Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

Advanced Scouting…By Accident

October 24, 2007

After five years of living in Texas I finally made it to my first high school football game last Friday night. As luck would have it the game allowed an early glimpse of a future Husker (perhaps, maybe, we’ll see how things shake-out). Anyway, as I was saying I attended the Baytown Robert E. Lee homecoming battle against Port Arthur Memorial H.S. Port Arthur’s star player just happens to be one David Whitmore who is currently committed to the Huskers.

So how did I find myself at said contest? Well, my lovely fiance is a proud Baytown Lee Gander (seriously their nickname is the Ganders), as is pretty much her entire family. Kind of like my family full of Rockets from Lincoln Northeast. But I digress…

Now onto the scouting:

From what I could see Whitmore has a lot of developing to do before he contributes in any meaningful manner. He is SKINNY and that means a lot coming from me. That’s sort of like Mark Mangino calling someone fat, if you catch my meaning. Whitmore’s legs look like they should be holding up popsicles rather than a future DI football player. He does, however, have plenty of height which will certainly come in handy amongst the 6-4 receivers that now dot the Big 12 landscape.

Whitmore wasn’t thrown at much on Friday. It was difficult to tell if this was by design becuase Baytown’s QB play was spotty at best. Two plays do standout though.

On the first, Whitmore was beaten on a hitch move. This obviously caused an automatic cringe from Jeffie Husker, given Nebraska’s recent struggles with this route. What I liked, however, was Whitmore’s ability to close on the reciever while the ball was in the air. In fact after making up a large cushion, Whitmore actually put himself in position to intercept the pass on a perfectly timed turn to look back at the ball. Unfortunately, the refs called pass interference on Whitmore for using his hands to gain the advantage while in the air. I thought it was a terrible call based on what the official thought was going to happen, rather than the way Whitmore pulled it off.

On the second play Whitmore had to defend a bubble screen type pass thrown to his side. Despite showing initial hesitancy, Whitmore fended off a block from another receiver and made a pretty nice open field tackle. In fact, Whitmore made in my mind a prototypical CB tackle by simply getting low enough to take out the reciever’s legs (or pins – for you Jim Rose fans). That play occurred right in front of me, and I couldn’t help but give him a one-man standing ovation. Had it occurred at Memorial Stadium I would have been joined by 85,000 fans as it was clearly a better tackle than any of us have seen this season.

One thing that surprised me, however, was I didn’t see Whitmore take even one snap on offense. I know Texas football is different than Nebraska high school football, but the fact that he doesn’t crack the offensive starting lineup seems a bit worrisome to me. Overall, I’d say Whitmore has a lot of athleticism and good potential. He showed me plenty of speed and good hips (not the Eva Mendes type), meaning he is already less stiff than Andre Jones. In addition, I came away extremely expressed with his ability to close on receivers and make a play on the ball in the air. You just can’t teach those skills.

So we’ll see now if Whitmore winds up in Lincoln and if so, how well my attempt at a scouting report pans out.

Marlon Lucky and Nebraska on Third Down

October 5, 2007

Who knows what the Missouri game will actually come down to, but Nebraska’s ability to convert on third down will certainly be key. Thus far, Nebraska is converting 45.83% of their 3rd down attempts, which ranks us 20th nationally in this statistic. On the road, however, we’ve been absolutely brutal, converting just 3/15 attempts (20%)at Wake Forest. That’s just not going to cut it in Columbia.

An important component of 3rd down success is the emergence of big play guys who step up when it’s time to move the chains. If you think back to 2006, the go-to guy on 3rd down was Maurice Purify. In 2006, Nebraska threw to Purify 23 times on 3rd down resulting in 14 receptions. Of those 14 completions, 11 garnered first downs and three resulted in touchdowns. It’s early in 2007, so we’re still waiting for our 3rd down weapon to emerge…or are we?

I took a closer look at Marlon Lucky’s numbers for the year and was surprised by what I saw from him, especially on 3rd down. In the table below we have Lucky’s rushing statistics on 3rd down for 2007.

What jumps out immediately is the eye-popping average yards per carry. Did anyone realize that Lucky is averaging 7.77 yards per carry on third down? That’s pretty impressive. By digging a little further I was able to put that figure into perspective.

In this table we have the nation’s Top 10 players in average yards per carry on third down plays (with a minimum of 10 carries).

Here we see that Lucky’s 7.77 yards/carry rank 4th nationally, ahead of such stars as P.J. Hill, Ray Rice and Darren McFadden. Color me impressed.

