Hot Reads: A Lead Was Indeed Good for Nebraska's Offense in 2018
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: A Lead Was Indeed Good for Nebraska’s Offense in 2018

March 21, 2019

It's better to be ahead than behind. This earth-shattering bit of analysis is brought to you by Nebraska football being on spring break.

But there is actually something here, I promise.

When you think of Nebraska's offense from 2018, what comes to mind? It could be the 6.31 yards per play it averaged (20th nationally). It could be the 38 points per game it averaged over four games in October (17th). The 5.41 yards per rush (16th), and that's without factoring out sacks, was pretty impressive. Adrian Martinez has a whole slew of impressive numbers to pick from if none of those team measures are just the thing for you.

Point is, it's hard not to feel encouraged when you look back on Nebraska's offensive numbers.

And the larger point is that almost all of those numbers could've been better with one simple change––the lead.

Nebraska didn't have one very often in 2018, particularly on offense. The Huskers ran just 30.8 percent of their offensive plays with a lead. That ranked 91st nationally. The national average on offense was 39.5 percent. If you want an idea of the top of the scale here, Clemson and Alabama each ran more than 74 percent of their plays with a lead.

Think that changes how those offenses were able to play? How aggressive they could be? How many risks they didn't have to take?

It almost certainly does.

I pulled those snap counts together for my column in the March issue, so if you want more on that part of it, particularly how it relates to overall winning percentage and turnovers, make sure to grab a copy when it hits newsstands in the days ahead. 

But here, let's just focus on the actual on-the-field difference for Nebraska's offense in 2018 based on the scoreboard. As mentioned, Nebraska's 6.31 yards per play ranked 20th last season. Pretty good.

When the Huskers trailed, which was 56 percent of the time on offense, that number was more than a half-yard worse (5.77). When leading, Nebraska's offense was humming along at 6.68. Tie game? Nebraska averaged 7.72 yards per play.

Here's the breakdown in a more easily digestible table. (We'll tackle defense another day.)

GAME STATE % of Snaps (Rank) Yards Per Play
Leading 30.76 (91st) 6.68
Tied 13.13 (95th) 7.72
Trailing 56.11 (94th) 5.77

Just something to think about this offseason. Oh, and one more bonus fact to add to the discussion.

In 38 games as a head coach, Scott Frost's team has won the coin toss 19 times. Those teams took the ball 14 times (73.7 percent), including 5-of-6 times in 2018.

It's a lot easier to get a lead that way, even if it didn't transpire often enough in 2018. If it does in 2019, that probably means good things for the Huskers' offense.

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