There are a lot of ways to look at a football game. These are the numbers you won’t find in the ordinary box score.
Each week following the game we’ll share some key stats to track the Huskers’ progress this season in “Beyond the Box Score.” All of the numbers below include only non-garbage time plays, which wasn’t an issue in this game. For a more complete explanation of the numbers, click here.
Here’s a closer look at Nebraska’s 35-32 win over Oregon:
Efficiency (Success Rate)
Nebraska’s offensive success rate wasn’t bad, but Oregon’s was better. That’s going to be sort of a theme with this recap — the Huskers have pretty good numbers, the Ducks’ are just a little better. Nebraska tried to establish the run out of the gate, but really struggled to stay on schedule. The Huskers standard-down success rate in the first half was even lower (33.3 percent) than it’s overall success rate (38.1), which isn’t the way things are supposed to work. Some halftime adjustments, however, opened up the run game and Nebraska actually won the second-half success rate battle 56.4 percent to 46.7 percent. And it was just enough.
Explosiveness (Yards Per Play)
The Ducks are an explosive bunch. Everyone knew that coming in and Oregon hit on its share of big plays. Eight gains of 20-plus yards, to be exact, including back-to-back gains of 25 and 41 yards that turned a third-and-27 into a touchdown. Oregon held a 1.6 yards-per-play edge at the end of the game, but Nebraska weathered those blows and, beyond that third-quarter touchdown drive, didn’t let them snowball. More on that below.
Turnovers (Turnover Points)
Nebraska’s nation-leading turnover margin took a ding, but it was a small one. Oregon played turnover free, while an errant lateral from Tommy Armstrong Jr. in the second quarter was scooped up by Ducks defensive back Arrion Springs and returned 34 yards. Oregon scored on the next play. Given that the fumble occurred at Oregon’s 12-yard line, that was nearly a two-score turnover — six actual points on the board for the Ducks, but 5.1 expected points (based on field position) lost for Nebraska. The Huskers had two other fumbles it didn’t lose — and one wiped out by a false start — to keep this category from being worse than it could’ve been.
Finishing Drives (Points Per Trip Inside the 40)
Here’s another one where it looked like Nebraska may have been too sloppy in the first half. The Huskers moved the ball well most of the day, crossing Oregon’s 40-yard line four times in the first half but only came away with 14 points. Generally against the Ducks, that’s not good enough. Particularly when Oregon is a) scoring from beyond the 40, and b) finishing each of its three trips inside the 40 with touchdowns as well. But frequency matters here, too. Nebraska ended up with seven scoring opportunities total and turned all three of its second-half chances into touchdowns.
Thanks to some brilliant punting from true freshman Caleb Lightbourn (47.2 yards per punt), Nebraska was plus nearly 8 yards in net field position, which is a sizable edge. De’Mornay Pierson-El’s game-saving (no, really) punt return near the end of the first half made a huge difference, too. One of Nebraska’s two category wins and you can credit it to special teams.
And now to the only number that matters. Nebraska got credit all offseason for its close losses in 2015. Oregon will rightly get credit for a close loss here. The Ducks played really well in almost every facet. The game easily could’ve gone the other way — three extra points sure would’ve changed things — but Nebraska made just enough plays and ended up with a better points per drive average.
A few more numbers of note for you. In our preview this week I identified some other key stats I thought would play a part in this game: extend the time-of-possession gap, limit explosive drives, keep the score close.
Time of Possession: I termed this one “find four minutes.” Oregon’s going to lose the TOP battle almost every game given it’s up-tempo offense. It’s usually about 32-28 in terms of minutes, favoring Oregon’s opponent. The teams that tend to beat the Ducks, however, widen the gap. I thought Nebraska needed to be somewhere in the 36-minute range (hence four minutes). The Huskers had it for 35:05.
Explosive Drives: Explosive plays are tough to handle and lead to points most of the time. String a couple together and average 10 yards or more per play for an entire drive and you’ve got an explosive drive. More than preventing the big play, I thought Nebraska had a thin margin for error with the explosive drives, so I set this objective at two. Oregon had two explosive drives on the day.
Don’t fall behind: Didn’t put a hard number on this one, but Nebraska did fall behind by two scores and a lot of teams have never climb out of a whole like that. According to BCftoys.com, Nebraska became just the third team to beat Oregon after trailing by 10 points or more. By the third quarter, the Huskers had managed to take the lead. By hanging on to win, Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich dropped to 0-7 all-time when trailing after three quarters.
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.