But yards per carry is really only way to look at third down backs. Another and perhaps more important variable is the running back’s ability to convert on 3rd downs. Once again I looked at the statistics and found that Lucky has turned 8 of his 13 third down carries into first downs. That’s a third down conversion percentage of 61.54%.

So how does that stack up nationally? Below we see the Top 10 nationally for running backs in terms of 3rd down conversion percentage (Again minimum of 10 carries). Currently Lucky sits 9th nationally in this category.

These numbers tell me that Lucky’s contributions are being overlooked by many of us (myself included). He’s proven so far that he can come up big when the offense needs yards and we haven’t even talked about his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. To help illuminate this part of his game I also examined his receptions on third down.

I have to admit, I was surprised to see how infrequently we’ve thrown to Lucky on third down. However, he has had some success proving that he must be accounted for on every down, and is always a danger to move the chains for the Husker offense.

Zone Blocking and Nebraska’s Running Game – Pt. II

October 3, 2007

Here is the second part of my look at Nebraska’s zone blocking schemes and their impact on our running game. If you missed part one, just look down the page, you idiot!

Our Bread and Butter

For all of Bill Callahan’s offensive acumen and 1,200-pound playbook, his playcalls in the running game are decidedly unimaginative. If you’ve watched any Nebraska games over the past few years you have been inundated with the stretch play. The stretch play is a major component of a zone blocking scheme. With the stretch play you are trying to force the defensive front to flow and to stretch horizontally so you can create seams. The idea is that the running back will generally head off-tackle looking for a seam between the tackle and the tight end or even outside of the TE depending on the style of defense you’re facing. For this to work the offensive line must again be in tune with the goal of getting bodies on the second level of defenders to help spring the running back.

The tightend (or tightends in Nebraska’s case) are key to the success of the stretch play. The TE must recognize the type of defense end he is facing and adjust his blocking accordingly. In some cases, he will merely attempt to seal the edge, forcing the running back to bounce aggressively the outside. This is especially useful when facing a strong, tough DE. If the DE is aggressive, quick and committed to getting up field, the TE may let him go that way while forcing him far to the outside. This allows the RB to cut up right off of the block of the tackle.

Here’s a diagram of the stretch play with blocking assignments included.

Again you can see that the RB is going to need patience to see where the lane develops and how the TE blocks the defensive end. As you’ve probably noticed, the stretch play is fairly useless when the running back is forced to run up the backs of his offensive linemen, or worse yet when the offensive linemen are forced back into the back’s running lane. For good examples of both see the USC game.

Why Stick With It?

You might wonder why Nebraska remains so committed to the stretch play even when it fails to produce consistent gains and often looks poorly executed. Callahan has a very good reason for this. Take a look back at the diagram and see what the QB is starting to do after handing off the ball to the running back. If you’re paying attention you’ll see the makings of a nice play-action bootleg. And that’s the true value of the stretch play to Nebraska’s playbook.

If you’ve ever watched the Indianapolis Colts a major part of their passing game is the bootleg off the fake stretch play. After taking the snap, Peyton Manning takes a couple of steps to his right or left and then starts to work his magic. A master of execution, Manning either gives the ball to the back or pulls it back, hides it and works a play-action pass. Nebraska has been doing more and more of this with Sam Keller and the stretch running plays set it up perfectly.

By setting the bootleg up with the stretch play you are trying to make the linebackers somewhat hesitant. If things go as planned, the linebackers sell out for the run which opens up a lot of space for Maurice Purify or Terrence Nunn on crossing routes. But for this to occur, you again need everyone on the same page. The quarterback needs to help set up the play action by carrying out the bootleg even on the stretch running plays. He also needs to master the sleight of hand necessary to fool the defense and giving himself time to throw. The offensive line also plays a key role, because defenders should be watching them instead of the QB in order to determine if the play is a run or a pass. As a result, if they sit back on their heels immediately to pass block, all of the faking in the world, isn’t going to convince the D that a run is coming. On the other hand, if they show the same zone scheme (while avoiding going downfield) it improves the run fake and helps to keep the hands of the defensive linemen down preventing tipped passes.

Here we see examples of some pass patterns that can emerge from the bootleg action set up by the stretch play.

Notice the options the QB has off of this play. If an aggressive set of safeties gets too far upfield, Keller can throw over the top of them to Purify or Sean Hill. If the linebackers bite on the run, he’ll have Phillips crossing over the middle into the space they vacated. If he needs an outlet or only a few yards (think 3rd and short) he’ll have Nunn out in the flats. Notice that sending Nunn in motion into the formation sets up the run even more.

