The expectation for this to be a completely negative post wasn’t something that was there going into it, but it’s hard for a “Riley By the Numbers” story to be anything but. Here’s three different numbers to sum up head coach Mike Riley’s three-year tenure at Nebraska. (The national rankings are compiled using stats from CFBStats.com updated on Nov. 24, and will change slightly following Saturday’s slate of games.)
We’ll start with the record, because that’s usually what all this boils down to. In three full seasons at Nebraska, Riley won 19 games and lost 19 games.
The .500 winning percentage marks the worst three-year stretch (by percentage) in Nebraska football history since 1959-1961 when the Bill Jennings-led Huskers went 11-18-1. And yes, 1961 was the last year before the Devaney era began.
Even in his 19 wins, there wasn’t a lot to get excited about. Only two came against ranked teams – a one-point upset of a sixth-ranked Michigan State team in 2015 and three-point win over No. 22 Oregon in 2016.
Riley also struggled to win games in the confines of Memorial Stadium. His teams finished a combined 13-10 at home in three seasons, including five home losses for the first time since 1957 and four straight to close out the season.
Nebraska was 6-9 on the road and Riley will end his tenure in the Big Ten (for now at least) with a 12-14 record in conference.
Under Riley the Huskers earned their second-highest in-season AP ranking since 2001 – a No. 7 slot heading into the Oct. 22 matchup of undefeated teams with Wisconsin – but Nebraska faltered late in that season and the rest seems to be history.
Nebraska ran the ball 368 times in 2017 – the fourth-worst mark in the conference before Saturday’s games kicked off. There are 479 pass attempts credited to Nebraska quarterbacks in 2017. The Huskers couldn’t run the ball at all in Riley’s final season, but things deteriorated in the ground game each of his three years in Lincoln.
In 2015, Nebraska logged 496 runs at an average of 180 yards per game (good for No. 52 nationally). It was middle-of-the-pack in terms of points scored in the ground game – 24 touchdowns, No. 56 nationally – and slightly better than average in per-carry production – 4.7 yards, No. 44 nationally.
Those numbers took a dip in 2016. The attempts bumped up to 523 on the season, but the per-game production dropped to 169.2 yards (No. 73 nationally) and the touchdowns stayed the same as 2015. The yards-per-carry tumbled to 4.2 (No. 87 nationally).
Things fell off a cliff in 2017. Nebraska’s leading rusher, junior Devine Ozigbo, had 498 yards on the season, producing the lowest output for a leading rusher since 1964.
The Huskers closed the season averaging 107.8 yards per game, the worst rushing season since 2005 and the fourth-worst season on record (dating back to 1946). The per-game number ranked No. 119 in the country, only ahead of teams like 1-10 Kansas. The Huskers averaged 3.5 yards per carry and only converted 13 touchdowns out of the ground game all season.
Oh boy. No pretty numbers to introduce this one, just know things are about to get bad. We’ll start with total defensive numbers.
In Riley’s first year at the helm, Nebraska was No. 64 nationally in total defense, surrendering right around 400 yards per game and 5.88 yards per play. The next season saw improvement as Nebraska jumped to No. 30 in total defense, giving up 363.7 yards per game and 5.53 per play. Then came new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and the 3-4 defense and Nebraska stumbled mightily.
In 2017, the Huskers defense gave up 436.2 yards per game (No. 104 nationally), and a staggering 6.34 yards per play. All three of the Huskers’ final three opponents gained more than 500 yards.
The run defense was the root of the problem. In 2015, the Huskers allowed 109.9 yards per game on the ground, ninth in the country. Opposing teams scored 18 touchdowns on the ground all season. That number fell to 147.9 yards per game in 2016 (No. 43 nationally) and plummeted to 214.8 yards in 2017 (No. 116 nationally).
Purdue was one rushing yard away from making it seven straight opponents to close out the season that topped 200 yards on the ground against the Blackshirts.
The scoring defense was awful: the Huskers finished tied for No. 75 in 2015 (27.8 points per), tied for No. 33 in 2016 (23.9 per) and No. 118 in 2017 (36.4 per). Nebraska allowed 50 points or more four times in 2017, the most in a single season in program history.
The third-down defense was awful: Nebraska finished No. 24 in 2015 (34.04 percent), No. 40 in 2016 (37.43 percent) and No. 102 in 2017 (43.06 percent).
The red zone defense was awful. Nebraska allowed 49 trips inside its 20 in 2015 – tied for No. 79 nationally – and allowed touchdowns 57 percent of the time (tied for No. 50 nationally). In 2016, the defense only gave up 34 attempts – tied for seventh in the country – but yielded touchdowns 64.7 percent of the time. In 2017, with a defense designed to surrender yards but not points, Nebraska allowed 57 red zone attempts – tied for No. 125 nationally – and yielded 41 touchdowns, a conversion rate for opposing offenses of 71.9 percent, a mark only better than 12 other FBS programs. Taking field goals into account, opposing offense scored 87.7 percent of the time, down from 85 percent in 2016 and 81.6 percent in 2015.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.