I wonder now what sort of odds you could’ve gotten, in the week after the Akron cancellation, that Nebraska would start the season at 0-2. It’s not that it was unthinkable –– a four-point spread at home is basically a coin flip, and a 10-point spread hosting Troy isn’t dominance in number form either –– simply improbable that both games would go as they did.
But they did. So let’s try to gain a little better understanding of the Huskers’ latest loss with a deep statistical dive. (Box Score)
6 – I’m trying hard not to become the success-rate guy, but as the measure that (a) is pretty indicative of which team should win most games, and (b) is a number that –– unlike things like turnover margin, explosive plays, etc. –– can remain relatively constant over the course of a season I think it’s still worth noting that Nebraska had a 6-percentage-point edge over Troy, 38.7-32.7. It was even larger at the half, 47.2-31.8 Nebraska. A half that saw the Huskers fall behind 17-7. Part of the reason Nebraska wasn’t able, in the second half, to bring the score closer to what you’d expect for a team with a huge efficiency edge is that the edge evaporated. Nebraska’s second-half success rate was 30.7, Troy’s 33.3. Another big reason . . .
3.8 – Nebraska had five drives end inside Troy’s 15-yard line. Two were touchdowns, but the other three only produced six points after Barret Pickering’s second missed field goal of the season for an average of 3.8 points per trip. Inside the 15. That’s a bad average for trips inside the 40. National average for that last season was 4.42, per Football Study Hall. No play better symbolized the Huskers' struggle here, and on offense in general, than the third-and-goal fade to Stanley Morgan Jr. At least in my opinion.
7 – There are only two teams that have fumbled seven times while playing just two games so far this season –– Nebraska and Virginia Tech. The Huskers’ and Hokies’ 3.5 fumbles-per-game average ranks last in college football, of course. Virginia Tech has been fortunate, losing just one of those seven fumbles. Nebraska, however, has been closer to the expected rate losing three-of-seven (42.9 percent). Expect ball security to be a topic of discussion again this week. Now here’s a photo selected totally at random.
.196 – That’s the winning percentage of FBS teams that converted just 12 first downs in a game over the previous decade (2008-17) courtesy of sports-reference.com's game index. (It has happened 372 times.) Troy had 12 first downs on Saturday, making that your latest example of how a team wins when doing that (special teams touchdown, win the turnover battle, big plays). Nebraska was far from perfect defensively against the Trojans, but it’s continuing to show some promise. The Huskers’ 4.63 yards per play allowed ranks 31st nationally. That’s helped by the fact that Nebraska ranks ninth nationally at 9.5 tackles for loss per game. These numbers might help explain the following curiosity.
62.5% –– A Scott Frost team has won the coin toss 17 times over 28 games (they’re good at coin tosses!) and 62.5 percent of the time, at home, Frost has opted to take the ball to start the game. Not an overwhelming majority by any means, but still notable. (It’s 50 percent on the road for an overall receive percentage of 58.8.) If you read my column leading up to the Troy game it’s probably not a surprise that I found Nebraska's decision to defer and effectively put the defense on the field first against Troy a little bit against type. These are game-by-game decisions, of course, and given that Nebraska was playing with a backup quarterback it made some sense. But it made even more sense after seeing how the offense operated on Saturday. It was clear that wasn’t the optimized version. Given the aggressiveness we’ve seen from Frost and staff in the past, however, I was still a little surprised not to see them decide, “heck with it, we’re going to put Andrew Bunch out there right away anyway” in hopes of getting a little offensive momentum.
Nebraska’s defense did force a three-and-out on the first drive, so it’s not like the decision backfired. The Huskers’ offense was done in five plays the first time it was on the field, too, eventually leading to a Troy field goal to open scoring. A 3-0 deficit is far from insurmountable, but I’m telling you these opening salvos have an impact on games beyond what you’d think.
And when Trojans head coach Neal Brown mentioned that after the game, well, he might have overtaken Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield as my favorite Sun Belt coach.
Troy coach Neal Brown today: "The field goal to go up in the game, if you look at statistics across college football, the team that scores 1st is winning at a huge mark right now. So to get on the board 1st, I thought that was big."@brandonlvogel on Fri:https://t.co/FWB1tSDVEA
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) September 15, 2018
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.