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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bowman, the Secondary and Interceptions

The injury to Zack Bowman got me to crying in my beer thinking more about our secondary.

Obviously we are back to where we were when the season began last August. Grixby and Jones will be the ones to go against the Big 12’s best. In case you forgot, here is just a short list of that talent:
Todd Blythe
Malcolm Kelly
Adarius Bowman
Limas Sweed
Billy Pittman
Ouch. Anyway, Grixby made a great point the other day, that shouldn’t be overlooked.
"We have two corners that started every game last year," Grixby said. "We went 9-5. Back with more experience, we just keep getting better."
Grixby and Jones will be improved. They will still be physically overmatched at times, but they will be improved.

Bowman’s injury also gives someone a chance to step up. That player could be Armando Murillo. Callahan sounds optimistic when discussing Murillo’s abilities.
"He can burst. He can change direction," Callahan said. "He can play physical-type coverage techniques that we want him to."
Another guy to watch will be Anthony West who just moved back to corner after beginning the spring at FS. I think West is going to be a great player for us once he finds a stable home. I was very impressed by West’s film a year ago and reports indicated he was giving Tierre Green all he could handle in the battle for starting FS this spring. His development is definitely something to watch.

My biggest concern with the loss of Bowman is our defense’s ability to make big plays. I’m talking game-changing takeaways and interceptions returned for TDs. We just haven’t seemed to have many of those in the Callahan era. This spring the corners stated they were looking for more interceptions. They should be. This is a graph of Nebraska’s interceptions over the last seven years. Note – I would have gone back further, but the national stats were difficult to find.

Click to enlarge
The blue line within the graph shows the national average of interceptions for each of the seasons. Aside from the 2003 season when Bo Pelini’s band of marauding bandits led the nation in interceptions, you can see that our interception rate has been, well, average.

I don’t know exactly what to make of all this. Obviously Pelini’s zone coverages allowed the DBs to watch the eyes of the QB more, but outside of that type of schematic variable, our performance is difficult to account for. Clearly we have had some talent during those years, including NFL players Fabian Washington, Josh and Daniel Bullocks, Keyou Craver, and Jerrell Pippens (I’m sure I left some folks out). But we’ve also had some players who were nice, had good personalities, tried their best (Pat Ricketts, Blak Tiedtke,Andrew Shanle). What we haven’t had is a consistent threat to pick off passes outside of Josh Bullocks. I had high hopes that might change this year. I’m less optimistic now without Bowman.

Finally, for those that doubt that interceptions are important, here are some numbers:

2006: Florida and Ohio State – 21 each
2005: USC – 22
2004: USC – 22
2003: Oklahoma – 22, LSU - 21
2002: Ohio State – 18
2001: Miami – 27, Nebraska - 19
2000: Oklahoma – 22, Florida State - 19

Lastly, Brandon and Chuck made some interesting points about whether Bowman will bother to come back in 2007 or 2008, or whether he will jump to the NFL. That's a tough situation. I think he needs to play before he thinks about the NFL. Whether that will be November of this year or not, remains to be seen.