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Numbers, Statistics, and Lies: Week Four

A dive into the Husker books, knee-jerk analysis, and why you shouldn’t believe everything the numbers say.

David McGee

The Huskers defeated Northwestern and are 4-0!

Welcome to Week 4’s slog through the books. We are starting to get a clearer picture of this team and their capabilities. First and foremost, it seems like the coaching staff was serious when they said they intended to tailor their playcalling to the talents of the team.

Secondly, the defensive backfield is one of the most improved units in the conference and looks like the strength of the Blackshirts.

Numbers - Statistics - Lies

Number: 9

Statistic: The 9 interceptions by the Huskers rank 4th in FBS and 1st in the B1G (tied with the Buckeyes). You read that right! Outside of the Huskers’ #1 rank in win %, this is the highest spot Nebraska sits in any of the stats that the NCAA reports. They already have snagged as many INTs as they did in all of 2015 and one more than the terrible Cosgrove-coached defense of 2007 that got Bill Callahan fired.

This is a remarkable amount of ball-hawking by the Blackshirts. Compare over the past 10 years:

2015 - 9 interceptions (one of the worst pass defenses in Husker history)
2014 - 13 interceptions
2013 - 14 interceptions
2012 - 13 interceptions
2011 - 10 interceptions
2010 - 19 interceptions (one of the best secondaries in Husker history)
2009 - 20 interceptions (Suh hunting QBs + really good secondary)
2008 - 12 interceptions
2007 - 8 interceptions (Cosgrove’d)
2006 - 12 interceptions

Lie: The Huskers are on pace to pick off 36 passes this year and will be nearly twice as good as the 2010 defense!

I think most of us realize that the torrid pickoff rate is likely to slow as the Huskers enter B1G play. Four teams on the Husker schedule have only thrown one pick each so far this season (Minnesota, Ohio State, Iowa, and Illinois). It is also likely to slow as opposing offensive coordinators know they can/need to find ways to run the ball on the Huskers, if for no other reason than to keep the potent Husker offense off the field.

It’s still pretty awesome to see the defensive backs get some redemption after a rough transition last season.

For fun, I looked up a few other seasons to compare.

2003 - 32 interceptions (NU school record - Solich/Pelini)
1997 - 12 interceptions (national championship)
1995 - 20 interceptions (national championship)
1994 - 17 interceptions (national championship)
1971 - 29 interceptions (national championship)
1970 - 31 interceptions (national championship)

Numbers - Statistics - Lies II

Numbers: 242 and 243

Statistic: The Huskers are averaging 242 rushing yards and 243 passing yards per game one quarter of the way through the 2016 season. The rush offense is 22nd in FBS and #3 in the B1G (yards/game). The pass offense is 56th in FBS and #3 in the B1G (yards/game).

So far this season the Huskers have run exactly 300 plays of offense (188 rush, 112 pass). This works out be be a 63:37 ratio.

Lie: OK #RunTheDangBall guy, are you happy now? We are wasting the best position group on the team - the wideouts.

The passing game has been deployed very effectively thus far when our stable of backs has been stymied on the ground. Even if the quantity is not there, the quality has been. The wideouts and tight ends are also knocking heads (OK, maybe not “heads” - that would be targeting) in their blocking assignments for the run game, especially the QB run game. While blocking is not a glamorous part of the game for receivers, Nebraska’s pass catchers have always taken great pride in their physicality.

At some point, the Huskers are going to be in a game where they have to sling it around to have a chance to win. I feel far better about that possibility with what I have seen this season than what I saw in 2015.

Obligatory Pile of Numbers

You can see mostly green lights across the dashboard for the offense, with the exception of red zone offense. The Huskers have had the ball in the red zone 19 times this season and scored on 15 of them (13 of which were touchdowns). If you assume the refs cost Nebraska a score with their decision to not whistle Ozigbo’s forward progress stopped against NW and instead count that as a TD, the red zone offense rate goes up to 84.2% (which would put the Huskers at #58 in FBS making that cell yellow instead of red).

It is still something to keep an eye on, but as you can see, one play still makes a big difference this early in the season. At least the Huskers are scoring touchdowns in the red zone this year rather than trotting out Drew Brown after the inevitable 3rd and short slant to Jordan Westerkamp fell incomplete.

The part of the table showing defensive statistics shows you just how stacked the Big Ten is on that side of the ball. The Huskers are mostly an average to below-average B1G defense, but they are in the top half (solidly in quite a few areas) of all of FBS in everything except rushing defense. In a bit of a flip compared to the offensive numbers, one of the areas the Blackshirts are performing best is in the red zone.

See below the table for the explanation on the color-coding system and trends.

The color coding for national rankings is based on quintiles (is that a word?). If ranked in the top 20% (approx 25) of FBS the cell is dark green; 21-40% = light green; 41-60% = yellow; 61-80% = light red; and 81-100% (the bottom quintile) = dark red.

For B1G rankings, top 3 = dark green. Ranked 4-6 = light green, 7-8 = yellow, 9-11 = light red, and 12-14 = dark red.

The trend arrows are the general direction the Huskers are going for each category relative to the rest of the FBS. It reflects all four weeks. In other words, is the —(insert statistic here)— climbing in national rankings, dropping, or holding steady from week 1 to week 4?

As an example of the trends, below is a graph showing where the defense has ranked in rush, pass, total, and scoring defense after each week. Being toward the top of the graph indicates a higher ranking in FBS. The dashed lines represent the trend. These rankings are cumulative. In other words where you see the Huskers ranked in week 4 is based on all four weeks of data and not just how they performed against Northwestern. By nature, this means you can see some big swings early in the season but as more games are played, it gets harder for a single game to swing the ranking significantly.

a graph showing the national ranking and trendlines of major defensive categories for Nebraska football 2016

Non-Husker Related Numbers and Statistics

Number: Three

Statistic: In a list that should shock no one, the three service academies all rank in the top five in FBS rushing offense. They also have a combined 9-1 record.

  • #1 Army West Point: 375 yards/game
  • #2 Air Force: 359 yards/game
  • #5 Navy: 316 yards/game

(Louisville, 318 ypg and Georgia Southern, 317 ypg are #3 and #4)

Number: Two

Statistic: There two quarterbacks at the top of FBS in completion rate and both are in the state of North Carolina.

  • Ryan Finley, NC State is completing over 76% of his passes (61 of 80)
  • Mitch Trubisky, UNC is completing 75% of his passes (102 of 137)

Neither one has thrown an interception yet this season.

Husker Haiku

Victory denied
Stop the losing streak at one
Defeat Illinois