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 “statistically significant” plays, meaning no garbage time plays, no end-of-half kneel downs, etc. This game fell out of the statistically significant range, following Nebraska’s second touchdown in the fourth quarter. For a more complete explanation of the numbers, click here.
Here’s a closer look at Nebraska’s 43-10 win over Fresno State:
Efficiency (Success Rate)
Success rate was one of the stats I thought would be especially telling coming into this one and Nebraska passed (by running a lot) with flying colors. The Huskers’ 54.7-percent success rate is going to be tough to top in 2016, which was 10 percentage points better than I thought Nebraska needed to hit. Nebraska had two drives — the first and fourth touchdown drives — when it only faced one passing down on the drive and it only had 11 for the game. That’s a lot of time spent “on schedule,” which isn’t a bad thing, but offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf did say the staff didn’t plan to run the ball nearly 80 percent of the time. And it was evident Fresno State couldn’t stop it, there was little reason to do much else. Defensively, the Blackshirts were pretty efficient as well, forcing six three-and-outs on the Bulldogs’ 10 statistically-significant drives.
Explosiveness (Yards Per Play)
From a defensive perspective, the Huskers only gave up one explosive play — a pass — when it mattered. There was another one in garbage time, but I thought Nebraska would do well to get out of this game with three pass plays of 20-plus yards. It beat that, though Fresno State didn’t challenge the Huskers deep a ton. Nebraska, continuing a strange sort of trend from last year, moved the ball just fine but didn’t have a bunch of big gains. Just three plays hit the 20-plus threshold and all three came from wide receiver Alonzo Moore: a 23-yard reception, a 57-yard touchdown reception and a 24-yard run. Going back to the start of last year, Nebraska hasn’t struggled to move the ball that often, but if it ever adds a few more explosive plays into the mix it could be really dangerous.
Finishing Drives (Points Per Trip Inside the 40)
Another number that probably won’t be beaten in 2016. Nebraska scored touchdowns on all three drives that crossed the 40 while this one was close. (And one when it wasn’t.) Finishing drives was a question I had coming out of fall camp, but, against the worst team Nebraska will likely play this year, it wasn’t an issue. Defensively, the Blackshirts benefitted from a missed field goal on the Bulldogs’ first drive. Fresno State scored a total of 10 points on its other two drives into scoring territory. Not great from Nebraska’s perspective, but not terrible by any means either.
Turnovers (Turnover Points)
The Bulldogs’ blocked punt in the second quarter served as a turnover, though it wasn’t counted as one. That’s the story of the night, actually — zero turnovers from the Huskers’ offense. Nebraska has played 53 games since the start of the 2012 season. It has gone turnover free four times over that span, including tonight, which was Nebraska’s first game without a turnover since the win over Minnesota in 2015. The Blackshirts forced two turnovers, one of which counted for our box score purposes and had a total impact of about 10 points — the seven Nebraska scored on the drive following Kieron Williams’ interception and the three expected points Fresno State gave up based on field position.
Nebraska’s lone loss. Special teams were a struggle all around for the Huskers. The blocked punt gave Fresno State a 32-yard field and resulted in the Bulldogs’ only touchdown. Two other Fresno State drives started inside Nebraska territory and they were off Husker punts. Nebraska’s net field position (defensive starting field position minus offensive) was -3.2. That won’t do against the better teams on Nebraska’s schedule.
Averaging 3.5 points per drive is pretty robust. The national average is generally around 2.1 or so. Nebraska beat that both ways — holding Fresno State to 1 point per drive — though it didn’t feel like it for long stretches of the game.
A few more numbers for you. In our preview this week I identified a few other stats I thought would play a part in this game: Nebraska’s explosive passing plays allowed and offensive stuff rate.
We hit the explosive plays part above, but I also thought Nebraska’s stuff rate (percentage of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage) needed to be 15 percent or less. That was probably too generous for this Fresno State squad. The Huskers had three runs stopped for a loss or no gain over 43 attempts, a stuff rate of 6.98 percent.
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.