Pro Football Focus has made a name for itself with its player grades and sort of set up its own little corner store for a specific type of story. Because no one else is going through and watching all the college games and grading each player on each play, that’s sort of the exclusive domain of PFF and it is often very interesting.
On Tuesday PFF Big Ten writer Josh Liskiewitz pulled out seven key stats on Nebraska. There are some surprises in there. Three-fourths of Nebraska’s starting defensive line is grading out pretty high so far this season. Linebacker Dedrick Young is described as “on fire” right now. Nathan Gerry is called “one of the nation’s elite safeties,” a point the folks at PFF have been making all season.
But there were two things in that write up that didn’t make a ton of sense to me. I don’t dispute the grades (and would have no way to do that if I wanted to), just how they are used to explain 7-0 Nebraska.
The first such note is on Tommy Armstrong Jr., who according to PFF has the lowest passing grade of any Big Ten starter:
There are several reasons why he has not been able to elevate his game thus far, but two issues stand out above the rest. First, his accuracy is still extremely inconsistent, and this has severely hurt his production on throws outside the numbers. It’s not a surprise that his efficiency on deep balls (throws that travel at least 20 yards through the air) has been spotty (he has completed 11 of 31 deep shots for 46 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions), but his inaccuracy on outside throws shorter than 20 yards downfield is startling. Between the numbers (and short of 20 yards downfield) he has completed 68.2 percent of his throws (71 of 104) for six scores and no picks. However, on the outside his production is almost non-existent by comparison, as his completion percentage plummets to 50 percent (22 of 44) and he has tallied just one score to go with three interceptions.
The other glaring error is his play under pressure. With a clean pocket he’s completed 74 of 123 throws for 994 yards, six scores and just one interception. However, when the rush affects him, his completion percentage is just 45.5 percent (30 of 66) and he has four interceptions to go with five touchdown tosses.
The note about the struggles on outside throws is an interesting phenomenon. The deep-ball and under-pressure numbers, however, feel pretty common to me. Most quarterbacks are going to complete a low percentage of throws over 20 yards and most of them are going to be worse with pressure than without.
I think you need to zoom out rather than in with Armstrong in 2016. Over the summer I wrote that I thought Nebraska would be in good shape if his QB rating was around 140. He has been right there this season and I guess my overall takeaway is this: Is there anyone who doesn’t think Armstrong is a big reason why Nebraska is 7-0?
He has his limitations, of course, and maybe some of those will eventually keep Nebraska from remaining unbeaten, but so far I would say Armstrong has made the strides necessary to get the Huskers here.
The other one that didn’t totally resonate for me was a note about the lack of major production from one or more receivers. The Huskers have five receivers with at least 10 catches (including tight end Cethan Carter), and four of them (not including Carter) have at least 228 yards receiving. Stanley Morgan Jr. is the only receiver in that group that has yet to miss a game.
Would Nebraska be better off with a “go-to guy”? Does it need one to beat Wisconsin or Ohio State? I don’t know. It feels to me like Nebraska is just fine from a receiver standpoint considering the injuries.
THE GRAB BAG
- We know Nebraska has had to get creative with its offensive line combinations in 2016, but so has Wisconsin.
- Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel scouts the Huskers.
- Here is ESPN’s mid-season ranking of the top 50 players in college football. The Big Ten landed eight players on the list, as did Alabama.
- Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com writes that Oregon’s collapse is reaching near-historic levels.
- ICYMI: Here is last night’s practice report.
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.