Now remember, each time you see this particular bootleg play-action pass have success, you can take heart in knowing that all of those stretch plays for short gains did have a purpose.

Zone Blocking and Nebraska’s Running Game – Pt. I

October 2, 2007

With a big game coming up this weekend Nebraska fans seem more than a little concerned about the Husker running game. After a quick start against Nevada, Nebraska has been extremely inconsistent picking up yardage on the ground. This has put a lot of pressure on Sam Keller and the passing attack. The ineffective running game has also helped to account for the amount of time the defense has spent on the field. When you’re not chewing up yards and time with a power rushing game, you’re not going to control the ball. And let’s face it, while time of possession is generally a useless statistic, a TOP advantage does mean a rested defense.

One of the first things that sticks out with the running game under Callahan’s WCO is the use of zone blocking schemes. While I’ve heard people banter about the relative utility of such schemes, I’ve rarely heard the topic discussed intelligently among Husker fans. Let’s try to change that if we can. So here is my faithful attempt at introducing you to zone blocking and how it might impact Nebraska’s running game.

Drive Blocking

First off let’s start with a standard for comparison. Teams that don’t utilize zone blocking schemes instead rely upon “man” or “drive blocking”. In this scheme a lineman is responsible for an individual, and the play is designed for a running back to hit a particular hole. So as a lineman your job is pretty simple: If you have a man on you drive him off the ball. If you don’t have a man on you block down on the first man inside. Add pulling guards for trap plays and sweeps, and you essentially have something similar to what Nebraska’s option offense did for decades.

Zone Blocking

Zone blocking is a different animal. This scheme involves a lineman blocking an area instead of a designated defensive player. If multiple linemen are blocking an area one can then break off and block into the second level. Generally a lineman in this system blocks the man on them if they are covered, and if you don’t have a man on you, then you double team with the person next to you on the play side of the formation. One of the key tenets of zone blocking is lateral movement of the offensive linemen as a unit. This should create some natural seams or gaps in the defense for the running back then to exploit.

As Bob Davie explains:

“Zone blocking in the running game is when two or three offensive linemen work in tandem as opposed to each offensive lineman having a specific, predetermined man to block. Zone blocking involves the center, guard, tackle and tight end working in combination to block an area with an emphasis on double-teaming the defensive linemen who are aligned on the line of scrimmage.

The concept is for two adjacent linemen to come off in unison and attack a defensive line to the play side or to the side the ball carrier is going. The advantage, as opposed to man blocking, is that you create a double-team with two players blocking one defensive lineman. This allows the offensive linemen to be aggressive because he knows he has help if his defensive lineman was to pinch inside. It also provides movement at the point of attack, which can open creases for the running back.

Zone blocking initially starts out as a double team at the point of attack on the down defensive linemen, but the beauty of it is that one of the offensive linemen will leave to attack the linebacker while one stays to take over the defensive lineman. The key is for the two offensive linemen working in unison to double-team the defensive lineman to decide who and when one of them will leave to block the linebacker.”

Keys to Zone Blocking

In addition to moving laterally or horizontally, it is also crucial that the offensive linemen keep their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. If they open up their shoulders at all, it can create a seam for the defense to get penetration and disrupt the play before it starts. This is where I’ve really seen breakdowns in Nebraska’s offensive line. Often times it is just a matter of getting beaten off the ball even slightly that results in the shoulder turn and subsequent lane for defenders. Another key is the communication and teamwork that must occur between the offensive linemen. For one, the linemen don’t know who they will block prior to the snap. Instead, they choose who to block after the play begins. Therein lies the difficulty of zone blocking. Each lineman must work in unison to pick out the right players to block in the few lightning-fast seconds during which a play takes place. Since they are completely dependant upon one another, a missed block by just one offensive lineman often causes the play to fail. This is where injuries, position swapping or a lack of quality practice time can really hurt an O-line.

But the offensive line isn’t the only key to a successful zone blocking scheme. A lot of responsibility also falls on the shoulders of the running back. Remember that with zone blocking, the offensive lineman all are moving laterally. This movement should create lanes or gaps for the running back. But because the linemen are working in unison the hole may open up anywhere along the line of scrimmage. This can work to give the running back multiple options, but relies strongly on his ability to pick the best running lane from these options. Here’s where I notice some problems with Marlon Lucky. It is clear that he has struggled at times to find or pick the right running lane. As a preseason article noted:

“He [Lucky] encountered a difficult time adjusting to school, to being far away from home, to the Huskers’ complex West Coast offense. He especially had trouble learning the blocking schemes, pass routes as well as the “zone” running plays, said Brad Ratcliffe, his former high school coach.”

