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Hot Reads: Healthier Huskers a Hidden Advantage Going Forward

November 20, 2018

"We’ve had some injuries that you kind of can’t help that are just going to happen in football, but every year I’ve been around Zach Duval and his strength staff we’ve been one of the healthiest teams around," Scott Frost said.

There's one game left in the 2018 season, but I'd say you can go ahead and add it to Duval's résumé, too. Based on missed starts, the Huskers were remarkably healthy this year.

This is a topic I looked at back in April as it related to UCF. The Knights didn't have starters miss many games on their way to 13-0 in 2017. Based on my unofficial count –– there is some gray area here given different starting formations, but I think it's pretty close –– UCF season-opening starters made 93.2 percent of the available starts last season.

The Huskers in 2018? I have the regular starters making 95.5 percent of the available starts this season. On offense I'm only counting three missed starts so far. There was Adrian Martinez against Troy, JD Spielman last week and then I'm counting Cole Conrad at center against Wisconsin. Tanner Farmer started in his place, Boe Wilson slid in at right guard and that's how it has remained since then. Nebraska's third wide receiver spot has been a bit of a revolving door and running back flipped from Greg Bell to Devine Ozigbo, but none of that was injury related.

On defense I'm counting eight missed starts, four by defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg and four by outside linebacker Tyrin Ferguson. There were a couple of other changes to the starting lineup in there but none made because the regular starter was unavailable.

Overall, here is the group of 2018 Huskers with a chance to start every game this season with a start against Iowa on Friday: WR Stanley Morgan Jr., TE Jack Stoll, RT Matt Farniok, LG Jerald Foster, LT Brendan Jaimes, DE Freedom Akinmoladun, ILB Dedrick Young II, ILB Mohamed Barry, OLB Luke Gifford, CB Lamar Jackson, S Tre Neal and CB Dicaprio Bootle.

That's a pretty big difference compared to 2017's numbers.

18 NEB 11 11 11 -1 11 11 11 -1 11 -1 11
17 NEB -4 12 12 -6 -4 -3 -2 -1 12 12 -10
18 NEB 11 -4 11 -4 11 11 11 11 11 11 11
17 NEB 12 12 12 -4 -1 12 -5 -6 -4 -4 12

A year ago, what I would consider Nebraska's starters made just 79.5 percent of the available starts. The biggest losses a year ago were multiple missed starts on the offensive line and in the secondary. That total also includes the 10 games Tre Bryant missed, which might feel like harsh accounting but Bryant was so good in the first two games last year that I didn't have a problem saying that if he'd been healthy he would've been the starter.

But those are the big injuries that are tough to avoid. It's the smaller ones, Frost said, that are truly the difference between 2017 and 2018.

"I think a lot of the injuries that have plagued Nebraska players before have been limited this year, other than some of those that you can’t help that are just going to happen once in a while that are unfortunate," he said. "We haven’t had many soft-tissue or shoulders or things of that nature. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the kids are bigger and stronger and they’re able to be more physical and survive in Big Ten games."

It would've been reasonable based on Duval's track record at UCF to expect this, but given Nebraska's recent history here it still feels somewhat surprising. And if it remains this way over the seasons to come I think it could be one of the Huskers' hidden advantages.

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