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Nebraska Football Numbers, Statistics and Lies: Defense

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It isn’t all bad news when it comes to the Blackshirts

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The previous offseason NSL took a look at the offense. Justifiably, we were all pretty excited about the growth we saw on that side of the ball. Husker fans are much less enthusiastic about the defense. Coach Chinander has been given a mulligan by most fans since he didn’t have a lot of playmakers to work with.

If I had to guess, the 2019 Huskers will probably only go as far as the defense will take them. Will Nebraska find a pass rusher? Will Zach Duvall be able to turn his defensive lineman into brick walls? Will the secondary take a step forward in year 2 of this scheme. And what about the linebackers??

All of that is in the future. This article is a look at the past. 2018 to be exact. It isn’t pretty, but it isn’t all bad news either.

National Rank

In the graph below, the blue line is where the rush defense ranked nationally. The red line is the pass defense; yellow line is total defense (yards) and green line is scoring defense. It is better to be at the bottom of this graph than the top.

You can see that (unlike the offense) the Husker defense had a tendency to give up more yards than points overall (but it isn’t a big difference.) There are a couple of reasons for this.

  1. The Blackshirts were an above-average red zone defense. They allowed opposing teams to score 81.8% of the time once they reached the red zone. That was good for #53 in FBS. For reference, there were only three teams that allowed opponents to score on less than 70% of their red zone attempts - Fresno State, Nevada, and Utah. Clemson was #4 at 72.2% and Alabama 6th at 73.2%. If a team kept their opponents below 80% in the red zone, they were among the 35 best in FBS football. Among the worst red zone defenses in 2018 were Michigan (#128; second worst in FBS; 93.3%) and Oklahoma (#126; 92.6%).
  2. Nebraska was pretty good at forcing turnovers. The Huskers snagged 11 interceptions (#48 in FBS) and recovered nine fumbles (#38).

In the graph below, a couple of the labels a the bottom were messed up. The one labelled only “Post” is supposed to be “Post Northwestern”. The second “Post Michigan” label (second from right) should be “Post Michigan State”.

Yards Per Play

Here is a game-by-game look at what the Blackshirts gave up, on average, per play. The blue bar is yards allowed/rush. The red bar is yards allowed/completion and the yellow bar is yards allowed per play.

Over the entire season, the defense yielded 5.0 yards per rush. Ouch. They gave up 12 yards/catch and 5.8 yards/play. I don’t have any large scale data on how that compares to other teams (NCAA stats are focused on yards/game and not per play) but I did take a peek at Alabama and Clemson’s season stats.

The Tide gave up 3.5 yards/rush, 12.3 yards/completion and 4.9 yards/play.

The Clemson defense gave up 2.5 yards/rush(!!), 11.9 yards/completion and 4.2 yards/play.

Well, there you have it Corn Nation. What else would you like to know or see in future offseason NSL breakdowns?