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Numbers, Statistics and Lies: Pre-Kickoff Edition

We review 2020 and take a peek at the Huskers’ first opponent - Illinois

Nebraska v Rutgers Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

I hope to bring back NSL full time this season. I gave it a try in 2020, but the weird schedules where teams had played different numbers of games, made it difficult to decipher much in the pile of numbers.

For Week 0, we’ll review the Cornhuskers 2020 season (the passing game was as bad as you remember) and peek at how the Illini fared in 2020 (how the hell did that team beat us?) Of course Illinois has a new staff (BERT IS BACK!!) so it probably doesn’t mean much.

But dammit, I color-coded the pile so we shall look at it.

Nebraska By the Numbers 2020

Rush Offense. The offense was exactly as we remember it. The green spots represent the rushing attack. Normally it would be something we’d celebrate and think it was a block to build on for 2021. Unfortunately, Adrian Martinez was Nebraska’s leading rusher for 2020 and very little production (Marvin Scott - 62 yards and Rahmir Johnson - 30 yards) returns for the running back room. On the bright side, we’ve heard quite a few things from camp that indicate the Husker rush attack will look different this season - which we assume to be a move toward a power run game. #BringBackTheFullback

Not relying on your quarterbacks to churn out yards in the run game - and hopefully reducing the fumbles that come with that - is a good thing. Whether the Huskers can execute their revamped attack remains to be seen. The OL is young, but relatively experienced. Are they ready to move Big Ten defensive lines? Will any of these mysterious backs show up and start bowling people over? (The press conference from Lubick on Tuesday indicated the coaches had ‘the guy’ chosen).

Pass Offense. The terrible, horrible, awful, no good, very bad passing offense of 2020 is but a tiny speck that we have locked away from conscious memory. Neither quarterback was accurate downfield and the blocking was lacking (to put it kindly) on the horizontal passes. Despite these woes, neither Adrian nor Luke took many sacks and the offense was pretty effective in the red zone. I chalk that up to having good scrambling QBs more than anything else. If even 1/10 of the hope we have in the improved wide receiver room comes to fruition, this should be a significantly better unit. Plus, the tight ends are very tall (drink).

Defense. The Jekyll/Hyde offense required two sections to describe. There doesn’t seem to be a big distinction between the 2020 run and pass defense stats/standings, so they get one paragraph. The Huskers were solid, which was a welcome improvement over the first two years of the Frost regime. They were not spectacular, but when solid is what you got, you just go with it. The main knocks were the lack of pass rush and inability to force turnovers.

Special teams. No. Not going there. #PleaseSpyThePunterThisYear

Illinois By the Numbers - 2020

Want to know more about Illinois? Check out Husker Mike’s 2021 Illinois preview.

Offense. If you go merely by the color test, Illinois’ 2020 offense looks a lot like Nebraska’s. What do I think that means for 2021? They return their QB and some of the receiving production. But they are now coached by Bert, who took over a Wisconsin program that relied upon huge offensive lineman to bulldoze the way for a running game that Nebraska fans remember all too well. The 2020 strength of the Illinois offense was the run game, so Bielema at least has some pieces to work with. The biggest thing that stands out to me is the fact that Illinois was much less turnover- and penalty-prone than Nebraska. I expect to see the Illini try to run the ball behind a very experienced o-line, try to establish an opportunistic pass game, remain disciplined, and let Nebraska implode. After all, letting Nebraska implode has worked pretty well for most other B1G teams for three years, why not keep with it until it doesn’t work anymore?

Defense. Woof. For a defensive-minded coach, Lovie Smith didn’t get much positive out of his guys, except force turnovers. The front seven for the Illini will return a fair bit of production but the secondary is going to be questionable. The Husker will need to establish a pass game if they want to open some holes, otherwise the Illini will be more than happy to stack the box and spy Adrian until the clock runs out.

Are the Numbers Lying to Us?

Of course they are. These color-coded piles are from 2020. #WeirdestFootballSeasonEver (okay, except maybe for the pandemic from 1917-18...and WWII...I’ll settle for #OneOfTheWeirdestFootballSeasonsEver). Illinois had a different coaching staff. Nebraska’s coaching staff still had relatively cold seats in 2020.

I don’t think Frost is on the hot seat...yet. But I think he knows that there has to be a lot of progress in 2021 to avoid further escalation of his gluteal temperature.

Let’s hope we see some more of the boxes turn from red to yellow to green as the season progresses.

Go Big Red!