Nebraska Football: Three Numbers To Watch in 2016

DSC09343

Sometimes football fans don’t like numbers. Arithmetic and statistics, fans think, can’t capture passion and emotion. Cold, hard digits can’t speak to what is happening on a football field.

Then again, 5-7. Says a lot, doesn’t it?

But, of course, there’s more to it. Here are three numbers from last year that tell a lot about what happened in 2015, and what needs to get better.

1299

Sometimes numbers can show us objectively what we know instinctively. In this case, the number 1299 is the number of passing yards Nebraska surrendered in 2016.

No, not overall, that would be pretty good. That’s the number of passing yards Nebraska gave up in the fourth quarter.

Think that’s bad? You’re right. It’s dead last in the country bad. It’s dead last in the country by nearly 100 yards over second-to-last Arizona State bad.

Nebraska’s pass defense overall struggled in 2015, and there’s any number of reasons (which is the polite way to refer to excuses) for those struggles. A change in scheme. A lack of confidence in the scheme. Having the right players in each position in the secondary. A horrifying sense of déjà vu as Nebraska struggled again and again and again to stop long passes at the end of close games.

Regardless of the reasons, getting this number better (and, by definition, it can’t be worse, at least in ranking) in 2016 is critical for Nebraska to improve.

-0.92

Again, sometimes numbers reflect the things you know already. This number is Nebraska’s turnover margin per game, meaning Nebraska averaged losing nearly one turnover more than its opponents per game.

That’s no. 113 nationally, which is really dreadful. And it puts into sharp focus the observation of SB Nation’s Bill Connelly that Nebraska is one mistake per game away from contenting for a B1G West title.

Well, 0.92 is awfully close to 1.00, isn’t it? If Nebraska gets this number to zero – not even getting it positive, just out from being underwater – that alone could put NU in place for a division title.

1.85

This number is closely related to the first number we discussed. Nebraska averaged 1.85 sacks per game, which was no. 78 nationally. That’s almost by definition average, which means you wouldn’t think it was one of the critical data points to watch.

But remember how bad Nebraska’s pass defense was, particularly in the fourth quarter. Sure, the secondary needs to improve on its own. But what’s a secondary’s best friend? A great pass rush.

So if Nebraska is able to manufacture more sacks, and more quarterback pressure, then the secondary won’t have nearly as much pressure on it – and should improve as a result.

All statistics from cfbstats.com.

Advertisements

Nebraska Football: Takeaways from First Scrimmage

DSC00808

As the 2016 season comes closer, Nebraska is getting ready by scrimmaging in addition to position-specific work. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald said head coach Mike Riley’s summary of the scrimmage was “efficient.”

That’s good news for a team that (put gently) struggled with efficiency in 2015, losing five of its first eight games in the final minute – before enduring one of Nebraska’s worst losses in a decade by dropping a game to Purdue. But what should we make of the news coming out of Nebraska camp? What are the most important takeaways?

Rule no. 1: Don’t put much stock in most of this

If there’s anything to take away from news coming out of fall camp, it’s this one. Any news coming out of camp should be viewed with suspicion, simply because all this is still just practice. This rule is especially true when it comes to good news, as at this point in the pre-season everyone is optimistic and hoping for the best. This is the sunshine-pumping season, and all the news coming from camp should be viewed through that lens.

An absence of turnovers is encouraging

Over 100 plays, Nebraska had no turnovers. No interceptions, no fumbles lost, none. Bill Connelly, master of the advanced statistics for SB Nation, said Nebraska can contend for the B1G West by making one fewer mistake per game. As anyone who watched Nebraska’s game last year against Iowa (or Northwestern, or Purdue, or Miami, or …) can attest, eliminating turnovers would make the difference in those contests.

But again, refer to Rule no. 1.

The secondary seems to be progressing

Over the course of the scrimmage, Nebraska’s quarterbacks never hit any home-run balls over the top. And, according to McKewon’s recap, it wasn’t because the quarterbacks were inaccurate, but because the receivers were well covered. Again, anyone watching Nebraska’s game last year against BYU (or Illinois, or Wisconsin, or Miami, or …) an ability to shut down the long pass. An improvement in that category can do nothing but encourage the Nebraska faithful.

But, again, refer to Rule no. 1.

Injuries are a concern

A number of players missed the most recent scrimmage, including Michael Rose-Ivey with a knee , Jordan Westerkamp with a groin, and Cethan Carter going through the concussion protocol.

Of the three, Westerkamp’s is probably the least concerning, as we knew he was coming back from injury already. Rose-Ivey missing time is always a concern given his injury history – and the kind of contributions he can make when he’s on the field.

Carter’s injury is more concerning, simply because of the nature of concussions. Hopefully Carter can get cleared and be able to participate fully, especially given the sky-high expectations for his 2016 campaign. But we won’t know until we see him back on the field.