Archive for February, 2008

The NFL Combine in a Nutshell

February 29, 2008

Or more accurately in a BOD POD.

So, the workouts wrapped up Wednesday and as an absolute non-fan of the NFL, I’m proud to bring DXP readers my riveting report from the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine:

“Some black guys ran really fast and competed in feats of strength. In a few months some rich, white guys will purchase the strongest and fastest of those black guys and put them to work. “

America certainly has come a long way in the last 200 years.


You know what’s even more offensive? Check out how the NFL officially describes the combine.

The 2008 Scouting Combine is the annual job fair for prospective new NFL players.

Really, NFL? Job Fair?

Apparently Rich Eisen was the only one that got the memo and dressed appropriately for the occasion.

Edit: Oops, in my rush to make a socio-political statement, I forgot to note that for a real combine breakdown, head to Husker Guy.

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Audience Participation Day

February 28, 2008

We interrupt your scheduled programming to attempt to garner your opinions.

I’ve become a little disillusioned with the state of Nebraska football coverage on the internet. The discourse on the major Husker sites seems to have hit rock-bottom this off-season and I’m finding it harder and harder to get my Husker fix. I might be biased, but I contend that the talented group of Nebraska bloggers rises above the content and conversation available on most of the larger forums/message boards/pay sites. I think that’s good for the time being, but I’d like to be at the forefront of a continued move in that direction. Toward that end, I’d like to know what YOU, as a fellow consumer of Husker football information is looking for.

So here are some questions that I’d love to have you answer in the comments.

1. I know a couple hundred people visit DXP each day, what brings you here? What are you looking for/hoping to see when you click on the site?

2. What are the strengths of DXP? What are the weaknesses?

3. What would you like to see more of on DXP?

4. What would you like to see less of on DXP?

5. Is there anything that sets DXP apart from other Husker sites or blogs? If so, what might that be?

6. What could we learn/borrow/steal from other Husker sites that would enhance your time at DXP?

7. Finally, what other Husker sites do you visit regularly?

If you’d prefer to comment anonymously, that’s fine, just log in that way as a commenter or shoot your answers to me by email (click on my name under contributors and then click the “email” link). In addition, I’d love to hear from any and all of you that means regular and first time commenters should assume their opinion is important.

Oh, and Dr. D feel free to critique my survey research methods.

First Look: Nebraska on 3rd Down in 2007

February 27, 2008

This little breakdown will have to suffice until Brian at MGoBlog breaks out his yearly examination of third down for every team in the country. The data for this effort, by the way, comes to me via “The Boy” a contributor at Missouri Blog Rock M Nation and an even bigger stat geek than myself (I mean that as the sincerest of compliments). “The Boy” was kind enough to send me the play-by-play data for every Nebraska game for 2007, which saves me the anguish of charting that disastrous season while still allowing me to compare his data to that which I gathered in 2006.

Anyway, the origins of this post arose months ago when I read now former offensive line coach Dennis Wagner’s comments at the November 30th Big Red Breakfast.

Wagner stated:

“Nebraska ran the football just four times all season — twice after the season-opening blowout of Nevada — on third down and 3.

On third and 2, the Huskers called only 11 rushing plays.

Dennis Wagner knows the numbers. The NU offensive line coach said today at the Big Red Breakfast he would have preferred a different approach.

“I am going to defend my guys on that end and tell you that I think they can push people off the ball,” said Wagner, who continues to recruit one week after the firing of coach Bill Callahan. “But they have to be asked to push people off the ball.”

His response drew applause at the Holiday Convention Centre.”

The applause, I assume, stemmed from the belief that Nebraska should have been running the ball far more often in these short yardage situations. I certainly agree on the surface, but I wondered whether these numbers might be a bit misleading. Having gathered all of the data from a year ago, I was struck by how infrequently Nebraska would face a given down and distance situation during a particular season.

For instance, if I were to tell you that Nebraska ran 899 offensive plays in 2007 and 965 plays in 2006, how many 3rd down and 3 yard situations would you guess the Huskers might face in a given season? 60? 80?

The truth is Nebraska faced 3rd and 3, just 16 times in 2007.

Does that put Wagner’s comments into bit more perspective? Remember he noted that Nebraska ran the ball on 3rd and 3, just four times all season. But that’s 4 rushes out of 16 total 3rd and 3 plays in 2007. Still not a run/pass split to be proud of, but not as eye-opening as he (and OWH writer Mitch Sherman) probably intended. After all, the comments came shortly after Bill Callahan was fired and everyone was looking at him as the ultimate scapegoat.

The second part of Wagner’s comments centered on 3rd down and 2 situations where the Huskers supposedly ran the ball just 11 times.