It’s extremely important for Lucky to continue to stay patient and let the zone develop, but it’s also necessary that as soon as he sees a crease – to accelerate through it. Here’s where we often see Lucky hesitate. And that hesitation is costly. A zone blocking scheme relies on the running back taking what he can get — he can’t dance around waiting for a hole to open. He needs to be agile, authoritative, and possess good instincts. Nothing fancy, just try to gain positive yardage. Lucky can also improve on finding the elusive cut-back lane. Often times the open lane is created on the backside of the play, allowing the running back plenty of room to cut back away from the pursuit of the defense. But if the running back misses this lane, the chances for a big play diminish. Brandon Jackson was a master at finding and exploiting the cutback lanes on zone running plays. We desperately miss that type of natural ability. Overall, these types of plays take a lot of repetition in practice to run well, and the reps then should help the running back understand when and where to expect those creases to open up.

Perhaps surprisingly, the quarterback also plays a key role in a zone blocking scheme. His job is to get the ball to the running back as deep and as quickly as possible. The quicker and deeper the QB gets the ball to the running back, the better angle he will have for any potential running lanes or gaps in the defense.

So there’s your introduction to zone blocking. Stick around for some additional information later this week.

2007 Offensive and Defensive Efficiency

September 25, 2007

Might as well take a quick look at how Nebraska is stacking up in terms of our offensive and defensive efficiency, thus far in 2007.

Remember offensive efficiency is measured by way of the Scoreability Index. The Scoreability Index is obtained by dividing a team’s total yards by total points scored, yielding Yards Per Point Scored. A team that ranks high on the Scoreability Index has the offense that scores most efficiently, marching off a relatively small number of yards for every point it scores.

Nebraska currently has a Scoreability Index of 13.68 which ranks 56th nationally. That means Nebraska is currently scoring one touchdown for every 82 yards of offense they generate. To put this in perspective, a year ago we scored on TD for every 81 yards of offense we generated, so we can call that a wash.

When looking at how the Big 12 stacks up, you might be surprised.

1. Oklahoma
2. Texas A&M
3. Kansas
4. Kansas State
5. Texas
6. Texas Tech
7. Missouri
8. Nebraska
9. Oklahoma State
10. Baylor
11. Colorado
12. Iowa State

Nebraska has just the 8th most efficient offense in the conference. Interestingly that puts the Huskers just one spot below the high powered offense of Missouri. Things should be interesting in two weeks.

Defensive efficiency is measured by way of the Bendability Index. This is the first stat that chronicles the phenomenon of the “bend-but-don’t-break” defense. The Bendability Index is obtained by dividing a team’s total yards allowed by total points allowed, yielding Yards Per Point Allowed. A team that ranks high on the Bendability Index has the defense that opponents must work hardest to score upon.

You can probably guess how ugly this one is. Nebraska currently has a Bendability Index of 14.03. So far, Nebraska’s opponents have had to march just 84 yards to score the equivalent of a single touchdown. A year ago the Blackshirts forced teams to generate 108 yards of offense to score the equivalent of one TD. For those claiming this is the “worst Husker defense I have ever seen” you’d be almost right in terms of defensive efficiency. Cosgrove’s 2004 defense was actually worse. That team had a Bendability Index of 13.72 and opponents needed just 82 yards of offense to score the equivalent of one TD. This year’s totals would, however, rank as the second least efficient defense since the Osborne Era began.

When looking at the Big 12, things are darn right ugly. All I can say is thank God for Iowa State.

1. Kansas
2. Oklahoma
3. Missouri
4. Texas
5. Kansas State
6. Baylor
7. Texas A&M
8. Colorado
9. Oklahoma State
10. Texas Tech
11. Nebraska
12. Iowa State

But after looking at these numbers I actually feel better about the defense and worse about the offense. While Sam Keller and the offense are racking up yards, we aren’t putting up enough points to show for all of that work. That type of inefficiency will come back to haunt us in conference play. Especially if we are going to have to outscore everyone.

Defensively we are obviously bad, but most of the teams going all the way back to the Osborne era had a game or two where the defense imploded. Those games impacted the overall defensive efficiency of the team, but didn’t necessarily result in losses. At the very worst, if the defensive numbers continue at this rate we should finish somewhere between the 2002 team and the 2004 team. In other words, we could expect about six wins. Ouch.

