We’ve already played nearly 17 percent of college football’s regular season. That’s a number I don’t like. If you’re a Nebraska fan, there are a lot of numbers not to like right now.
After two weeks, the Huskers rank 123rd nationally in total defense (ypg), 119th in scoring defense (ppg) and 129th in pass defense (only Ohio State is worse right now). The offense doesn’t have scare stats to that degree, but it has plenty of things to work on as well. The Huskers currently rank 94th in pass efficiency, 83rd in giveaways and 68th in total offense (ypg).
Those are what I’d call “big picture” stats. Nebraska obviously needs to improve its scoring defense, which is to say it needs to give up fewer points. But “give up fewer points” is a pretty broad prescription in the same way that “complete more passes” would be for the offense. So let’s quickly dial down a little more to try to get to the root of some of these problems.
Here are three stats that Nebraska must improve after two weeks:
1. Defensive Explosive-Plays Percentage – 6.63% (88th)
This isn’t one you’ll see listed on any stats site, but I think you have to look at big plays allowed through the number of total plays defended. The Huskers’ defense has been on the field for 166 plays through two games. Only eight Power 5 teams have defended more. But before Nebraska addresses that, it has to limit big plays to a greater degree. It’s objective No. 1 in a Bob Diaco defense and Oregon has the numbers looking pretty rough right now. The Ducks, who have had more 20-plus yard gains through two weeks than any other team in the country, will do that to you. If Nebraska’s defense is to improve this season – and I continue to think it will – it starts with this explosive-plays percentage. If this number goes down, so will almost all of the others.
2. First Down Passing Efficiency – 123.19 (87th)
The Oregon game was an interesting study in contrasts. When the Huskers got something on first down — even 4 or 5 yards was often enough — they were off on some impressive, fun and multifaceted drives. When Nebraska got nothing on first down, three-and-outs were aplenty. The Huskers have been OK on these mission-statement plays when running the ball, but passing has been a problem. Nebraska has completed just 38.5 percent (129th) of its 26 first-down passes. That’s a lot of second-and-10s to try and recover from. The Huskers’ first and last offensive plays last week were also interceptions on first-down passes, an appropriate set of bookends for how things have gone so far.
3. Third Down Conversion Percentage Offense/Defense – 32.14 (103rd)/51.85 (120th)
Whatever you think Nebraska’s ceiling is in 2017, these two numbers in concert are probably a good encapsulation of why the Huskers aren’t close to hitting that ceiling so far in 2017. Nebraska has faced an about-average number of third downs offensively and defensively through two games, but it’s not winning nearly often enough. Attribute some of that on offense to the Huskers’ poor passing on first down. More than 53 percent of Nebraska’s third downs on offense have been third and 7 or longer. On defense, the Huskers’ struggles on third down should serve as something of a growth chart as the season goes on. A mature defense will win often on the downs where it has an advantage. That’s not Nebraska yet, but I do think this number is going to slowly get better as the season goes on. If the same thing happens on offense, expect to see some significant changes to all of the other numbers, too.
The Grab Bag
- Two schools, Missouri and ECU, fired their defensive coordinators after two weeks.
- ESPN again applies a nice presentation to its new win probability tracking from each week to show you the plays that swung games last Saturday.
- Advanced box scores from Football Study Hall for all of the week two games.
- ICYMI: Jacob Padilla on Nebraska's struggles in the secondary, Derek Peterson on Tanner Lee's rough second start and Brenda Tracy and Mike Riley continue to make amends.
Today's Song of Today
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.