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Hot Reads: LB Barry Is Producing Results as Well as Passion and Effort

September 27, 2018

There wasn't a whole lot worth remembering from Nebraska's 56-10 loss to Michigan. Linebacker Mohamed Barry was one of the players who was. The junior had seven tackles and three tackles for loss, including one sack.

When asked about him on Tuesday, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander held Barry up as an example of the kind of player Nebraska wants.

"Mo, he's one of the guys that made some critical errors in the game just like everybody else. I think Mo can make up for it a little bit with the effort that he plays with, the passion that he plays with," Chinander said. "Even when we got down in that game, he's still playing hard and he's celebrating and he's having a great time playing football. I think he's a guy that really loves football and we need 11 guys that love football out there, we need 22 guys that love football, eventually we need 105 guys that just love to play football, period."

That's a glowing recommendation for any player from any coach, but it's more than just passion and effort with Barry so far in 2018. He's also producing the best results of any Husker defender through three games.

Back in August, I wrote about SB Nation and Bill Connelly's marginal efficiency stat for individual players. I like it because it does the one thing most good stats do: compare actual results to expected results. In the case of a defensive player, marginal efficiency looks at the expected success rate of a play (based on down and distance) involving a defender and compares it to the actual success rates on those plays.

So far in 2018, plays involving Barry have been much less successful than expected. He leads Nebraska with 19.5 non-special teams tackles, has four tackles for loss which includes a sack and seven run stops (runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage). Barry's marginal efficiency is 27.5 percentage points below expectation. Average for a linebacker is about -3.

The easiest way to visualize the impact Barry is having is probably this: Teams are averaging 0.9 yards per play on plays involving a Barry tackle. And he has the largest sample size, which is very much a factor here, of any Nebraska defender.

To compare that to Barry's fellow linebackers, his partner on the inside, Dedrick Young II, has a perfectly average marginal efficiency (-3.3%) on 14.5 tackles but his marginal explosiveness numbers are avert-thy-eyes bad. Average yards per play on a play involving Young: 10.0.

Expectations are a little different for outside linebackers because, well, they're on the outside and will have to make more tackles farther down field. Luke Gifford (11.5 tackles) is slightly above average in marginal efficiency (1.1%), but plays involving him are only averaging 2.7 yards. Tyrin Ferguson (13.5 tackles) is posting similar rates with a -3.8 percent marginal efficiency and 2.6 yards per play.

Will Honas? He's made nine tackles, so a small sample size but the early returns are encouraging. Plays involving him have been 16.1 percentage points less successful than expected and have averaged 2.9 yards.

No Husker defensive lineman outside of Khalil Davis has more than five tackles, so we're talking really small sample sizes here and these numbers can change quickly, but Nebraska's best defensive linemen based on marginal efficiency have been Ben Stille (-39.6%, 3 tackles), Carlos Davis (-36.3%, 4 tackles) and Freedom Akinmoladun (-25.9, 5 tackles). They've all been better than average (-19%) for a defensive end, albeit on relatively few plays.

The secondary gets pretty rough. Average here (23.3%) is higher because this is the last level of the defense and most of a defensive back's tackles are going to be made on already-successful plays. Pass breakups are not part of the calculation, so consider that a separate skill for now. Looking only at tackles, safety Tre Neal is the easy leader here with a 1.4 percent marginal efficiency on 10.5 tackles. Those plays are averaging 7 yards, not bad considering there's a linebacker with a higher rate. Antonio Reed is next at 16.7 percent.

These numbers are always going to be higher for cornerbacks, but Lamar Jackson (36.8%) and Dicaprio Bootle (37.9%) are about even in marginal efficiency, though Bootle does have seven passes defended to Jackson's two.

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