Not this again…

September 10, 2007

Well, we’re back to this again where I become Callahan’s biggest defender on a fourth down playcall. What is so hard to understand? There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to go for it. Callahan is a gambler when it comes to fourth down. He is going to take a risk if he feels the payoff outweighs the potential costs of such a move. Perhaps he is familiar with the idea, presented once again for clarity by the Football Commentary folks that coaches punt way too often on fourth down, even when going for it would have been in their best interest.

The best their tables provide is the opponent’s 40-yard line with 3 minutes to go and a 3-point lead. Again we were on the 35 with 2 minutes to go. Anyway, the table tells us that Callahan should have believed the play would have a 60% probability of picking up the first down in order to come to the conclusion that we go for it rather than punt. So if he felt 6/10 times in that situation we pick up a first down – we go for it.

One more thing to consider we needed two yards for the first down. On fourth and two a year ago we went for it, and ran the ball twice. Both of those attempts led to first downs. Don’t think that Callahan isn’t aware of that success benchmark from 2006.

I know what you would have done in that situation. You would have punted. Callahan won’t. Just come to terms with that please people.

Nevada Game Analysis – Part I

September 2, 2007

Ed. Note – Here is the first part of my Nevada breakdown. For a nice season opening comparision, be sure and check out the Louisiana Tech breakdown from 2006. Part II of the analysis will include personnel and formation tendencies as soon as I have a chance to watch the game again.

Date – September 1, 2007
Location – Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
Final Score – Nebraska 52 – Nevada 10

Key Stats Check
.nobr br { display: none }

Category Nebraska Nevada
First Down (+4) Efficiency 30/46 (65.2%) 9/23 (39%)
Red Zone Efficiency 7/8 (88%) 1/1 (100%)
Rushing Explosive Plays (+12) 8 3
Passing Explosive Plays (+16) 6 4
Turnover Margin 0 0
Passing Efficiency 131.18 59.53
3rd Down Efficiency 7/15 (47%) 1/13 (8%)
4th Down Efficiency 1/2 (50%) 1/1 (100%)
Total Offense 625 185

Nebraska was extremely efficient on first down against Nevada. They gained 4+ yards on 65.2% on their first down plays. This goes a long ways toward keeping the team on schedule with regards to down and distance. In contrast, Nevada managed 4 or more yards on 1st down just 39% of the time. As always, the better success you have on first down the fewer 3rd and long situations you will face.

On third down, Nebraska converted 7/15 (47%) third down opportunities against the Wolfpack. That is just slightly above the 2006 season average of 45% and far better than 2005 when the Huskers converted just 33% of the their 3rd down chances. The Husker defense shut down Nevada on 3rd down holding them to a dismal conversion rate of 7.7%. Only Penn State had a better defensive third down efficiency rating in week one.

The Huskers did an amazing job in the red zone converting 7/8 (88%) opportunities. The one trip inside the twenty Nebraska didn’t convert concluded with a QB kneel to end the game. In other words, they were as good as you can get in the red zone. Nevada converted a field goal in its only visit to the red zone.

The Nebraska offense produced 14 explosive plays. On the ground, the Huskers produced 8 gains of 12 yards or more. Marlon Lucky accounted for five of those runs, while Cody Glenn, Major Culbert and Roy Helu each had one run of 12 yards or more. The passing game produced 6 explosive plays. Six different Nebraska receivers caught passes of 16 yards or more in the opener including freshman Mike McNeil. Overall, the Huskers outgained the Wolfpack 625 to 185. The 625 yards of offense was the third highest total of week one behind Oklahoma and Louisville. Quarterbacks Keller and Ganz combined for passing efficiency mark of 131.18. Coach Callahan will want that number to improve as the season progresses. Nebraska will be looking to improve over their 2006 turnover numbers, which saw them lose 17 of their 25 fumbles. Unfortunately the turnover margin against Nevada was a wash, but Sam Keller’s lone interception was returned for the Wolfpack’s only touchdown.

