Archive for the ‘Commentary’ 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.

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I Don’t Share in Your Enthusiasm Today…Maybe Later

October 16, 2007

You’ll have to forgive me, as the bottom seems to have fallen out on my optimism for things in Lincoln. While most are reveling in the firing of Pederson and beginning to see the sunrise on the Nebraska horizon, I forecast mostly dark skies in our near future.

I’ve defended Pederson some in the past, mostly because I fear I have a little of his arrogance in the depths of my soul. I’m not afraid to make tough and independent decisions and I’ve heard I can be tough to work for. Couple that with a love for Nebraska football and it bears at least wondering how different we might actually be.

But I’m not upset he’s leaving. It’s more about what his leaving could mean for the future of the program. We’re now everything I didn’t think we were. When I committed myself to the idea of firing a 9-3 coach, I committed myself to giving the new staff plenty of time to alter the direction of the program. Why? Because I thought it was either that or prepare to deal with the ramifications of high expectations coupled with an itchy trigger finger. I hope you’re prepared. The 3-year coaching experiment cannot and will not work in college football. You think Alabama fans imagined it playing out like this after the first time they sent one of the Bear’s successors on his way? That’s the problem, once the revolving door has been set in motion, it takes a rare find to stop it from turning.

While Steve Pederson may have started the door in motion, his firing signifies its building momentum.

More thoughts in non-narrative form:

· Most of my despair hinges on Callahan’s pending departure. But does anyone actually think he’s still here come spring?

· I get sick to my stomach when I think about the impending onslaught of “I told you so’s” coming from the anti-Pederson/anti-Callahan crowd.

· Everyone’s excited about Tom Osborne as Athletic Director. Not only was Solich his hand-picked successor, but he also recommended Pederson for the AD job. Has he suddenly become a better judge of leaders after spending time in politics of all places?

· People point to Oklahoma and compare Callahan to Howard Schnellenberger. That’s fine if we find our Stoops in the next few years. But what if it takes longer than that? Do we throw out the next AD and his coach? And then the next and his coach?

· And how is Husker Nation ever going to agree on our next coach? Right now things seem split between Paul Johnson(?), Bo Pelini and Turner Gill. At the very least, right now today, the new AD pisses off a third of his constituents. Won’t every AD be in some sense a divider, unless we have primaries and run offs for potential head coaching candidates?

· Ok, enough bitching. Just had a case of the Mondays and needed to work out the worse case scenario. This could turn out just fine and I’m aboard no matter what. But until we know more – I play pray for Nebraska.

Losing Sucks. Developing Talent Sucks Worse.

October 14, 2007

Jonas Gray is a prized 4-star recruit out of Detroit that has committed to the 2008 Husker recruiting class who chose NU over Michigan, Michigan State, Louisville, Ohio State and Florida to name a few. He is ranked the #4 running back and #47 overall by Rivals.com. After seeing what Callahan and Co. have done to develop 5-star recruit Marlon Lucky in his career, I was interested in seeing where this stud recruit is at because obviously he isn’t going to improve once he steps foot on campus under the current regime. Here is a video of his commitment and a work-out.

His straight up and down running style is eerily similar to Dahran Diedrick. It looks like he barely passes the ‘paper test.’ The chalk is going to have alot of tackles over the next 4 years. Do you call that skipping or running?

Kenny Demens, his best friend, high school teammate, and 4 star outside linebacker, was suppose to be a package deal with Gray. Where Gray went, Demens would follow. Demens is 6’1, 225 lbs, 4.6 forty and Gray is 5’10, 213 lbs, and 4.44 forty. Both look very impressive by the numbers. The big difference, however, is that Demens’ wasn’t snowed by the Nebraska coaching staff and was smart enough to realize the reality of the situation.

Now to the point of this rhetoric.

Bottom line is who is going to improve more to get to the next level? Callahan drops his NFL experience to every high school recruit he can. That’s the problem. He treats these ‘kids’ as professional athletes. Sure you can come in and learn a complex NFL playbook, but that’s all you’ll learn. The fact is that these recruits still need to learn basic football skills and more importantly, what it is to be a college athlete and a part of a team. I remember hearing that Callahan was asked why he wasn’t more involved with these players not as a coach but as a mentor. His response? ‘My door is always open.’

One thing Callahan supporters have always said is that he can recruit, but for what? If you go by ‘star’ recruits, we should dominate the Big 12 north. Take this as a vent of frustration or take it as a very simple analysis of one recruit. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling, actually I know, that this is just a continuing trend of landing another top recruit that will become victim of an incomprehensible 100 lb. playbook and lack of fundamental coaching.

Gray said that his commitment to Nebraska would bring ‘more power to the class’ and make them ‘a top 3 class’, but who would argue, including Gray, that at this point he would have been better served being part of Demens’ package deal. Regardless if we are a Top 3 class or Top 30 class, it’s all about coaching at this point. Bo Pelini took ragtag players that were terrible the year before to elevate them to the #11 defense in the country in – hold your breath – ONE year. You can’t argue that there is (or was when they first stepped foot on campus) more talent today than then. Not even close.

Sorry Jonas Gray. I am probably wrong and you are probably a really good running back. The only thing I can tell you is that you might be better today than you will be in 4 years. Which is why we, as Husker fans, hope the Bill Callahan experiment has finally come to an end.

Bill, dude, you’re done.

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.

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.

Humor as a Defense Mechanism

September 23, 2007


Idea shamelessly stolen from the guys at MZone.

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.

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.

First,

“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.”

Likewise,

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.