The Huskers season is over too soon. Again. This team feels frustratingly close in many ways but also very far in others.
The Hawkeyes and Huskers both tried to rely on their ground game. Iowa did it far more successfully than Nebraska, averaging 7.3 yards/carry (225 total yards) compared to the Huskers 3.3 ypc (184 total yards). The passing game stats were very similar, so similar (99 yards for Iowa with 9.0 yards/completion and 100 for Nebraska with 8.3 yards/completion) that you could be tempted to point to the disparity in the run game as the reason Nebraska lost.
Except, that we know it was a breakdown in the pass defense (two 22-yard passes) at the end to get Iowa into Field goal range. Nearly half of the Hawkeye pass yards came on two critical plays.
2019 Color-Coded Pile
You can compare this chart with the 2018 end-of-season color-coded pile below.
2018 Color Coded Pile
Areas of progress:
- One of the clearest areas where the 2019 Huskers got better is in penalties. Early in the season we saw the Husker get flagged often and get flagged at critical times (killing drives). That cleaned up considerably as 2019 progressed. Overall, it was far better than 2018.
- The defense overall took a step forward in 2019. It was good to see as the offense definitely staggered at times and the defense got put into tough spots. They responded well more often than not. There were still plenty of issues, but it was noticeably better than 2018. The large loss of seniors has most Husker fans worried about how this unit will look in 2020.
- The offensive line really grew and developed as a unit over the course of the season. It was certainly not perfect, but I think most fans would say there was progress and reason for hope in 2020.
Areas of regression:
- The offense overall took a big step backward. Losing Devine Ozigbo and Stanley Morgan Jr. was much bigger than we thought. The lack of effective receivers especially hurt the Huskers as did Adrian Martinez’ sophomore slump. One of the biggest areas of regression was in the red zone. Not having a reliable field goal kicker probably had a lot to do with that, but that may be one to look at more closely during the offseason.
- Red zone defense. Despite getting better overall, the Huskers red zone defense went from average to bad.
- Special teams. Kickoff returns and kickoff return defense was just as woeful in 2019 as it was in 2018. The 2019 Huskers could at least bring down opposing punt returners much better in 2019 and saw their own net punting improve as well. It will be interesting to see if the field position disadvantage Nebraska always faced in 2018 is slightly better in 2019 (another offseason question).
So, what do you see in the numbers? If there is a question you want me to dig into in the offseason, let me know in the comments!