Hot Reads: Fumbles Are Hard to Avoid
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Knowing Is More Than Half the Battle for Year 2 Blackshirts

March 29, 2019

"I guess I'd relate it to this," Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said Wednesday by way of explaining the defensive growth he expects to see from the Huskers in Year 2, "I was a quarterback in college and somebody thought I should be a DB in the NFL.

"My first year I had no idea what I was doing. My second year I probably had no idea what I was doing. Once you figure it out, you can just play faster. You can let everything go and just go attack the ball and try to make plays."

Good analogy and interesting example cited there of how experience in the scheme shows on the field: "go attack the ball and try to make plays."

You started to see that over the back half of Nebraska's season a year ago in one key category––going and getting the ball. Or, at least, creating more opportunities to get the ball back via takeaway, which is a little easier to control than the takeaways themselves.  I highlighted Nebraska's jump in takeaway opportunities (forced fumbles plus passes defended) after the loss to Ohio State, but highlighting the year-end numbers here I think gives at least one look of some of what Frost is talking about.

After the Huskers' 0-5 start they ranked 84th nationally while creating a TakeOpp on 7.1 percent of its defensive plays. By the end of Week 10––the four-game stretch against Northwestern, Minnesota, Bethune-Cookman and Ohio State––they were up to 9.1 percent and 22nd nationally. That momentum held over Nebraska's final three games and the Huskers finished the season 16th national in TakeOpps percentage. From 84th after the first month of the season.

To put it a more concrete way, 59.3 percent of Nebraska's total TakeOpps came over the last 50 percent of their games. Seventy percent of the Huskers' actual takeaways on the year were generated in the second half of the 2018 season.

Nebraska's turnovers luck also improved over that stretch. At the midpoint of the season, the Huskers had recovered 33 percent of opponent fumbles (average rate: 50 percent) and just 8 percent of the passes defended were interceptions (average: 20 percent). Over the final six games, Nebraska got back to normal recovering 44 percent of fumbles and converting 20 percent of its passes defended into interceptions.

"They were learning the scheme. It takes a long time to really feel comfortable in it, but now that the guys really know their assignments I just see the entire defense playing faster with more intensity," Frost said.

He said it this week, about this year's defense, but it would've fit the week of the Iowa game, too. At least when looking at the takeaways.

It's not a given that a team will simply build off what it did before. Things are rarely that linear, but when Frost laid out how he sees the defense growing in Year 2, I had a sense of deja vu. Nebraska started turning that corner at midseason.

And you could make similar arguments about the offense and thus the team as a whole. If you want a really simple way to encapsulate that in two numbers, here you go. Over the first half of the season Nebraska was outscored, on average, 38.3-23.2 (230-140 in total points. Over the second half of the season Nebraska outscored its opponents 36.7-24.2 (220-145).

That's why I'll always remember 2018 as the season where the Huskers had a Year 0 and a Year 1 in a single year.

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