Finally, some stats. Some good ones, some bad ones, but at least they're Nebraska’s stats. After an offseason of looking at Central Florida numbers and wondering what the Orlando-to-Lincoln conversion rate would be, we can finally just draw from the Huskers’ local bank from here on out.
Nebraska’s success rate –– which was the real source of my optimism following the loss to Colorado on Saturday –– remains just as impressive the next day. Putting up a 50-percent success rate in a new offense with a true freshman quarterback is remarkable and says a few things to me. (1) The Huskers kept the passing game manageable for Adrian Martinez and, with one big exception, he made the right decisions. (2) This run game is still very well designed, as it was at UCF. And, (3) if you can combine those two things Nebraska will typically put up more than 28 points.
Here are five other stats that provide a better picture of how Nebraska came up a little short against Colorado in the opener.
Striking Out on Scoring Opportunities
I use Bill Connelly’s definition of a “scoring opportunity” –– any drive that includes a first down inside the opponents’ 40-yard line –– and a decent number here is about four points per trip. Colorado would’ve averaged 4.7 if not for the two missed field goals. Credit to Nebraska’s defense for forcing field goal attempts rather than shots at the end zone, but every time the Buffs crossed the Huskers' 40 they got a shot to put points on the board. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander will have plenty to be happy about from Saturday’s game, but that’s one area that will need to be shored up.
Even without those two field goals Colorado averaged 3.9 points per trip to Nebraska’s 2.8. The Huskers had three empty trips, including the first and final drives of the game. If you were wondering how the Huskers were running the ball so well, piling up sacks and yet still never able to pull away from Colorado, the scoring opportunities were telling the story. The Buffaloes were better there than Nebraska was.
A Little Bit of Bad Luck
That’s the expected turnover margin for Nebraska in this game based on average fumble and interception rates. Instead the Huskers were -3. Colorado recovered two of Nebraska’s three fumbles (66.7 percent) and the Buffaloes only pass defended in the game was an interception, Martinez’s biggest mistake in an otherwise impressive debut.
“We should’ve thrown to the right and we threw to the left,” Scott Frost said of the throw. “Those are things that Adrian … he’s the type of kid that won’t make the same mistake again.”
Colorado wasn’t credited with forcing any fumbles, so the one pass defended was its lone takeaway opportunity generated. Nebraska created three takeaway opportunities, all passes defended, and that’s another number Chinander will want to see increase as the season progresses.
Getting the Ball Rolling
The brand new Nebraska offense only had one three-and-out on the day, which is almost as remarkable as the Huskers’ success rate. An up-tempo offense needs early-down success to maximize the impact of the entire philosophy. Gain yards on the first plays of drives and you’ve effectively started the boulder bounding down the hill. Incompletions and stuffed runs do the opposite.
Nebraska was great on Saturday at getting drives off to a fast start. The Huskers’ P&10 success rate was 71.4 percent. Nebraska gained at least 4 yards –– the minimum needed to avoid a “passing down” on second down –– on 12 of 14 P&10 plays (85.7 percent). The one true three-and-out for the Huskers came on the first drive of the second half. Two other drives didn’t hit three plays due to turnovers, but that’s the sort of stuff a good team should be able to clean up.
It’s the things like early-down and P&10 success, however, that are markers of efficiency and should be a little less volatile week to week. Or at least if Nebraska maintains numbers like that as the season progresses, results like Saturday’s should eventually flip the Huskers’ way.
Ground and Pound
Nebraska’s rushing yards per carry, adjusted to remove sacks, ranks 19th nationally after one game. Yes, it is just one game, but that ties with Michigan –– which ran wild on Western Michigan this week for 9.9 yards per carry, papering over a rough rushing performance against Notre Dame in the opener –– and is 0.1 yards behind Ohio State.
The Huskers ranked 116th nationally in this category a year ago at 4.25 yards per carry. What’s different this year? Greg Bell, Maurice Washington and a new-and-improved Devine Ozigbo, sure. A new scheme, of course. But I think the biggest difference will end up being the threat of the quarterback run. Playing without that in today’s game is basically fighting with one arm tied behind your back.
While almost all of Nebraska’s offensive numbers look pretty good after Week 1, maintaining many of them might require positive injury news as it pertains to Martinez.
The expected score of this game based only on field positions was Colorado 31.3 Nebraska 26.8. The difference in field position was really that two of the Huskers’ turnovers gave the Buffaloes the ball on Nebraska’s half and a failed fourth-down conversion attempt set Colorado up near midfield.
But the Huskers didn’t help themselves on special teams when it came to field position. Three 10-yard penalties in that phase left Nebraska with long fields, including two that set the Huskers back to their own 10. Remove those and it only bumps Nebraska’s expected point total up a point, to 27.8. But in a one-score game everything gets magnified.
Tyjon Lindsey’s net of -2 yards on three punt returns also wasn’t encouraging, and Barret Pickering missed his only field goal attempt. The Huskers' "hidden third" was all too visible on Saturday for the wrong reasons.
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.