Hot Reads: The Huskers Could Use Some More Havoc
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: The Huskers Could Use Some More Havoc

February 26, 2019

By now you likely know the broad, background strokes of Nebraska's expected hire on the defensive line. The deal's not quite done yet, but former California defensive line and outside linebackers coach Tony Tuioti is expected to be the guy.

Derek Peterson provided a good quick sketch of Tuioti's football résumé at that link, and there was one part in particular that jumped out at me:

During that first season, the Golden Bears finished tied for 41st nationally in sacks, a 66-spot improvement from their 2016 finish. Outside linebackers, Tuioti’s responsibility, were responsible for 11 of Cal's 28.0 total sacks while producing a havoc rate (tackles for loss plus passes defensed plus forced fumbles) that ranked 11th in the country.

Tuioti won't be coaching outside linebackers in Lincoln, of course, but it's really the havoc rate (TFLs plus passes defended plus forced fumbles) I'm thinking of here. Tuioti's one year with the linebackers in Berkeley was strong. Cal's numbers on the defensive line those two seasons, 2017 and 2018, weren't quite as strong.

In 2017, Tuioti's year with the linebackers, the Golden Bears ranked 122nd in defensive line havoc rate. In 2018, Tuioti's year coaching the unit, Cal climbed to 84th. That's a pretty good gain year-over-year, but still not where you'd hope a group could be.

Two things about that. 

One, I think you have to be a little bit careful with havoc rate, on the defensive line in particular. We don't always know what each unit is being asked to do. Are they free to pursue the quarterback or is their primary responsibility to eat up blocks. That has an impact on sacks and TFLs. The other two components of havoc rate––passes defended and interceptions––are probably even more dependent on individual talent and ability. It's not a surprise, for example, that Clemson led the nation in d-line havoc rate. The Tigers had a front full of freaks who couldn't just make plays on their own, but plays on their own within in the constraints of the defense. It's good work if you can get it, coaching a group like that. Cal was not in that position.

Two, the Bears had a defensive mountain to climb coming out of the “we'll just outshoot 'em” Sonny Dykes era. It was a total overhaul to go from that to defense-always Justin Wilcox. In 2016, pre-Wilcox, Cal had the second-worst points-per-play allowed in the country. They had the fifth-biggest improvement nationally in 2017, and, in 2018, ranked 17th in points-per-play allowed. Over two years the Bears jumped 109 spots in the national rankings. Wilcox, I think, is a really good coach, but his defensive staff gets a share of the credit, too.

Which brings us to Nebraska. The Huskers have had a havoc problem of late. In 2015 Nebraska ranked 66th in overall havoc rate, and didn't really budge in 2016 (65th). Bob Diaco's "no crease" approach, by design, was always going to be bad for this stat and it was. The Huskers dropped to 129th. With that as a starting point, Nebraska made decent gains in Year 1 with Erik Chinander, climbing to 81st overall. (We also know these sort of havoc plays are important to Chinander's overall approach.)

As forgettable as Nebraska has been on this front overall, it's been even worse on the defensive line. From 2015 to 2018 the Huskers ranked 75th, 98th, 129th and, last year, 61st. That last number was one of Nebraska's greatest gains on the defensive side.

And it's where Tuioti grabs the baton now with most of Nebraska's key pieces on the defensive line returning. Presumably. Nothing official yet, but it's a pretty good starting point whenever it officially starts.

The Grab Bag

  • Derek Peterson identifies some key questions facing Nebraska’s offense as it enters spring football.
  • Nebraska women’s basketball hung around with No. 12 Iowa for a while, but couldn’t spring the upset
  • Despite the loss to Purdue, Jacob Padilla writes that Nebraska’s choice to put James Palmer Jr. on the ball produced some positives
  • Erin Sorensen looks at the recruiting impact Tuioti had at some of his previous stops.

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