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Will the Real Owen Phyfe Please Stand Up?

Nebraska v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Nebraska is 0-5. Owen Phyfe? Get it?

Geez. Tough crowd.

Anyway, there is a lot to be hopeful about buried in the stats from Nebraska’s first five games. There is also some very obvious areas of concern. To get at both of these I took a look at all the teams since 2006 who have started 0-5. The stats I’m looking are only for those games, so if a team did not finish 0-12 (and very few do) it doesn’t matter. I’m only concerned with what a typical 0-5 team looks like.

As it happens, Nebraska doesn’t look like a typical 0-5 team.

Total Offense vs Total Defense

There are 71 teams since 2006 to begin the season 0-5. Of those 71 teams, only North Texas in 2007 averaged more offensive yards per game than 2018 Nebraska is averaging. North Texas averaged 436 yards per game on offense and Nebraska is averaging 432. The big difference is that North Texas gave up 547 yards per game in 2007 whereas Nebraska is only giving up 438, which is #32 of 71. When I plot total offense and total defense, it looks like this. What’s important is to remember that the upper right quadrant is the best, the lower right is the worst. Nebraska is solidly among the best (of the worst, I know).

Scoring Offense vs Scoring Defense

At 22 points per game Nebraska is #7 of 71 0-5 teams, but it is below the average at #44 for these same teams for scoring defense, giving up 39 points per game.


Now we’re getting somewhere. Nebraska is DEAD LAST in penalty yards per game at 97.7 yard per game. 2016 Miami (OH) is a distant #2 at 79.8. Closely related is Nebraska’s opp penalties per game at 67.8 yards per game. That differential of 29 yards per game is the #3 largest of all 0-5 teams.

Turnover Margin

Nebraska is #21 of 71 in TO margin, at 2.0 TOs per game with an opponent TO rate of .8 TOs per game.


I think it’s fair to conclude that penalties and poor scoring defense are the primary drivers of Nebraska’s current record. Nebraska’s penalties are almost twice what the average of the other 0-5 teams is. If Nebraska had those 91 yards per game back it would be a top-5 offense this year. It’s pretty clear what Frost and Co need to do to turn this thing around. HOW to do it is more complicated.