Hot Reads: The Battle Nebraska Has to Win on Black Friday
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: The Battle Nebraska Has to Win on Black Friday

November 26, 2019

Let's go back to Nebraska's second bye week. The big, bad Badgers were coming to town with a typically stout defense and Nebraska's offense was licking wounds it had suffered in West Lafayette. Against Purdue, in Adrian Martinez's first game back since getting hurt against Northwestern, the Huskers put up their second-lowest yardage total (375) in conference play. Some of that had to do with short fields––it was actually the rare good-field-position game for Nebraska––but still, it was a below-average output against a below-average defense.

From a statistical standpoint, Nebraska was a middle-of-the-road unit entering the Wisconsin game. The Huskers ranked 56th nationally in success rate––a measure of how often a team gains 50% of yards to go on first down, 70% on second down and 100% on third or fourth down––while the Badgers' defense ranked fifth. That's still Nebraska's basic efficiency level entering the regular-season finale. Even after two good success-rate games against Wisconsin and Maryland, the Huskers enter Friday's game against Iowa ranked 53rd nationally.

On the explosiveness front, however, Nebraska has taken a huge jump over the last two games. Going into that Wisconsin game, the Huskers' offense ranked 54th in explosive plays percentage, 74th in percentage of explosive rushes (10-plus yards) and 28th in percentage of explosive passes (15-plus yards). Today Nebraska ranks 19th, 24th and 20th in those categories respectively. The Huskers hit for 39 explosive plays (26.5%) against the Badgers and Terrapins.

Nineteen of Nebraska's explosive plays over the past two games went for 20-plus yards. Iowa has allowed 29 such plays all season, the fourth-fewest nationally.

One way or another, that disparity is going to be huge on Black Friday when the Huskers have the ball.

Here's the full efficiency/explosiveness rankings for Nebraska's offense and Iowa's defense. (We'll look at the Nebraska defense-Iowa offense breakdown on Wednesday.)

Success Rate 43.0% (53) 41.9% 38.2% (40)
>Rush Success Rate 43.9% (40) 41.9% 39.4% (52)
>Pass Success Rate 41.5% (69) 41.6% 37.2% (35)
Explosive Plays Pct. 17.89% (19) 15.34% 10.72% (6)
>Expl. Rush Pct. 16.67% (24) 14.57% 10.73% (16)
>Expl. Pass Pct. 19.63% (20) 16.17% 10.72% (6)

Nebraska's big-play renaissance over the past two games has been largely ground-based. Two games ago the Huskers' run game had accounted for a total of 56.5 predicted points added––via, a measure of how any individual play changes the expected outcome of a drive––an average of 6.3 per game. Over the last two games, Nebraska has added 25.8 predicted points via the run (12.9 per game).

Dedrick Mills breakout game against Wisconsin is responsible for a lot of that. He only had 12 carries against Maryland after battling illness all week, but more than 48% of Mills' total predicted points added have come in the past two weeks. That's excellent timing for Nebraska because, well, there are no other running backs left at this point. (Scott Frost said on Monday that they're still hoping to maintain a redshirt for Rahmir Johnson, meaning he wouldn't be available again this season.)

That sets up an interesting collision on Friday. Iowa's defense is good in terms of efficiency and, as usual, great at limiting big plays. That's particularly true in the passing game. The Hawkeyes' rates against the run aren't weaknesses, far from it, but relative to the strength against the pass it's probably how the Huskers will have to make hay.

In last week's 19-10 loss Illinois rushed for 6.03 yards per carry when you remove sacks. Only Wisconsin (6.95) has been better against Iowa this season.

Over the last two weeks, the Huskers have gained 7.13 yards per rush. It's the battle Nebraska probably has to win on Black Friday.

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