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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: Great Expectations and 4 Other Husker Stats Worth Noting

September 13, 2018
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Put on your stats apron, gloves and safety glasses, we’re about to get really numbers heavy.

Bill Connelly of SBNation published his first team stat profiles for the 2018 season on Wednesday. You can find them all here, and be prepared –– when you get there you’ll be looking at a spreadsheet with a lot of numbers and terms that may not immediately make sense.

But it’s worth using the stats glossary linked there to become familiar with some of those terms and concepts. They’ll tell you a lot about how well or poorly teams are playing, and how they’re playing well or poorly. Here are five things that jumped out at me from Nebraska’s profile (one-game sample size very much noted):

1. Need yards? Consider Ozigbo. 

Who was Nebraska’s best running back last Saturday? Greg Bell had the most yards. Maurice Washington had some encouraging highlights. Devine Ozigbo, however, had the best marginal efficiency. His 14 carries only resulted in 60 yards, but those 14 carries were more successful than expected by 18.2 percentage points. That’s a good start after Ozigbo was 7 percentage points below expectation on his carries a year ago. Bell’s 13 carries last week, just as an example, were almost exactly as successful as expected (marginal efficiency: 0.5 percent).

2. Long odds.

It’s easy to remember the biggest third-and-long failing for Nebraska’s defense against Colorado, but easy to forget just how many of those situations there were. The good news: Nebraska had the Buffs in third-and-long (7-plus yards) situations 77 percent of the time, the best rate in the country. The bad news: Nebraska gave up a conversion on those plays 35.7 percent of the time, 109th nationally. Expect both of those numbers to regress to mean, but if Nebraska can avoid falling too far in the third-and-long percentage, the numbers from the first game can go down as one of those “this is why you lost this game, but why you’ll win more games in the future” scenarios.

3. It wasn’t all about sacks.

The Huskers’ rushing defense numbers look pretty good right now thanks to the sack yardage not being applied to the passing side of the ledger (as we all know it should be). With just the raw totals, Nebraska’s giving up just 1.26 yards per rush. We all know that’s a little misleading thanks to the sacks, but it can’t totally obscure a good day stopping the run. Nebraska’s defensive marginal efficiency against the run currently ranks seventh nationally. The Huskers held Colorado 24.4 percentage points below the expected success rate on rushing plays, which helps explain how the Buffs ended up in so many third-and-longs. 

4. Confidence in the run.

I wrote earlier this week about what a departure from previous seasons Nebraska’s run rate on passing downs was in Week 1. That all still holds true, but I underestimated how unique it would be on a national scale. I expected the Huskers’ passing-downs run rate to be closer to the national average, but it actually ranked 15th.

5.  Great expectations.

One more trip around the track with marginal efficiency, an idea I’m suddenly infatuated with now that it’s a part of the profiles. I wrote about the Huskers’ impressive success rate on offense immediately after the game, but the new information here is that the offense was basically as efficient as it should’ve been. Nebraska’s success rate, per Connelly’s count, was 51.8 percent with an expectation of 52.5. I take that as a very good sign for Nebraska going forward.

Here's why. For an offense to be really good it will want to be outperforming its expected success rate. Oklahoma, for example, is outperforming its expected success rate by 10.9 points after two games, Ohio State’s at 10.4, Wisconsin’s at 13.7 and Boise State leads the country with an insane 25.8 percent marginal efficiency. 

It’s the baselines here that interest me more, however, as they’re saying something about the potential quality of a team’s plays based on down, distance and field position. The expected success rate for Boise State, for example, is 42.4. I’m guessing, based on national averages from past years, that’s a little below average. Oklahoma (expected success rate: 44.9) and Wisconsin (46.6) are probably slightly above average. Ohio State, through two games, has created the best chances for itself with an expected rate of 52.0, right behind Nebraska at 52.5.

I’m not ready to say the Huskers can be one of the offenses that drastically outperforms its efficiency expectation the way these other teams currently are. It is still the first year in a new scheme with a new quarterback (no matter which one it is). But if this offense is capable of at least matching its expected success rate and it can maintain a high one by staying ahead of the chains and winning the field-position battle (Nebraska didn’t against Colorado), that feels like a viable path forward for a group still finding its footing.

A good success rate is effective even if it’s only as good as expected.

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