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Nebraska Football: Numbers, Statistics, and Lies, A Look Back at 2016

Before we start the 2017 season, it seems fitting to look back at 2016. What does it tell us about this season? Absolutely nothing... yet.

David McGee

If you remember from last season, this feature is not about advanced stats. It is the basics and where the Husker football team stands in relation to the Big Ten and in all of FBS. For this initial feature, I’m going to focus more on the numbers and trends than on “lies”. In future weeks, I’ll pick some numbers and apply the eye test to decide if the numbers are lying to us or not.

Obligatory Pile of Numbers

Bonus - there’s colors!

The offense started off well, but injuries took their toll and that unit mostly limped (literally) their way to the finish of the season.

The defense was the unit that kept the team in most of their competitive losses. The secondary especially made some timely plays in the form of interceptions.

We won’t talk about special teams. Except for Drew Brown. He’s a stud.

  • From 2015 to 2016, the Husker scoring offense went from 32.8 to 26.8 points per game. This resulted in a ranking drop from 43rd in FBS to 77th.
  • Fortunately for the Huskers, the scoring defense in 2015 allowed 27.8 points per game but reduced that to 22.8 in 2016.

2016 Offense

Below is a graph showing the offensive output in yards in each game. The red part of the bar represents the passing yards and the blue bar the rushing yards. Total offense is on the left side. Remember the magic number of 200 yards rushing? Nebraska didn’t achieve that after the Illinois game, which is when Tommy hurt his hamstring.

Nebraska offensive output per game, 2016
Nebraska offensive output per game, 2016

The graph below is the cumulative average of the offense as the season went on. The yellow line is total offense in yards per game, the blue line is the rushing offense, and the red line is the passing offense. For the first week, the numbers represent the yards gained in that game. For the second week, it is the average of games one and two. By the bowl game (Tennessee) the number represents an average of all 13 games.

This graph really drives home the point that offensive output continued to decrease throughout the season, especially after Tommy was hurt. To be fair, there were a whole slew of other injuries on that side of the ball , but Tommy was the engine that powered the offense.

Nebraska cumulative average offensive output, 2016
Nebraska cumulative average offensive output, 2016

This last graph should make “run the ball” guy happy. This is the total plays run by the Husker offense in each game. The red portion of the bar represents the number of passes and the blue portion of the bar represents rushes. The only games where Nebraska passed the ball more than they ran it? They slung it around in blowout losses to Iowa and Ohio State. To have any chance to get back in those games, the Huskers had to pass. Versus Tennessee, Nebraska trotted out a pass-first QB by the name of Ryker Fyfe.

Total offensive plays by Nebraska 2016
Total offensive plays by Nebraska 2016

2016 Defense

This first graph gives you an idea of the yards allowed per play by the Blackshirts in 2016. The blue bar is the rush yards allowed per play. The red bar is yards per completed pass allowed and the yellow bar is yards per play allowed (which factors incomplete passes).

Nebraska defense 2016 yards allowed per play
Nebraska defense 2016, yards allowed per play

This graph is the national ranking of the Blackshirts on a cumulative basis throughout the season. Early in the season a good or bad performance can cause the line to fluctuate up or down a lot, but by the end of the season (when more games are being added to the dataset) it is harder to create large dips or rises.

In this graph, it is better to be toward the bottom of the chart than the top. The blue line is where the rush defense ranked as the season progressed. The red line is the pass defense, the yellow line is total defense (yards), and the green line is the scoring defense.

You can see a few wild swings early in the season, but the defense was generally moving in the right direction (minus a post-Purdue blip in the pass defense) until the Huskers ran into a buzzsaw in Columbus. The rankings went back down after stout performances against Purdue and Minnesota and then back up after the Iowa and Tennessee losses. The total defense and scoring defense ended the season ranked 30 and 33 respectively, which is quite a bit better than I expected at the start of the year.

Husker defense national ranking throughout the 2016 season (out of 128 teams in FBS)
Husker defense national ranking throughout the 2016 season (out of 128 teams in FBS)

I didn’t make any graphs about special teams. You’re welcome.

Arghhhh - Stop the Maths! What Does It Mean?

As your stock broker would say, “Past performance is not an indicator of future returns”.

The offense is going full-Langsdorf with a very different quarterback than we have watched the past seven years. I expect you will see very different graphs a year from now when we look ahead to the 2018 season.

As far as the defense goes, it is another crapshoot. Bob Diaco seems like a great hire, but he is implementing a scheme change that may or may not have all the parts in place to hit the ground running. I hope it meshes quickly because I tend to think the 2017 Huskers are going to need to lean on the defense until all the kinks are worked out on offense.

I hope you enjoyed this last one look back at 2016 before we dive into the new season. Let me know what information I should keep on the table at the top as well as any graphs that are useful to you. If there is missing information or a different metric to graph, I’ll take suggestions. I may not be able to get them all included all the time, but I’ll do my best.

Go Big Red!