing to improve statistically. Part of the jump in rankings for the rush defense this past week (from 55th to 44th in FBS) is the linebackers showing up in a big way for the first time this year. It is also nice to see the youngsters along the d-line, especially Carlos Davis, developing.

The offense has stalled out a bit. They aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but a running quarterback with a bum wheel is a limiting Danny Langsdorf’s options. Indiana’s defense deserves some credit (did I really just type that?) for holding the Huskers to their lowest yardage output of the season. They also held them to the lowest point total (27) of the season outside of Northwestern (24), but if you remember, NW is the game where the Huskers fumbled away two touchdowns at the goal line.

Realistically, this was the worst performance by the Husker offense of the season. Injuries didn’t help given that the RT1 (Knevel) went down on the first play (probably will play this week), QB1 (Armstrong) is playing on one leg, our best third-down threats, Westerkamp (starting WR) and Carter (TE1) were out (and both expected to not play this week), center Dylan Utter dislocated a finger during the game (returned to the game and should play this week), starting WR Alonzo Moore did not register a catch (shoulder), RB1A/1B (Ozigbo) only made a token appearance (and might be the same this week), LT1 (Gates) was injured during the game (he finished but a decision on this week has not been made), and I’m sure there are more. This is a beat up offense.

If you read Ryan’s piece breaking down the plays, he attributes a some of Indiana’s defensive success to the linebackers. I probably don’t need to tell you that Wisconsin’s linebackers are even better than the Hoosiers’. Seeing his assessment that Danny Langsdorf adjusted and dialed up some good plays against aggressive linebackers makes me feel better (although not yet good) about the game against Bucky.

Husker Haiku

Revenge game coming
How far the mighty do fall
Can’t lose to Purdue