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.
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.
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.
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.