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.” For a more complete explanation of the numbers, click here.
Here’s a closer look at Nebraska’s 23-17 loss to Wisconsin.
Efficiency (Success Rate)
Get ready for a lot of close calls. This game played out almost exactly how many people thought it would. Yards were hard to come by. Big plays were few and far between. The defenses carried the day. And at the end of the day, Wisconsin was used to playing that style of ball a little more than Nebraska was. The overall success rate in this game was nearly even. The real difference may have been how much work each offense was asked to do. Leverage rate is just a measure of standard downs (offensive advantage) versus passing downs (defensive advantage). Against a really good defense — and Wisconsin’s is that — passing downs are death and the Huskers couldn’t stay out of them often enough. Nebraska was in standard downs 60 percent of the time, Wisconsin 65 percent. The Badgers were a little better on passing downs (33 percent success) than the Huskers (20 percent) were, and that had been a Nebraska strength. My ultimate takeaway here is not the lack of success for either team, but that the Badgers put themselves in just a few more advantageous positions than the Huskers did.
Explosiveness (Yards per Play)
This one came as a bit of surprise. You had to know that there wouldn’t be a ton of big plays in this game, but if you had to bet — or at least if I had to bet — I would’ve picked Nebraska to have the edge. That was what these two offenses had proven over seven games, but the Badgers flipped the script. Wisconsin had four gains of 20-plus yards to Nebraska’s two. If that category is even, things are probably different. There were a few moments in this game when I thought maybe Nebraska was too conservative offensively, but it was still in the game so it’s hard to second guess too much.
Turnovers (Turnover Points)
This was a big part of the story in the first half when Nebraska was down 2-0 in turnover margin. It became a little bit less of a story when Nathan Gerry evened things up all by himself in the second half with a pair of interceptions, but the Huskers didn’t cash in either of those opportunities. That left Wisconsin with a 3-point edge in this category. This was Nebraska’s first loss under Mike Riley with an even-or-better turnover margin.
Finishing Drives (Points Per Trip Inside the 40)
This one looked to be huge coming in given Wisconsin’s offensive struggles to finish drives and the Husker defense’s ability to limit the damage in scoring territory this season. It sort of told the story here, almost, because Wisconsin’s one empty trip — the missed field goal in the fourth quarter — is what sent this one to overtime. But part of the story here, too, is that Nebraska only had three trips to the Badgers’ four. I thought the Huskers would have to create two empty trips tonight and it only ended up with one. (Overtime possessions weren’t included as those already start in scoring territory.) Even holding Wisconsin to a field goal on one of those trips would’ve gotten Nebraska under the 4-point mark I thought it needed to hit.
Another one I thought Nebraska had to win to win this game and it did.
Pretty decisively, holding a nearly 7-yard edge. The Huskers will rue
two first-half drives that each started at their own 40 yard line, however.
That’s good starting field position and both of those drives ended with
interceptions. Nebraska also had a second-half drive that started
46-yards away from pay dirt thanks to a Gerry interception. Wisconsin
quickly forced a three-and-out. To win a game like this, the Huskers
have to make at least one of those drives count.
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: Nebraska’s yards per carry and Wisconsin’s completion percentage.
Yards per carry: I didn’t expect Nebraska to have a really easy time running the ball, but I didn’t think it had to be great, setting 3.6 yards per carry as the number to hit. The Huskers ended up at 3.5 and that, combined with 38.7 percent passing and little QB-run game was enough to leave Nebraska just short in the end.
Completion percentage: Wisconsin was 5-0 entering Saturday when it completed 60 percent of its passes and now it’s 6-0. The Badgers just made it at 60.8 percent. And I thought Nebraska’s defense played pretty great. Credit to Paul Chryst for a well-conceived passing game.
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.