It is pretty obvious Nebraska’s offense has been less successful this season compared to the previous two under coach Mike Riley, something not many anticipated.
Through six games in 2017, the Huskers’ offense has a success rate of 40.14 percent. At this same point last season, it had a 48.53 success rate, more than eight percentage points higher.
The 2015 team, which finished with a 6-7 record, had a 40.78 success rate through six games, a very similar rate to this year’s team, which has a 3-3 record.
Typically, the average college football offense will be somewher close to 41 percent and very good offenses will have a rate above 45 percent. The 2017 Nebraska offense is far from that latter designation right now.
Although, when it has been successful, it’s generally made more out of its opportunities compared to previous seasons.
An interesting way to judge this is by calculating yards gained beyond success, or YBS for short. What we’re measuring here is how successful Nebraska’s successful plays have been. Are the Huskers staying on schedule by just hitting the success threshold, or are those good plays going for more yards beyond that?
To do this, first, filter successful plays, meaning the offense gained at least 50 percent of the yards to go for first down plays, 70 percent on second and 100 percent on third and fourth.
Now it gets a bit confusing, but I will do my best to explain.
Of those successful plays, calculate the total yards to go for first down plays. The sum so far for 2017 is 1791. Knowing that total, any yards gained over 50 percent of it—or 896 yards—is YBS for first down.
Make sense? Good.
Calculate the YBS for each down, while increasing the percentage the offense must gain for the play to be considered successful. Eventually you’ll find the 2017 Nebraska offense has gained an average of 7.17 YBS on all downs combined.
In 2016, the Huskers had a slightly lower average of 6.56 YBS. Their highest average under Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf was in 2015, when the offense had an average of 8.37 YBS.
Separate it back to individual downs, and the 2017 offense has gained a higher average of YBS on first and third than both 2015 and 2016.
The offense has had a significantly lower average of YBS on second down this season.
One possible explanation for this is Nebraska has been either boom or bust on first down. Meaning if it busts, it’s left with a second-and-long, where the opportunity for a higher YBS minimalizes.
On 104 second-down plays following a non-successful first down in 2017, the offense is left with an average of 9.88 yards to go. That average was 9.43 in 2015 and 9.35 in 2016. Not a huge difference, but still, a possible reason.
Flip it to second-down plays following a successful first down and the offense has been left with an average of 3.38 yards to go in 2017, slightly higher than both 2015 and 2016.
So what are all these numbers saying?
Football is known as a game of inches. A few more feet or yards here and there can drastically change the final outcome of a game, or season.
It sounds too simple, but if Nebraska can gain a couple more yards and turn those second-and-longs into second-and-mediums, it will better its chances of having a successful play.
Combine that with its increase in YBS on first and third downs from the past two years and the offense might start to click. Something Nebraska desperately needs.