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Hot Reads: Huskers Made Big Gains on the Ground, Literally

December 11, 2018

There's a new issue of Hail Varsity on its way to mailboxes and newsstands this week. In addition to Erin Sorensen's must-read feature on Tre Neal, there's also a story in there on "10 stats that tell the story of Scott Frost's first season."

One of the stats I wrote about there was Nebraska's percentage of explosive rushes (10-plus yards) in 2018. The Huskers had 90 in 12 games.

Here's a taste of what's in the magazine, with a little more context below:

The Huskers were one of 10 teams this season to average a rush of 10-plus yards on at least 20 percent of their running plays. Nebraska’s explosive-rushes percentage (20.64) ranked fourth nationally behind Oklahoma, Ohio and Maryland. The total (90) was double what the Huskers had a year ago (44). This offense is built to gash teams for big gains on the ground and the Huskers made a bunch of progress on that front in their first year in the system.

Quarterback Adrian Martinez led the way with 30 runs of 10-plus yards. Fellow true freshman Maurice Washington added 18 from his running back spot. But the biggest surprise here was Devine Ozigbo. The senior running back had 29 rushes of 10 yards or more, which ranked fifth in the Big Ten. Ozigbo had 25 such gains over the first three years of his Nebraska career.

Nebraska's rate of explosive rushes (which removes sacks as rushing attempts, as should always be the case) wasn't just among the best in the country it was easily the best of the Huskers' Big Ten era. The 2012 team had the previous high over that span at 17.54 percent.

The Huskers' 2018 number was good for a Frost offense, too. It was better than UCF in 2016 and 2017, but Oregon might be the better comparison. 

2018 20.64 20.64
2017 17.04 12.79
2016 12.09 13.78
2015 21.70 15.80
2014 18.76 17.17
2013 21.27 14.64
2012 19.19 17.54
2011 20.25 12.88
2010 18.52 15.37
2009 20.08 10.55

The Ducks were, of course, good in this category when Chip Kelly was head coach and Frost the wide receivers coach, but Oregon took a small jump when Frost assumed offensive coordinator duties. The 2015 Ducks were the most explosive rushing team of Frost's time in Eugene with 21.70 percent of all rushes going for 10-plus yards. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams Jr. quarterbacked that team, but it was a loaded backfield featuring Royce Freeman, Taj Griffin, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James that did the real damage. All four averaged at least 6.5 yards per carry.

The 2013 team, Frost's first as OC, was close at 21.27 percent. That team featured Marcus Mariota at quarterback flanked by Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and De'Anthony Thomas.

And Nebraska was close to those teams in terms of explosive rushes with a true freshman quarterback, a senior running back having the season of his life and another true freshman running back. It's notable.

While still an assistant at Oregon, Frost did an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star. He said then that his vision of the perfect offense was to marry classic Husker power with Oregon speed.

Nebraska in 2018, without being that close to what it will be on either front eventually, may have gotten closer to that vision than first thought.

Derek Peterson has an even deeper look at Nebraska’s rushing numbers up now.

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