Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

Huskers' Defensive Efficiency is Dismal Right Now

October 17, 2017
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Ohio State scored a touchdown on each of its first eight drives Saturday night against Nebraska. The Buckeyes offense totaled 41 first downs, four shy of the NCAA record set by Texas Tech in 2003.

With 5.9 yards per rush and 9.1 per pass attempt, it racked up 633 yards of total offense.

So, it’s no surprise the Blackshirts gave up an offensive success rate of 67.44 percent, it’s highest since last year’s 62-3 loss at Ohio State when it allowed a 59.30 rate.

A successful play means the offense gained at least 50 percent of the yards to go for first down, 70 percent on second and 100 percent on third and fourth. The average college football offense will be somewhere close to 41 percent and very good offenses will have a rate above 45 percent. Match up the nation’s third-best scoring offense with a struggling defense and that percentage will sky rocket upward.

Following the game, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco emphasized it was a “miserable night.”

“It was all disappointing.” Diaco said. “Nothing that wasn’t disappointing about tonight’s performance, on every level.”

Nebraska’s 56-14 loss on Saturday was only the third time under Coach Mike Riley that the defense has allowed an overall success rate over 50 percent, but it’s the second time this season. In week one, Arkansas State had a rate of 52.22 percent.

Believe it or not, the Buckeyes' success rate could have been higher. Ohio State had a rate of 72.86 percent through three quarters before being held to 43.75 percent in the fourth quarter.

In the second quarter alone, its success rate was 84.21 percent, over double the national overage for a full game.

Prior to last week’s 38-17 loss to Wisconsin, the Blackshirts appeared to be getting better with each game after allowing 42 first-half points against Oregon in week two.

Nebraska held three straight opponents to a success rate under 40 percent before the Badgers finished with a rate of 47.69 percent.

 

The drop in the success rates of the opponents is a bit misleading when factoring where those offenses rank compared to the rest of the country.

Following the conclusion of Saturday’s games, Northern Illinois ranked 95th in the nation in average points scored per game. Rutgers ranked tied for 96th, while Illinois ranked 120th.

The Huskers held those three teams to an average of just nine offensive points.

As for the other four opponents, they all rank inside the top-30, with Ohio State being the highest at No. 3.

Nebraska’s defense allowed an average of 39 offensive points against those teams, a 30-point difference between the two groups.

Seven weeks into the 2017 season, the Huskers’ defense is giving up an average success rate of 48.96 percent, nine percentage points higher than 2016 and 11 more than 2015.

The Blackshirts have taken a step back from the past two years in both the secondary and the front seven.

The secondary, which was supposed to be the strength of the defense at the start of the season, is allowing a 51.05 percent passing success rate, up nearly 10 percentage points from 2015 and 2016.

The front seven, which flipped from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 when Diaco was hired in January, is allowing a 46.91 percent run success rate. That percentage is up nine percentage points from 2016 and 14 percentage points from 2015.

That change in the scheme of the defense and the youth on this side of the ball, may be a reason for the Blackshirts struggles this season.

After Saturday’s loss, Diaco said his young squad is learning how to play on the job.

“We’ve got young players doing jobs that are very hard to do, against great players and a great team,” Diaco said.

Diaco went on to say his players gained a lot of experience against Ohio State and will be better because of it. He also added that in game, there are instances of “very youthful, inexperienced play.”

For the most part, when comparing the first- and second-half success rates of the opponents, Diaco has made proper halftime adjustments, or is at least saying the right things to light some fire under his players and motivate them.

So far this season, the Blackshirts have held their opponent below the national average success rate of 41 percent just once in the first half, which was two weeks ago against Wisconsin.

In the second half, it’s held four opponents below that average, most notably Oregon when Diaco’s defense shut out the Ducks in the final two quarters.

Even after one of the worst home losses in Nebraska football history, Diaco said his players are going to be fine.

With the opponents’ offensive efficiency numbers the way they are right now, it’s hard to believe the Blackshirts can do anything but improve.

Of the five remaining opponents on Nebraska’s schedule, Penn State is the only team that ranks inside the top-60 in the country in points per game.

 
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