I’m not implying that Wagner intentionally misled the crowd, but my data has the Huskers actually totaling 14 rushing attempts on 3rd and 2 in 2007. And incidentally my numbers coincide with those listed under the situational stats at CFBstats.com. But I digress. Anyway, those 14 rushing attempts actually accounted for over half of the 26 total 3rd and 2 plays Nebraska ran in 2007. So, again, you don’t have to agree with the run/pass split just yet, but perspective, I think, is important.

For those interested in a closer look, the following table highlights Nebraska’s overall play selection on 3rd down for 2007.

Play Selection By Down and Distance
.nobr br { display: none }

Down Distance Runs Pct. Yds. Passes Pct. Yds.
3rd & 1-2 25 62.5% 110 15 37.5% 186
& 3-6 10 15.9% 29 53 84.1% 297
& 7+ 6 9% 20 61 91% 486

Wagner’s comments then became a bit more critical of Callahan:

“He is the head coach,” Wagner said. “If he says this is what you do, this is what you do. If you don’t, then you have problems within your group. It isn’t always that you want to do it that way, but it’s the way you’re supposed to do it. That’s just part of doing the things you’re asked to do by the person who hired you.”

In particular, Callahan’s short-yardage play-calling didn’t always sit well with Wagner.

“I want to hit somebody in the mouth before I sit off and protect with my hands,” he said.

So Wagner wants his linemen to be run-blocking on 3rd and short rather than protecting the QB. But take a look at Nebraska’s play-calling again on 3rd and 1-2 yards-to-go. In 2007 we had a 63%/37% run/pass split when facing that particular down and distance. Wagner makes it sound as though he would prefer a 100%/0% run/pass split. Is there anyway to decipher what an appropriate run/pass split would be on 3rd and short?

If we again turn our attention to the NFL (remember that’s Callahan’s pedigree) we can gain some information on what works on 3rd and short. Football Outsiders, the kings of NFL statistics, have developed a concept over the years that directly address this scenario.

They argue that running on third-and-short is more likely to convert than passing on third-and-short.

On average, passing will always gain more yardage than running, with one very important exception: when a team is just one or two yards away from a new set of downs or the goal line. On third-and-1, a run will convert for a new set of downs 36 percent more often than a pass. Expand that to all third or fourth downs with 1-2 yards to go, and the run is successful 40 percent more often. With these percentages, the possibility of a long gain with a pass is not worth the tradeoff of an incomplete that kills a drive.

This is one reason why teams have to be able to both run and pass. The offense also has to keep some semblance of balance so they can use their play-action fakes, and so the defense doesn’t just run their nickel and dime packages all game. Balance also means that teams do need to pass occasionally in short-yardage situations; they just need to do it less than they do now. Teams pass roughly 60 percent of the time on third-and-2 even though runs in that situation convert 20 percent more often than passes. They pass 68 percent of the time on fourth-and-2 even though runs in that situation convert twice as often as passes.

So overall on 3rd and short, you want to maintain some balance, while still running more than you pass. Isn’t that what Callahan’s run/pass split accomplished?

That, therefore, brings us to a final and important question. Were Callahan’s playcalling tendencies on 3rd and short successful in 2007? The following table should give us some idea.

3rd Down Conversion Pct. by Run/Pass Split
.nobr br { display: none }

Down Distance Runs 1st Downs Conversion % Passes 1st Downs Conversion %
3rd & 1 11 5 45.4% 3 3 100%
& 2 14 5 35.7% 12 5 41.6%
& 1-2 Total 25 10 40% 15 8 53.3%

First, we notice that we converted just 18/40 3rd and short situations in 2007. That is not good. Not good at all. When Brian releases his data we’ll be able to compare our figure to the national average, but it is a pretty safe bet that we’ll fall below that line.

But now take another look. Check out our success rates passing the ball versus running the ball on third and short. Notice anything? We actually converted more often on third and short when we passed rather than we ran the ball. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom and is a pretty sorry statistic, but doesn’t it account for at least some of the high number of passes we threw on 3rd and short? Isn’t it the coach’s job to call what seems to be working? Shouldn’t we actually be upset with Callahan for not throwing more in this situation in 2007?

So why then does Dennis Wagner draw applause when arguing in favor of running the ball more on 3rd and short? Why are all of us as Husker fans (and I include myself in this category) hung up on this notion? Who amongst us didn’t get frustrated when another 3rd and short arose and Sam Keller was busy rolling out of the pocket? Were we wrong? Are we wrong? In our hunt to be “old school,” neo-traditionalists, focused on anti-style points and “smash-mouth” football did we ignore what was actually transpiring?

What the hell? I mean seriously. What. The. Hell? I swore I was done defending Callahan and then I had to go and look again at the numbers.

