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. This game fell into garbage-time 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 52-17 win over Wyoming:
Efficiency (Success Rate)
With Wyoming gearing up to stop the run and throwing a wagon load of run blitzes at Nebraska, the Huskers took to the air a bit more and their success rate suffered a bit compared to last week, but it was still pretty solid. Especially in comparison to Wyoming at a lowly 31.5. The Cowboys tried to establish the run, didn’t have much success (4.6 yards per carry, sack adjusted) and was frequently off schedule on second down. A handful of times, the Cowboys earned it back only to get stuffed on third-and-short (2-of-5 on the day). It was big-play-or-bust early for Wyoming’s offense and that wasn’t a battle it was winning.
Explosiveness (Yards Per Play)
If last week’s game was defined by how station-to-station Nebraska looked, Saturday’s game offered the opposite approach — the long ball. The Huskers had 331 total yards at halftime and 223 of those yards came on five explosive passing plays (20-plus yards). Wyoming had three of its own in the first half for 94 yards and all three came on drives that ended in scoring opportunities. Each of Nebraska’s five over the first 30 minutes did, too. This was the defining feature of the first half, but then . . .
Turnovers (Turnover Points)
. . . The second half started and the Huskers decided to throw a pick party (plus one fumble recovery). Explosive plays — each team had one in the second half — were replace by turnovers. Wyoming turnovers. After Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s cringe-inducing interception from the Cowboys’ 5-yard line in the first half, things swung way in the Huskers’ favor as Nebraska finished with five picks and a fumble recovery that set it up at the 1-yard line. The last three interceptions weren’t even counted for our statistical purposes, but turnovers as a whole were clearly what pushed this game into the blowout category. At the time this game fell into garbage time, Nebraska had a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. It was holding a 14-point edge in the turnover points category. (As a reminder, turnover points are a measurement of a turnover’s value based on field position lost and gained. It’s not points off a turnover.) The other touchdown in the margin came via . . .
Finishing Drives (Points Per Trip Inside the 40)
There were points in the third quarter when it looked like Wyoming’s two missed field goals were going to loom large in this game. The Cowboys pulled within a touchdown twice in the third quarter. Basic math here, but those would’ve been one-point leads if Wyoming had made it’s field goals. For the game, the Cowboys had a first down inside Nebraska’s 40-yard line six times — that’s a problem for the Huskers against better opponents (i.e. next week) — but only came away with 17 points. Nebraska was a little better — 24 points on six trips — but you can’t overstate how much the Huskers’ first-half interception hurt. Finish off that drive and the Huskers probably aren’t in a one-score game entering the fourth quarter. That drive in particular felt like a knockout blow not thrown.
It ends up as a win for Nebraska thanks to a 1-yard drive set up by Ross Dzuris’s fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter. Prior to that, this one was played on a pretty even field with Wyoming holding a slight edge entering the fourth quarter. Through two games so far, Nebraska hasn’t been a great field position team nor a poor one.
Despite some overall inefficiencies, Nebraska, for the second straight week, looked pretty good when you just measure things on a points-per-drive basis. Slightly better than two points per drive is about average, but for the second straight week Nebraska’s offense hit for better than three points and the defense gave up less than two. That’ll win every time, because, you know, points are how we keep track of such things.
A few more numbers for you. In our preview this week I identified some other stats I thought would play a part in this game: the chunk play ratio, Alonzo Moore touches, methodical drives.
Chunk Plays: I thought Nebraska should be able to double up Wyoming and through the first half it nearly had. The Cowboys evened things up in the second half, however, and nearly matched the Huskers for the game, losing the battle 8-7.
Moore Touches: Nebraska tends to play pretty well when Moore is playing well, so I set a baseline of five touches for the senior wide receiver. He ended up with three catches for 109 yards — including a 63-yard touchdown — but got no carries as the Huskers’ jet-sweep game was (somewhat strangely) absent this week. I wouldn’t say those missing two touches hurt Nebraska in any regard, but it’s interesting to note that Moore seems to be a guy Armstrong looks for more and more.
Methodical Drives: These are defined as drives that go at least 10 plays, but the explosive-plays boom of the first half rendered it moot. Nebraska had no methodical drives when it mattered. Wyoming opened the second half with one, which made it a game for much of the third quarter.
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.