Hot Reads: Huskers' Run Game Got Better
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Huskers’ Run Game Got Better, Still Yards to Go

September 10, 2019

"It was a lot better," Scott Frost said of Nebraska's run game against Colorado. "We were a lot better on offense this week than we were the week before and that’s because we practiced well."

And so it was. After rushing for 2.74 yards per carry on a 37.5% success rate against South Alabama, Nebraska responded with 5.30 yards per carry on a 50.0% success rate in the loss to Colorado. Those numbers don't include any sacks because sacks aren't rushing plays. Team rushes––kneel downs and snaps that fly over the QB’s head only to be recovered after a 20-yard loss––are removed as well. What’s left is how Nebraska has fared when it decided to run the ball. 

Colorado represented progress, but there's still a long way to go here and not a ton of time. If Nebraska is to contend in the Big Ten West, it needs to get its rushing woes cleaned up quickly.

Last year, the Huskers were an elite rushing team. They had the seventh-best rushing offense in the country per SP+ and ranked 12th in efficiency and 19th in explosiveness. Nebraska's opportunity rate––"The percentage of carries (when 4 yards are available) that gain at least 4 yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak”––ranked 11th nationally at 53.8%. Its 18.5% stuff rate––the number of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage––was 58th, just a bit above average.

This year, Nebraska's rushing success rate is 43.6%. That's still above average, but the Huskers' explosive-run rate (11.1%) ranks just 87th after two games. Their opportunity rate (48.1%) and stuff rate (17.7%)––offensive line stats––rank 70th and 86th respectively.

While the sample sizes are small at this point, if you break that down by run location the numbers will match up with what you've seen though two games–the Huskers are struggling right now to run between the tackles.

Left End 50.0%
Between the Tackles 37.5%
Right End 42.9%

Nebraska was better in that regard, too. Against Colorado the Huskers had a 48% success rate in the middle. That was better than the success rate around the edge (33.3%), but the failed plunges through the line tend to stick out to Husker fans raised on fullback traps and 300-yard rushing games.

"It was one guy was off for whatever reason," right tackle Matt Farniok said of the Huskers' struggles between the tackles. "One guy just didn’t quite get their job done, didn’t quite get to the standard that we preach. When one guy fails we all fail, and I mean that’s just an emphasis, especially for this week is we’re in this together so everyone needs to execute their job to the best of their ability."

Adrian Martinez has been Nebraska's best running back so far, which isn't ideal given that he's the quarterback. Even if you remove scrambles––designed passes that ended up being runs––his rushing success rate (47.4%) bests both running backs. Nebraska's quarterback draw is its best interior run at this point. Here's the middle-versus-edges breakdown of the Huskers' three rushers with at least 20 carries so far.

Left End 33.3% 100.0% 40.0%
Between the Tackles 58.3% 25.0% 38.5%
Right End 25.0% 50.0% 66.7%

All but three of Mills' carries have been between the tackles, so don't put too much on his edge number here. But do take note of the up-the-middle rate. If that's Mills' primary role––and it looks like it is based on his usage to this point––Nebraska needs to find a fix quick.

"We’re so close to breaking him away because we see those break-away runs, we see him getting through the gaps," Farniok said of Mills. "For whatever reason we’re just one step short and honestly it’s on the offensive line. When the run fails let’s just put it on the offensive line. That’s on us. Regardless of however it is, whatever happens. As an offensive line we just have to find a way to make it work."

That's true in the run game, but Nebraska's o-line also has a lot of work to do after allowing six second-half sacks to Colorado. The sack-rate numbers are even uglier at this stage. That, however, is a topic for another day.

The Grab Bag

  • If you missed Jeremiah Sirles and Kenny Bell breaking down the Colorado game live last night, you can watch the hour-long show here.
  • Nebraska is still developing its killer intsinct on offense. (Premium)
  • Jacob Padilla recaps the Nebraska volleyball press conference from Monday and offers a little more detail on the Huskers’ weekend in Conversations with Cook. (Premium)
  • Cam Taylor-Britt is looking like a big recruiting win for Nebraska.

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