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Numbers, Statistics and Lies: Michigan Edition

The one where I ignore the numbers and try to figure out what progress looks like this season.

Nebraska v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I wrote something along these lines in the comments section of the post-game reaction thread, but I will repeat it here.

What is happening now with the football team feels a little bit like what happened with the Nebraska women’s basketball team two seasons ago. Amy Williams had just been hired after Connie Yori resigned amidst allegations of mistreatment of players. The season started off badly with no offensive flow, defense that was better than the offense, but broke down at inopportune times. I watched and often remarked “This team should not be this bad.”

The team recorded a grand total of 8 wins that season. It was one of the worst in Husker women’s basketball history. I don’t know if Amy Williams walked into the program, sensed issues, and decided to burn it all down or if she tried a “hybrid” approach where new coaches try to adjust their system to the players they have and it didn’t work.

Either way, it was clear that by the end of the season a switch was starting to flip. The woeful (but young) team knocked off or scared ranked squads. They started to play team basketball and glimpses of the “Williams Way” started to show through. A different culture was taking hold.

One season later, a still-young Husker team exceeded most expectations. They won 21 games (the largest turnaround in the country), finished third in a rugged Big Ten conference and were invited to the NCAA tournament. Amy Williams was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. The team did this despite only having one player named to the all-conference team (Hannah Whitish - 2nd team point guard) and one named to the all-defense (and all-freshman) team in Kate Cain.

Amy Williams’ reboot was remarkable, but she has several advantages over Scott Frost and the rebuild he is facing. The women’s basketball roster is typically 1/8 the size of the football roster. The amount of scrutiny and passion around the women’s basketball program pales in comparison to the microscope Scott Frost is under. Basketball schedules include 30+ chances to compete against an opponent and tweak your approach. The women’s basketball program was making its first coaching hire in replacing the winningest coach in program history. There was not a series of failed reboots - the program still had a solid base. In other words, Amy Williams had advantages in getting all the pieces moving in the same direction.

Scott Frost is not going to get this turned around in one season. That should be obvious by now. The real fear around Husker nation is whether is can be turned around at all. Most of us still believe it can, but how long does it take?

Color Coded Pile of Numbers

Numbers - Statistics - Lies

Number: 2018

Lie: There is enough history, money, and passion around this program that if we find the ‘missing piece’ we can turn this train around quickly.

I’m not going to over-analyze this. The color-coded pile is not lying. This is a dreadful football team that has lost its way. There is no missing piece.

What can we reasonably look for in terms of progress in 2018? Here’s my thoughts - add yours in the comments.

  • Clean up some of the penalties. Those can’t be eliminated, but some film study, technique, and decision-making can go a long way in cutting down flags. Is that something that can progress within a single season? It think so. I hope so.
  • Field position and special teams. Nebraska has not been in good starting field position and special teams continues to compound issues elsewhere on the field through boneheaded decisions and penalties. I don’t know if it is reasonable to hope that this gets better within a season, but I tend to believe there is enough skill and talent available for the Huskers to be trotting out respectable special teams. The question is, can that skill and talent be coached into better results? If the discipline improves in one of the phases, can it start to spill over?
  • Turnovers. I would love to say that this could be turned around with more discipline, but our own Paul Dalen reminds me that turnovers tend to be a fluky thing that eventually regresses to the mean. I won’t add this to my list of signposts for 2018, but I will cross my fingers that our luck changes soon.

Number: 2020?

Statistic: But can he play O-line?

Lie: Good coaching and good strength and conditioning can shore up the trenches in a year.

Sigh. Abandon hope all ye that enter here. If you are someone who believes that football games are won and lost in the trenches, then you are likely in for a bumpy ride for 2 or 3 more seasons. As our CN commenters have noted, there aren’t a lot of extra bodies in the pipeline or options to push current starters to get better.

The tackle situation seems a little less dire than the interior line, but if one of the current starting tackles goes down, yikes. I should note that the offensive line has been praised by the coaches for their leadership and work ethic. I’m not calling out kids for lack of effort or “not buying in.” Buy-in will decide whether change in the trenches occurs at all, but it probably won’t speed up player development as much as we hope.

So, what say you Corn Nation? Besides winning a game, what are the signs of progress you think we can see soon, vs those that will take longer? Let us know in the comments!