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Numbers, Statistics and Lies: Week Five Battle for NU

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We take a look at some numbers from MSU and look ahead to Northwestern

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Nebraska at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NSL is a weekly dive into statistics. This is not advanced stats; only basic stuff that is cherry-picked based on my whims this week. The numbers the chicken entrails point to carefully selected for further analysis are compared to the eye test. About that ‘eye test’, you should know that I usually forget to DVR the games and even when I do, I have so much stuff going on that I don’t have time to rewatch them. I also think I might need glasses. You’ve been warned.

So, what numbers caught my eye this week?

Five

Five of the top six tacklers in this game were linebackers. In recent memory, it seems like Nebraska has had multiple safeties and defensive linemen at the top of that list. I don’t remember any recent games that were this linebacker-dominated (tackle-wise). For my old-fashioned sensibilities, I want the LBs doing most of the takedowns. LBs also notched two of the three sacks and six of the nine tackles for loss. Go ahead and peruse past gamebooks if you remember differently and correct me.

20.7

You knew the punting was a disaster on Saturday; this is just confirmation of that.

On sports-reference.com, there are 118 punters ranked (minimum 2.5 punts/game). Nebraska’s Daniel Cerni is #117 with a net average of 36.2 yards. William Prsystup only has six punts on the year (and doesn’t qualify for the list), but is trailing Cerni with an average of 36.0 net yards/punt.

I tried to find out if this was the most futile one game performance so far in college football, but didn’t locate a stats source that I could mine for game-by-game stats by team (for punting). If you know of one, let me know!

2.4

Coming into the game, the Spartans were the #11 rush offense in the country with 264 yds/game. After tangling with the Blackshirts, they are ranked #21 with 216 yds/game (which is still very very good!) That is a fair bit of movement for a single game and it is largely due to the Husker defense holding a very potent rush attack to 71 net yards (2.4 yards/carry).

Then There’s This

Color-Coded Pile

The Husker offense continues to hum along, piling up yards but stalling in the red zone and not converting those yards into points. Seeing Connor Culp hit two field goals last weekend was a welcome sight. The offensive line is still allowing too many sacks (but you knew that already).

One stat I’d like to highlight in the offensive section is the time of possession. During the entire Scott Frost era (up until 2021) the Huskers have always possessed the ball less than their opponents. That has flipped this year. We’ve heard Frost talk about how important it is to maximize every possession in the Big Ten and to help out the defense by keeping them off the field. He isn’t just talking the talk. He’s walking the walk. Coach has sacrificed the high tempo offense that made him a rising star.

I don’t want to see NASCAR mode go away completely though. I do think that going uptempo at times can be a very effective game management strategy. It just isn’t a good full time fit for the Huskers until the discipline (please make the false start penalties go away) is there and probably not until the offensive line is reliable across all five positions.

I also think most of us would say the defense is better than the color-coded pile is giving them credit for. The biggest problem I see is that they’re not getting enough pressure on the QB. The red zone issues (I believe) are not as worrisome because they are so good at keeping teams out of the red zone. When opponents do get down there, they have capitalized, but they aren’t making it to money territory all that often (relatively speaking).

ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!

If you made it all the way down to the special teams section, we have entered REDOUT territory. There is nothing left to say that won’t be...[see gif]

Northwestern

The Wildcats are a team that tends to pick up steam as the season rolls along. The young and relatively inexperienced group Pat Fitzgerald is tutoring now will probably be no exception. Let’s hope they don’t get too many “a ha” moments between now and Saturday.

And while the betting line currently favors the Huskers by double-digits, whatever model Warren Nolan uses has actually watched NU-NU games and is calling for a one-point Husker victory. That sounds much more likely than a 10 or 12 point one.

I was going to point out some of the obvious in the color-coded pile, but the fine folks over at Inside NU did it for me. Check out “By the numbers”.

I think the game plan for Erik Chinander is pretty obvious. Load up to stop the run. Make them prove they can throw the ball.

On offense, I hope Matt Lubick and Greg Austin are especially working on offensive line run blocking combinations and getting ready to unleash running back roulette. Hopefully this is a game where one of the backs can grab a hold of the job like the coaches have wanted.

Graphs!!!

Here is the Husker field position compared to their opponents so far this season.

So, what do you see in the numbers this week? Agree? Disagree? Did I miss something? Let me know!