Hot Reads: The Good Part of Nebraska's 'Just OK' Indiana Game
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: The Good Part of Nebraska’s ‘Just OK’ Indiana Game

October 28, 2019

Nebraska is "just OK," Scott Frost said following the Huskers' loss to Indiana, and that had to leave Husker fans feeling something less than that two-thirds of the way through Year 2 under this staff. It's true, though.

At 4-4, Nebraska is "just OK." But maybe not worse than that. It looks worse right now, particularly when held up against the division-contending model many people had in mind in the offseason, but "just OK" is pretty accurate.

And, since we've covered most of the less-than-OK parts of the Huskers' loss already, let's look at one of the better-than-OK pieces.

Entering Saturday, Nebraska's offense had been fading fast on the efficiency front in Big Ten play. The Huskers' offense posted a 52.1% success rate against Illinois (and paired it with a bunch of big plays), but that dropped to 32.0% against Ohio State, 28.6% against Northwestern and 38.6% against Minnesota.

Playing two backup quarterbacks, including a true freshman in his first game with extended snaps, Nebraska posted its best success rate of the season, 52.7%. With Noah Vedral piloting the ship, Nebraska's offense "won" 48.8% of downs. Luke McCaffrey entered the game on the Huskers' sixth drive of the game and led the next five. Nebraska's offense had a 58.1% success rate on those drives.

The two most impressive parts of Nebraska's efficiency on Saturday were, one, that the Huskers' did it without much of a traditional, hand-off run game at all. The Huskers' tried to work around that in a few ways, one of which was just give it to Wan'Dale. The other, let the quarterbacks run it (which has been pretty common of late). Neither is much of a long-term solution, but it may be what's available to the Huskers over these next four games. Nebraska found some overall success without something it really wants to, and needs to, rely on––an explosive run game.

Two, Nebraska did this against a defense that entered the game allowing a 35.7% success rate. Indiana ranked 24th nationally in that category. I came out of Saturday's game with a ton of respect for the Hoosiers' plan on offense against Nebraska. But, though it wasn't pretty at times, the Huskers' offense found a way to have some success, too, despite some significant challenges.

That was a positive. That it happened in a loss––and I wrote this after the game, too––isn't solely the responsibility of the defense. That side didn't play well, particularly against the pass, but the loss doesn't fall solely on their skull-and-crossbone-clad shoulders. The example I keep coming back to: Isaac Armstrong's 19-yard punt from the Huskers' 16-yard line. That's basically a turnover in your own territory.

Indiana turned it into a touchdown and never trailed from there.

Frustrating when a struggling team is actually doing some other things well, but those things that did go right shouldn't be glossed over. They are probably why Nebraska rose a couple of spots, despite the loss, in the three power rankings we've tracked week to week.


SP+: Nebraska rose two spots to 44th and upped its rating 1.4 points to 5.8. That's 2.4 points better than where the Huskers finished last season, and I'm guessing it has a lot to do with Nebraska's efficiency (which is a component of SP+). To do it against a good team–Indiana is 23rd in SP+–is worth something. In this case, two spots and 1.4 points. SP+ has Purdue ranked 55th with a projected Husker-Boilermaker spread of Nebraska -1 when you factor in home field advantage.

FPI: Nebraska jumped four spots here, though that rise has more to do with a couple of teams falling as the Huskers' rating only increased by 0.3 points to 1.2. FPI is also saying the Huskers are "just OK" at 1.2 points better than the average team. FPI has Purdue (64th) just five spots behind Nebraska and projects the line around Purdue -0.5. Yep, FPI now gives the Boilermakers a 53.1% win probability here. FPI hasn't been very good against the spread this season, but it is hitting 75.6% on straight-up winners.

SAGARIN: Similar story here as the Huskers went from 56th to 53rd. Purdue is 73rd. Sagarin's overall rating puts this line at Nebraska -1.5. Its RECENT ranking, which weights recent games more heavily, has it close to Huskers -2.5.

The Grab Bag

  • Derek Peterson offers a thoughtful look at one of Frost’s key postgame comments, Indiana’s postgame comments about disrespect and NU’s fast start on Saturday.
  • Greg Smith caught up with 3-star pass rusher Latarie Kinsler after his visit to Lincoln (Premium).
  • But wait, there’s more! Smith also rounds up some of the other reactions from weekend visitors in his latest recruiting notebook.

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