Drive Summary
.nobr br { display: none }

Drive Starting Point Drives Points Comments
-1 to -10 1 7
  • Series B – 12 Plays/94 Yds – Lucky 16 yd pass from Keller
  • -11 to -34 6 14
  • Series A – 3 Plays/1 Yd – Punt
  • Series C – 3 Plays/1 Yd – Punt
  • Series D – 7 Plays/42 Yds – INT
  • Series G – 3 Plays/7 Yds – End of Half
  • Series K – 6 Plays/87 Yds – Castille 2 yard run
  • Series M – 9 Plays/84 Yds – Culbert 17 yard run
  • -35 to +35 7 31
  • Series E – 9 Plays/39 Yds – Lucky 1 yard run
  • Sereis F – 9 Plays/54 Yds – Castille 1 yard run
  • Series H – 7 Plays/65 Yds – Lucky 17 yard run
  • Series I – 5 Plays/54 Yds – Lucky 3 yard run
  • Series J – 7 Plays/28 Yds – FG
  • Series L – 5 Plays/19 Yds – Turnover on Downs
  • Series N – 12 Plays/47 Yds – QB Kneel/End Game
  • +34 to +11 0 0
    +10 to +1 0 0
    Totals 14 52 14 Drives, 7 TDs/1 FG Avg. Scoring Drive = 8 Plays/63.1 Yds

    Nebraska got off to a bit of a slow start with two punts and an interception returned for a TD in the Huskers first four drives. After a 3 and out on the first drive of the season, Sam Keller led NU on a 12-play/94 yard drive capped off with a 16-yard completion to Marlon Lucky. After then finding themselves behind 10-7 the Nebraska offense got rolling in the second quarter. After a 46-yard Cortney Grixby kickoff return, Lucky scored his second TD of the game on a 1-yard run that ended a 9 play/39 yard drive. Just a few minutes later Quentin Castille scored his first career TD to give Nebraska a 21-10 advantage.

    After 3rd quarter struggles doomed the Huskers in 2006, the Nebraska offense exploded in the third stanza against Nevada. The Huskers put together drives of 65, 54, 28 and 87 yards to bury the Wolfpack for good. The 28-yard drive was capped by a sight for sore eyes, in the way of a 46-yard field goal from true freshman Adi Kunalic.

    Overall Nebraska scored TDs on 8/14 drives in the game. The average starting position for Nebraska’s drives was their own 32-yard line. Louisiana Tech’s average starting position was their own 25.

    Run/Pass Split
    .nobr br { display: none }

    Plays Number Yards Avg.
    Run Plays 70 413 5.9
    Pass Plays 26 212 8.2
    Total Plays 96 625 6.5

    I didn’t know what to expect from Callahan’s gameplan for Nevada. I figured he might try to keep the ball on the ground, but wondered about the durability of our running backs. No way, no how did I imagine us running the ball 70 times in any game during Callahan’s regime. The 70 carries led the nation for the first week of the season and was 10 more than Air Force, which ranked second nationally in rushing attempts. Nebraska’s 413 yards led the nation in week one. Seventy carries, an option or two and leading the nation in rushing? It feels like 1995 all over again.

    Amazingingly Nebraska ran 96 plays against Nevada, which tied the Huskers with Memphis for the most plays run during the opening week. Led by Marlon Lucky, Nebraska averaged 5.9 yards per carry against the Wolfpack, which was the 20th best rushing average during week one. The Huskers averaged more than 5 yards a carry five times in 2006. The 8.12 yards per passing attempt was lower than I would like to see, but was still good enough for 28th nationally after the first game.

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

    Down Distance Runs Pct. Yds. Passes Pct. Yds.
    1st & 10 30 65% 193 16 35% 139
    2nd & 1-3 5 83% 13 1 17% 15
    & 4-6 11 92% 90 1 8% 6
    & 7+ 13 81% 62 3 19% 23
    3rd & 1-2 2 50% 3 2 50% -6
    & 3-6 4 67% 14 2 33% 29
    & 7+ 4 50% 13 4 50% 15
    4th & 2-3 1 100% 1 0 0 0
    & 4+ 2 100% 10 0 0 0

    As previously stated, Nebraska had great success on first down. Many coaches believe first down is the best down to keep an opponent off-balance by varying run and pass calls and keeping defensive coordinators guessing. Even with a heavy emphasis on the run in the game as a whole, Callahan still managed a 65%/35% run/pass split on first down. Surprisingly that is only slightly higher than the overall 2006 run/pass split on first down of 63% run/37% pass.

    Nebraska ran the ball almost exclusively on second down against Nevada. Rushing plays accounted for 85% of the second down play calls against the Wolfpack. A year ago Nebraska ran the ball 58% of the time on second down and just 48% of the time on 2nd and 7+.

    Third and short is another situation that Callahan attempts to keep the defense guessing. See the end of the 2006 Texas game in case you have forgotten. You’ll notice a 50/50 run/pass split on 3rd and 1-2 yards against Nevada. A year ago that split was 64% run/36% pass. That might be something to keep an eye on this year.