No wonder Wagner continued his comments by noting:

“The man [Bill Callahan] is very smart as a football coach. No one can take that away from him.”

I’d substitute coach for “a very smart football mind.” Callahan knows what works and isn’t afraid to go against prevailing trends. A coach, however, couples that knowledge with the ability to motivate, inspire and get the best out of his players. So yeah, Bill Callahan is a very smart football MIND.

Quick Update

February 26, 2008

For those of you that are interested I found out Monday that I matched with the Houston Independent School District for my internship next year. This is a good thing for many reasons. First, I don’t have to move and leave my fiancé behind. Second, I’m already working at HISD, which should ease my transition, and lastly I ranked this site #1 within my final rankings which proves that the system works despite how silly the process might be.

I know my family is a little bummed as it looked for a while like I might end up in Nebraska at either UNL, Creighton or Boystown, but this works best for simplicity’s sake. However, another year in Texas means that by law I’m now forced to purchase the following bumper sticker:

Husker Bloodlines – JaMichael Rozier

February 25, 2008

I stumbled across a familiar name a few days ago while looking for something or another. The name – JaMichael Rozier, who is a sophomore running back for Klein (TX) Collins High School just outside of Houston. JaMichael is apparently the son of Heisman Trophy winner and former Husker Mike Rozier.

JaMichael has already gotten a little publicity around the Husker message boards, but I suspect he’ll continue to garner attention over the next few years. JaMichael is listed as 5-8, 180 lbs, which is pretty good size for a HS sophomore. It will be interesting to see what his body will look like as a senior.

Like most recruiting hopefuls, JaMichael has already posted some highlights on YouTube, including those displayed below.

I have no idea if JaMichael ,will turn into a DI recruit but you have to think that with Dr. Tom sitting in the throne and a renewed focus on “tradition,” he may just get a look in a few years.

Husker Uni-Watch Friday

February 22, 2008

I never really know what to post on Fridays, so I’m always looking for ideas. A few weeks ago I ran across a Nebraska-related tidbit on one of my favorite sites, Uni Watch, or more specifically on Uni Watch overlord Paul Lukas’ ESPN column.

The column focused on football helmet nose bumpers. The Husker connection noted by Lucas was as follows:

“Speaking of which, there was a rare commingling of college and pro bumper styles late in the 1989 NFL season and during the subsequent playoffs, when 49ers running backs Roger Craig and Tom Rathman — both Nebraska alums — sent a shout-out to their alma mater by wearing “Huskers” on their bumpers for at least five games (similar to when Ohio State alum Terry Glenn wore a buckeye decal on his helmet during a Monday night game last season). It’s not clear if either Niner was fined for these shenanigans, but Uni Watch doubts it. That’s the beauty of a bumper-related uniform violation: It’s likely to be so subtle that the regulatory authorities won’t notice.”

And here is evidence of the nose bumpers sported by Rathman and Craig.


Like many young Huskers growing up in the mid-to-late eighties, I found myself a die-hard Niners fan and collector of piles and piles of football cards. This clearly exposed me to the nose bumpers of numerous NFL players, but my memories of the tribute by Rathman and Craig had been worn down by the passage of time. Stumbling across Lukas’ column brought the memories flooding back, however, and seemed a worthwhile topic and a great excuse to post some vintage Rathman highlights while I was busy reminiscing.

We Have A Chance

February 21, 2008

Thanks to my contacts (and a new account), I located Nebraska’s odds on winning next year’s BCS Championship.

40:1.

I’m booking that. Call me.

Ines Sainz. Anyone?

Hot…

Hot…

And hotter…

Please send donations to the DXP fund.

Tempering Defensive Expectations?

February 21, 2008

Again this is needed to help stem the tide of message board posts like, “Nebraska has a ton of talent on defense, with Pelini in charge and getting them to play hard, I expect us to finish in the Top 10 in total defense in 2008.”

In case you’ve forgotten, the Huskers finished #112 in total defense in 2007. I’ll type that again slowly so we’re clear. The. Huskers. Finished. #112. In. Total. Defense. In. 2007. Given the magnitude of that little nugget of information, what kind of improvement can we expect on defense from a historical perspective?

For this analysis I once again looked at the 2000-2007 seasons and examined the rankings for each team in total defense across that span of time.

The Good News

It is possible to make a vast jump in the national total defense rankings in one season. Here are the Top 10 greatest single season improvements in total defense rankings between the years of 2000 and 2007.

