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Nebraska Football’s Numbers, Statistics, and Lies: Bye Week Edition

The one with all the graphs.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

N,S,&L is about basic stats and where the Huskers rank relative to other FBS teams and Big Ten teams. We apply the “eye test” to figure out if the numbers are lying or not. If you noticed any stats or made observations that aren’t covered here, add them in the comments!

Color-Coded Pile of Numbers

Not much movement this week, as you would expect from the bye week. In addition to the color-coded pile, I included a few charts that show the game-by-game status of the offense and defense.

The first chart shows the output, in yards, per game for the Husker offense. The red portion of the bar are the yards gained by passing and the blue portion of the bar represents yards gained by rushing. The chart immediately below is the rushing attempts and passing attempts with the same color scheme.

We all expected the offense to be more pass-heavy this year given Tanner Lee’s style of play and the preferences of the offensive staff. That combined with early scoreboard deficits faced by the team, have led to only three games where the Huskers tried to run the ball more than they tried to pass.

I’m not a purist when it comes to “run the dang ball”, despite my tendencies to extol the glories of the fullback in my writing. I enjoy watching a good pass offense.

This is not a good pass offense.

This next graph shows where the Husker offense ranks in all of FBS (130 teams) when it comes to rush offense (blue line), pass offense (red line), total offense (yellow line), and scoring offense (green line). In this graph, it is much better to be closer to the bottom of the graph (ranked #1) than the top (ranked #130).

The passing offense (yards) is the only line that dips into the above average territory, while the other areas, especially rushing offense, are in territory unacceptable to most Husker fans.

Again, game circumstances have dictated that the Huskers needed to sling the ball around to make up scoreboard deficits. Unfortunately, the production in yards by the pass offense is not translating into points as the green line continues to drift upward.

Another thing to keep in mind on a graph like this is that it is easy to move the needle early in the season when fewer numbers are being averaged to rank teams. Later in the season it gets harder to see a large bump. As you move to the right of each line, you need to look at the slope or the direction a particular line is trending to get an idea of where the team is headed.

You may have to click on this next graph and open a larger version to see everything. I tried a few different things, but ran out of time before having to get into the office this morning.

This shows how much yardage the Husker defense has given up per play in each game. The blue bar is yards/rush allowed, red bar is yards/completed pass, and yellow is yards/play. Prior to Wisconsin and Ohio State, the rush defense looked pretty good. As it stands now, the season average allowed by the Blackshirts is 4.66 yards/rush attempt. Ouch.

Note that there are three games where the defense allowed more than 7 yards/play. That can’t be good.

This next chart shows where the defense ranks in FBS (130 teams) in rushing defense (blue line; yards per game), passing defense (red line), total defense (yellow line) and scoring defense (green line; points per game).

After some early season hiccups, the trend was going the right way (being near the bottom of this graph is better than the top). After Illinois and Rutgers, most facets of the defense were into “above average” territory.

Remember what I said about this same graph for the offense being a season-long cumulative representation of performance? You’ll see more ups and downs early in the season, but it gets harder to create large bounces as the season rolls along. Well, Wisconsin and Ohio State managed to bring out some significant movement in the lines. The competition the rest of the way (outside of Penn St) appears to be somewhere in between Rutgers/Illinois and Wisconsin/Ohio State levels.

The Nittany Lions and Saquon Barkley are going to do horrible, unspeakable things to the Huskers, but how the Blackshirts step up against Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Iowa will determine whether this team can scratch out bowl eligibility.

After checking out SB Nation’s advanced stats profile for Nebraska, I am sad to report that the Huskers are only favored in one game the rest of the way, a 55%/45% advantage vs Northwestern. That does not make me feel warm and fuzzy.

The other thing that jumped out at me on the advanced stats is that the Nebraska defense ranks nearly dead last (127 out of 130) in “overall havoc” rate. Definition:


The percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up). If QB hurries were a reliable stat (at the college level, there is far too much inconsistency in how they are recorded), they would be included here, too.

To be a successful “bend don’t break” defense, you have to force opponents to make mistakes. The Huskers are not doing that.

If you dive a little deeper into those havoc numbers, notice that the poor overall havoc rate is being laid at the feet of the DL (#119) and DB’s (#125). The LBs receive a fairly sunny ranking of #22 in FBS in ‘havoc’.

Bottom Line

I feel bad for the mostly negative tone of this article. This is a team playing some bad football right now and I’m sure no one feels worse about that than they do. There are some bright spots (J.D. Spielman especially) and some good pieces in place.

This is a team that I like to think can regain some footing and outplay expectations the rest of the way.

So, tell me Corn Nation....what did I see right and what did I miss?