    Nebraska 2006 – Dropped Passes

    August 20, 2007

    Well, I’ve finally finished charting all of the plays from the 2006 season including formations, personnel, shifts/motions, etc. I still haven’t figured out exactly how I want to utilize and share the information, however.

    Until then I thought I’d start with an easy, but rarely tracked variable – dropped passes*.

    First, the good news, as a team the Huskers had just 20 drops by my count. With 411 total passing attempts, that’s not bad at all.

    Now for the scoreboard:

    Frantz Hardy – 4
    Brandon Jackson – 4
    Terrence Nunn – 4
    Mo Purify – 3
    Nate Swift – 2
    Todd Peterson – 2
    Marlon Lucky – 1
    JB Phillips – 1

    I was surprised Hardy didn’t have more, as his seemed to stick out more and conventional wisdom around Husker Nation seems to paint him as our least sure-handed WR.

    When I looked at which down the drops occurred on, Hardy’s drops became more noticeable. As a team, Nebraska had 7 drops on 3rd down plays. Those are absolute drive-killers, obviously and 3 of Hardy’s 4 drops just happened to occur on 3rd down. Ouch.

    Next we have a breakdown of the drops by game:

    Louisiana Tech – 3
    Texas – 3
    Oklahoma State – 3
    Oklahoma – 3
    Texas A&M – 2
    Colorado – 2
    Missouri – 2
    USC – 1
    Kansas – 1
    Auburn – 1

    Three losses at the top of the list, is I guess not surprising.

    Now we have drops by quarter:

    1st Quarter – 2
    2nd Quarter – 3
    3rd Quarter – 8
    4th Quarter – 7

    And just a little reminder Nebraska’s 2006 scoring by quarter:

    1st 117
    2nd 135
    3rd 49
    4th 120

    So, there’s that.

    Anyway, I’ll be trying to post interesting findings from now until the 2007 season realy gets going. Let me know if there are issues you are interested in from a year ago and I will try to see what the data shows.

    *A note on “drops” – My job was a lot like the official scorer at a baseball game deciding between a hit and an error. Solid contact from a defender generally eliminated the scoring of a “drop”. Overall, I was probably fairly conservative in my decision-making.

    Returning QBs and Preseason Favorites

    July 24, 2007

    The consensus seems to be that Missouri will win the Big 12 North, as most have them pegged as the preseason favorites. I tend to agree with this assessment for the time being. When I look at both teams on paper and examine the schedules I see Missouri as having a slight advantage over the Huskers.

    One of the key areas I focused on in my assessment of the two teams was the quarterback position. Don’t get me wrong, I’m elated to have Sam Keller in the scarlet and cream. However, we have to remember that the guy has just eight career starts and has appeared in just 20 games. Missouri on the other hand, has Chase Daniel who although only a junior, has already started 13 games in his career. Daniel knows what it takes to QB a Big 12 team. While Keller was busy garnering the Scout Team MVP, Daniel was earning 2nd-Team All-Big 12 from the coaches.

    I’m not the only one to use the QB position as a key measuring stick for my prognosticating. Coach Callahan addressed that very issue Monday at the Big 12 Media Days. He said:

    “Well, my understanding is that the Big 12 writers essentially pick the team to win the division predicated on a number of factors. And the first factor is the quarterback. And since they have a starting quarterback that’s established in their program that’s been productive, I can see where that’s going.

    Personally, no, I don’t agree with it. But I love our football team and I think they’re capable of doing some great things. And I understand how it all works and why people make the decisions and do the things that they do. And motivation — we’ve got plenty of motivation with Nevada, you know, in the opening game. during the regular season. During the 9-3 season we did do a good job like I said with the one faltering — we faltered against Texas late in the game.”

    But before I put all of my preseason prediction eggs in one basket, I wanted to determine if a returning quarterback really mattered in college football. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do the analysis myself. Matt at Statistically Speaking had already done that for me.

    I’ll try to briefly describe what he found.


    “Teams with a returning experienced quarterback had a collective record of 375-357 (.512) in 2005. When their experienced quarterbacks returned in 2006, their combined record jumped to 469-337 (.582). That’s an increase of roughly 7 percentage points in winning percentage.”


    Teams who lost their quarterbacks after 2005 had a collective record of 341-309 (.525) in 2005. When they lost their quarterbacks, they regressed to a combined 316-384 (.451) in 2006. That’s a decrease of roughly 7.4 percentage points in winning percentage.