1. 2006 Western Michigan +97 spots
2. 2004 Kent State +93 spots
3. 2004 North Carolina St. +88 spots
tie. 2001 Iowa +88 spots
4. 2006 Wisconsin +87 spots
tie. 2003 San Diego St. +87 spots
5. 2007 Kansas +82 spots
tie. 2007 Pittsburgh +82 spots
tie. 2006 Illinois +82 spots
6. 2006 Ohio +80 spots
tie. 2005 Army +80 spots
7. 2006 UCLA +78 spots
tie. 2004 Louisville +78 spots
8. 2001 Maryland +77 spots
9. 2005 TCU +74 spots
10. 2007 Temple +73 spots

For help interpreting these standings the 2006 Western Michigan defense improved 97 spots in the total defense rankings going from #108 nationally in 2005 to #11 in 2006. In addition, 2004 Kent State improved from #110 nationally in 2003 to #17 in 2004 and so on and so forth. Clear? Good.

So we can see that if Pelini can work his magic – like far too many fans assume at this point – and we have a season in 2008 that would place us in the above Top 10, we would improve somewhere between 73 and 97 spots in total defense. That would put us in the range of #15 to #39 nationally in total defense in 2008. I would be ecstatic with that kind of improvement and suspect we would certainly see our win total climb if that were the case.

Unfortunately we also have to look at…

The Bad News

During this analysis I also specifically tracked the team that finished #112 in the national rankings in total defense to see how they fared the following the season. During the years of 2000-2007 five teams that finished 112th in total defense improved their ranking the following season, while two saw their total defense ranking get worse the next year. Unfortunately, the improvement demonstrated by these teams was smaller in scale than those listed in the Top 10 list above.

In terms of improvement the teams would look like this:

1. 2002 Tulane +60 spots
2. 2001 Indiana +50 spots
3. 2003 Kansas +27 spots
4. 2004 Tulane +19 spots
5. 2005 Ball State +1 spot
6. 2006 Temple –5 spots
7. 2007 Rice –6 spots

First, look at the teams we find ourselves comparing the Blackshirts to! Scary.

Secondly, while there is certainly nothing “scientific” about this data, it is interesting to gain some historical perspective on the types of expectations Husker fans have already saddled the new coaching staff with.

Overall, I will be shocked if the defense doesn’t improve in 2008, but at the same time I’ll also be shocked to see us finish in the Top 20 nationally in total defense. Is it possible? Obviously the data shows us that type of jump isn’t unheard of, but we’re talking about a defense learning a new set of schemes and perhaps more importantly unlearning old (and dysfunctional)schemes and techniques.

Incidentally, in Pelini’s one year in Lincoln in 2003, Nebraska’s ranking in total defense improved 44 spots from #55 nationally in 2002 to #11 in 2003. That sounds about right for an exceptionally solid one-year improvement in total defense and I’d gladly take it come 2008.

New DXP Banner

February 20, 2008

By the time you read this you should be looking at a new and improved DXP banner at the top of the page. This banner comes courtesy of Eliot Mays, who describes himself as:

“An experienced graphic editor, Huskerboard.com Mod, and a fan of your site and the Huskers”.

The DXP editorial board appreciates Eliot’s contribution which replaces my own rudimentary PhotoChop job that clearly paled in comparison.

(Sammy) Vegas’ Dose Of Husker Reality – I

February 20, 2008

Thanks to some Vegas contacts and my offshore gambling friends, I dug up the gambling odds on the 2008 National Champion.


In case you are not familiar with how the gambling odds work, it is simple. Take Kansas for example. They are at +3000. If you wager 100 dollars on Kansas to win the BCS title game next year, you win 3000. If you wager 10 dollars, you win 300. If T. Rose wagers 1 penny, he would win 3 dimes, etc. etc.

Nebraska is at +8000. There are 37 teams with our odds or better for next year. In the final AP rankings of last year, Appalachian State was 35th, South Florida 36th, Tulsa 37th, and Connecticut 38th.

Clearly Vegas has little faith in the Big Red. Illinois, coached by Ron Zook who ‘Solich-ed’ Florida before landing with the Illini, is now somehow among the upper echelon. In fact they are shown to have 38% greater chance to win the BCS than the Huskers. And how about Rutgers and the need to replace Ray Rice? No matter, as they too, sit above Nebraska. Jenn Sterger’s new fave team South Florida played its first Division IA game in 1997 (coincidentally the year NU last collected the crystal hardware), yet the Bulls are almost a 2:1 favorite over Nebraska to win the BCS title in 2008. Cincinnati who graduated their entire defense which was one of the best in the country last year – same odds. Wake Forest, Michigan State, Colorado and Louisville(minus Brian Brohm) all ahead of us. Amazing how the college football landscape has been tilted on its axis the past few seasons. And even more amazing is how little respect Nebraska is getting from Vegas as Spring football nears.

So where is your money is at? For what my terrible gambling advice is worth, I’ll take Georgia at +1000.

And for everyone who came here looking for an Erin Andrews ‘jizzfest’ (DT?), she not not only poses for us, she studies us as well.