A Look at Nebraska’s Third Downs in 2006

All of the work and the graphs come courtesy of the indomitable Brian at MGoBlog. This is an amazing accomplishment to have put this together for all Division I teams. Unbelievable. This is the reason he is considered one of the 20 Most Influential Sports Bloggers.

Anyway let’s take a look and see what we find for Nebraska.


The first graph shows, third down efficiency. According to Brian – the thick line in the center is the NCAA average (e.g., approximately 68% of third and ones were converted last year). There is a second line that represents an individual team’s third down efficiency. Where there is a gap between the lines that gap is filled in with either red or green depending on whether it is “good” or “bad”. Being above the line is good for offenses–you convert more often. Being above the line is bad for defenses–you are converted upon more often. You want to see a lot of green in these graphs.

Overall, the majority of the graph depicts good news for Nebraska fans. We see a lot of green, which is great. Our third down conversion rate was above the national average from about 3 yards out, to about 14 yards out. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that we finished the season ranked 17th nationally in third down conversion percentage (45.2%). What might be surprising, perhaps, is the red we see on the left end of the graph. This indicates that we converted third downs from between 1 and 3 yards out at a clip that was below the national average. I’m not sure what to attribute this to. The lack of a power running game against stacked defenses is one possibility and injuries to Cody Glenn are another. Interestingly, the lack of conversions on 3rd and short led us to to go-for-it on fourth down 23 times in 2006. This was more 4th down attempts than all but 18 other Division I teams.

This second graph illustrates third down distance distribution. Again, the line in the center is the NCAA average and the thinner line is the individual team’s. Green is just “above”; red just “below,” since there’s no clear distinction on good or bad based solely on what side of the line you’re on.

Here we see lots of green on the left hand side of the graph. This indicates that we have more third downs of distances between 1 and 5 yards than the national average. This is good thing at first blush. It means our first down efficiency is putting us in third and short situations. Unfortunately when you couple this graph with the first one, we see a bit of a problem. We are having more third and short situations, but that is one major area we convert at a level below the national average. I can only imagine this is the type of stuff that keeps Coach Callahan up at night.


Now we are looking at the defensive side of the ball. Here we want to be green and below the thick line, which is indicative of third down efficiency defense that is better than the national average. You’ll notice that we look good on third short and third and long. Where you see the Huskers struggle is on third and medium defense. I’m a little surprised by these findings. I truly thought we would be worse than the national average on third and long. How many times did it seem like teams completed a big pass on third and long? We all of course remember the third and long OU faced backed up to their goal line in the Big 12 Championship Game. Apparently this is a bit of an abberation and we find ourselves attending more to third and long conversions by our opponent, than the times our defense gets a stop. Or perhaps the conversions on third and long just come at inopportune times.

This graph again shows the distribution of third downs that the Nebraska defense faced. Not much really jumps out here to me, except for the big green spike at the 3rd and 10 yards-to-go mark. Did we really hold our opponents to no yards on first and second down that frequently? It is definitely well above the national average and I find that extremely interesting. I have absolutely no idea what to make of it, however.

I once again want to reiterate that none of this is original work and you can check out graphs for every team on MGoBlog. This is more of the amazing work that is being done by CFB bloggers. For those of you that pay for Nebraska football sites ask yourself what you are paying for? If you’re reading the MSM outlets in Nebraska – why don’t/can’t they do this? I belong to several pay-sites and read both major papers daily, and I’ve never come away with any information that was half this meaningful. Here it is being produced and openly distributed for free. See why many folks truly believe that blogging and its off-shoots are the future of sports coverage?


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