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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: The Battle for Best Offense in the Big Ten

April 2, 2019
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"I'll give it up to the defense," Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. "They're bringing it every day. They've been very consistent . . . They're making us work. If we don't bring our A-game, they're embarrassing us."

Monday's practice was one of those non-A-game days. At least the first half of practice was, according to Walters. Maybe last Saturday's practice, too, according to quarterback Noah Vedral.

No need to panic just yet. When a team is scrimmaging against itself, there's a reciprocity you can never quite get around. What's good for one side of the ball is bad for the other. In this particular sliver of the spring, it has reportedly been good for the defense. Not up to standard for the offense, Walters said.

What is that standard?

"We want to be the best offense in the Big Ten."

That may be an obvious objective––everyone wants to be the best, right?––but I found it interesting for one reason: If you want to be the best offense in the Big Ten that typically means one thing. You've got to outpace Ohio State.

Pick whatever measure you prefer, I'll use S&P+ as it combines the two key points-producing parts of offense: efficiency and explosiveness. Ohio State has led the Big Ten in that category in four of the past five seasons, and claims three of the Big Ten's four top-10 national rankings over that span. (Penn State ranked fifth in 2017 for the other one.)

Last year, Ohio State ranked fourth nationally in offensive S&P+. Wisconsin was next at 12, Purdue 17, Michigan 25, Penn State 36 and Nebraska came in at 42. The Buckeyes also led the Big Ten by ranking third nationally in 2017, 14th in 2015 and second in 2014 (behind only Oregon and the offense coordinated by Scott Frost).

The outlier year here was 2016 when Penn State had the top offense in the league (but only ranked 23rd nationally). Nebraska was right behind the Nittany Lions at 24, Ohio State ranked 32nd. During the Urban Meyer era in Columbus, you could enter most seasons pretty safe in assuming the Buckeyes would have the best offense in the Big Ten.

I wouldn't predict a major drop off just because Meyer's no longer there. Ryan Day's three-game stint as interim head coach at the start of the season was pretty impressive from a numbers perspective. Ohio State put up 721 yards (8.29 per play) in the opener against Oregon State last year with a 60-percent success rate. Week 2, against Rutgers, it was 579 yards (7.93) with a 65.1-percent success rate. Finally, in Week 3, the Buckeyes faced a live opponent (TCU) on a (not-)neutral field (in Texas) and still put up 526 yards (6.58) though the success rate came down closer to average (46.3%).

Even when you account for strength of schedule, it's still an impressive three games for an offense. Now Day will have to replace the quarterback that produced those numbers and he'll have to be the head coach overseeing every bit of the program, not just the interim. It's reasonable to think the Buckeyes might not be the same ol' Buckeyes in 2019 when it comes to moving the ball, but they'll still move it plenty well. Day is a bright young coach. Nebraska has those, too.

And I, for one, am here for that. If we can sign up today for a decade-long offensive innovation and execution battle between Ohio State and Nebraska, well, just tell me where to sign.

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