The Mike Riley era at Nebraska now spans 28 games, two seasons plus two games this year. I still don’t feel like I have a great grasp of what the Huskers’ offense is supposed to look like.
It’s occasionally brilliant, and sometimes puzzling. I think it’s meant to be multiple and capable of answering a defense’s adjustments. More than “here’s what we are,” this offense seems to say “we’ll be whatever we need to be.” This, of course, runs counter to Nebraska’s greatest era, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s doomed to fail.
Through 28 games, however, it has made the Huskers’ offense tough to pin down. Whatever the Huskers’ offense is, it certainly thrives on efficiency to a degree that feels uncommon. Every offense is better when it’s ahead of the chains, but the difference seems to be even bigger at Nebraska.
So let’s talk briefly about possession-and-10. ESPN analyst Field Yates defines it as “a term used to describe the first play of each drive. During the course of a game, a defensive assistant coach will chart every play run by the opponent, keeping a close eye on tendencies. One area they make special note of is P&10 plays to help anticipate how a drive may start. At halftime, the defensive coordinator will review notes with his designated assistant as he prepares for his second half adjustments.”
Nebraska was bad on P&10 against Oregon. The first play of the game — a somewhat unfortunate interception – didn't serve as much of a mission statement. The Huskers’ two first-half touchdown drives featured successful plays (based on success rate) on P&10, but the remaining four drives of the first half started as follows: incomplete pass, 0-yard run, sack for a loss of 10 yards and incomplete pass.
“We’ve got to stay on the field,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said yesterday. “The third down was such a critical statistic for us in our last game, we were really bad.”
Chalk at least some of the third-down struggles up to just struggling to get drives going. Nebraska had just four successful P&10 plays — meaning the play gained at least 5 yards — over 16 drives, and three of those successes came on the Huskers’ first four drives. Yates paints P&10 downs as sort of a chess match between an offensive and defensive coordinator. It was one Nebraska didn’t win very often last week.
It did win it often against Arkansas State, however. The Huskers were 7-for-12 on P&10 downs that week, including 4-for-6 in the second half. Each of Nebraska’s four touchdown drives started with a successful play on P&10.
While this might seem like an esoteric stat, it’s worth monitoring as the season progresses. How the Huskers start drives has been telling so far in 2017. Incompletions on P&10 have been drive breakers. Something as simple as 4 or 5 yards, however, has often delivered solid results.
The Grab Bag
- According to a report from Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald, Mike Riley's contract was extended by a year earlier this year and Nebraska expects to offer another extension in December.
- The week two college football imperialism map is back and Nebraska has no kingdom.
- Mark Schlabach writes that Notre Dame, Auburn and Ohio State need to go back to the drawing board after early losses.
- ICYMI: Monday press conference recaps for football and volleyball.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.