    You’ll obviously notice that the gain in winning percentage among teams that returned their quarterback is almost equal to the losses in winning percentage of teams that lost their quarterback. What a coinky-dink.

    In Part II of his QB analysis Matt stripped away some riff-raff by limiting the teams’ performances to conference play.

    Here are the highlights of those findings:

    The teams (62 total) that returned an experienced quarterback in 2006:
    Went a collective 238-248 in conference play (.490)
    Equates to just under a 4-4 record in a standard 8-game conference schedule.

    In 2006, those same teams improved to 269-223 in conference play.
    This is a winning percentage of .547 and equates to a 4.37-3.63 record in a standard 8 game conference season.
    This is an improvement of roughly 1/2 game in the conference standings.

    The teams (53 total) that did not return an experienced quarterback in 2006:
    Went a collective 214-204 in conference play in 2005 (.512).
    Equates to a conference record of 4.10-3.90 in a standard 8 game conference season.

    In 2006, those same teams regressed to 188-234 in conference play.
    This is a winning percentage of .445 and equates to a conference record of 3.56-4.44 in a standard 8 game conference season.
    This is a regression of a little more than 1/2 game in the conference standings.

    He also looked at the percentage of teams that improved/declined by a certain number of games. He found:

    Of those teams returning an experienced QB:
    21 teams (33.9%) improved by at least 2 games in the conference standings.
    8 teams (12.9%) improved by at least 3 games in the conference standings.
    13 teams (21%) declined by at least 2 games in the conference standings.
    5 teams (8.1%) declined by at least 3 games in the conference standings.

    Of those teams not returning an experienced QB:
    10 teams (18.9%) improved by at least 2 games in the conference standings.
    5 teams (9.4%) improved by at least 3 games in the conference standings.
    21 teams (39.6%) declined by at least 2 games in the conference standings.
    10 teams (18.9%) declined by at least 3 games in the conference standings.

    Matt concludes by noting:

    “I will say this, it appears that it may not be as valuable to return your starting quarterback (12.9% that returned theirs improved by at least 3 games and 9.4% that did not improved by at least 3 games) as it is damaging to have him leave (more than double the chance–18.9% to 8.1% of declining by at least 3 games).”

    Now, I know Sam Keller is considered by many to be a returning quarterback even after sitting a season out and entering a new system. While I agree that his situation doesn’t exactly fit with this model, we have a talented QB who is new, and raw in Callahan’s version of the WCO. The bottom line is that we just don’t know how it will play out. And frankly that’s what makes this upcoming season so great – all of the unknowns. But for now, I stand my preseason selection of Missouri to win the Big 12 North. And I’ll continue to stand by that pick for at least the next few days.

    Nebraska and Offensive Efficiency – Part III

    July 20, 2007

    Today we’ll look briefly at the historical data concerning Nebraska’s Scoreability Index over time. You can see the entire spreadsheet here. Have fun.

    Here are the Top 10 seasons since the Osborne era began in terms of offensive efficiency.

    1. 1988 – 9.68
    2. 1996 – 9.90
    3. 1980 – 10.00
    4. 1983 – 10.51
    5. 1986 – 10.66
    6. 1997 – 10.91
    7. 2000 – 11.09
    8. 1993 – 11.10
    9. 1992 – 11.29
    10. 1999 – 11.45

    Interestingly only one of our National Championship teams makes the list. This is due in part (I think), to the ways in which certain Nebraska teams dominated their competition. If we consider the 1995 team, which blew out pretty much everyone, you get to a point where that team was just racking up yards with its scrubs, but then taking knee and refusing to put up points. That would certainly hurt its efficiency as calculated by this method. That’s at least my best guess to explain this.

    Now we have the worst ten seasons since the Osborne era began in terms of offensive efficiency.

    1. 1973 – 17.70
    2. 1977 – 15.67
    3. 1995 – 14.53
    4. 2004 – 14.53
    5. 1979 – 14.05
    6. 2003 – 13.93
    7. 1981 – 13.79
    8. 2002 – 13.64
    9. 1994 – 13.62
    10. 2006 – 13.56

    First thing that jumps out at me is that we see both 1973 and 2004 on the list. What do these two seasons have in common? Breaking in a new head coach. We also see that the last two seasons of the Solich era also make this list. This should surprise absolutely no one who was actually paying attention.

    Is anybody surprised to see that 2006 made the Top 10 in least efficient offensive performances? In some ways it is unexpected but our performances against teams like KSU, and ISU involved pretty big chunks of yardage and not a lot of point production. That adds up pretty quickly when we use this methodology.