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Monday, April 30, 2007

NFL Draft Analysis - The Lazy Version

This is all I've got, considering these two days are the last I will follow the NFL until playoff time.

When I heard the names of this year's crop of Huskers called on NFL Draft weekend, I thought the teams selecting them seemed familiar.

Adam Carriker - St. Louis
Brandon Jackson - Green Bay
Stewart Bradley - Philadelphia
Jay Moore - San Francisco

It just seemed at first glance, that we have had a lot of Nebraska players on the rosters of these particular NFL squads. That got me thinking about patterns among NFL teams and which colleges they tend to raid for talent. In particular I was interested in which teams seem to select Huskers at higher rates than others.

I limited my analysis to the years of 1982-2007, as that seemed to be the most readily available. I also tried to do some combining of teams based on moves to new cities. For example, the LA Rams and the St. Louis Rams simply became the Rams.

Anyway, here is the chart showing the teams that have drafted the most Nebraska players from 1982-2007.


Not that enlightening and only the Rams selection of Carriker would seem to fit the data. Certianly we have had many players on rosters of other NFL teams, but these are the ones that have drafted the most Huskers during that time period.

Other random notes from the data:

We've had 141 players drafted during that time period.
Linebacker, DB, RB, and offensive line are the most common positions drafted.
We've had three players drafted with picks #6 and #39.
The players drafted at #6 were: Broderick Thomas, Lawrence Phillips, Grant Wistrom. The players picked at #39 were: Jared Tomich, Toniu Fonoti, Mike Brown

Meh.

If anyone else would like the data to play around with data, shoot me an email at jcadams(at)uh.edu and I'll send you the Excel file.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Charting Our Progress - Time of Possession

Today we look at another of college football’s great axioms – time of possession, in our charting the progress series. I’d harbor a guess that this was one of the most discussed (or at least mentioned) variables during the Osborne era. Win the time of possession, win the game. Right? Maybe not.

According the work of SMQ, this statistic means very little, only slightly more than yards penalized in college football.

Here is what SMQ’s tables tell us about time of possession:


Really not much to look at there. Time of possession, just doesn't seem to be all that important in college football. Or at least it wasn't in 2006.

So it appears we have another reason to turn the volume to mute during televised college games – too much discussion about a variable that just doesn’t seem to matter. But why doesn’t time of possession matter like we think it should? Well there are actually already some pretty good explanations already out there, so let’s start with those.

First we have a fantastic rant from Brian at MGoBlog from a point last season in which Michigan was leading the nation in TOP (they ultimately finished 2nd behind Texas A&M).

Time of possession is a fraud. It is a fraud for these reasons:

You cannot "keep the ball away from your opponent" any more than a basketball team can keep the ball away from their opponent. When you score or turn the ball over, they get the ball back, no exceptions. Unless you attempt an onside kick, your opponent is getting the ball back after you're done with it. They will have the exact same number of possessions you do, plus or minus one depending on end-of-half and end-of-game hijinks.

It describes the actions of teams after they acquire a big lead and not what they do to get said lead. One of the primary reasons Michigan is #1 in time of possession: they've jumped out to massive leads in many games and cruised home. Opponents like Michigan State and Notre Dame have spent entire halves in a spread hurry-up emphasizing quick movement of the ball. Meanwhile, Michigan leisurely pounds the ball into the line until the game is over. Result: in the second half Michigan three-and-outs can take more time than 80-yard touchdown drives by the opponent. This is hugely distorting and tells us nothing more than "Michigan has a big lead."

It places undue emphasis on the run game. Michigan features a crushing ground game and a crushing run defense. Result: lots of Michigan runs and very few opponent runs. This naturally helps TOP, but the reason Michigan is good isn't because they possess the ball for relatively large amounts of time but rather those crushing units. Time of possession obscures the real reasons for Michigan's success.
Well played. I suspect TOP obscuring the real reasons for success can be said for a lot of folks. But we'll come back to that.

There is also real, academic research that also contradicts the implied importance of TOP. Harold and Daniel Sackrowitz in an issue of Chance, argued against the use of a ball-control, TOP-favoring offense. They claim:
that "a team using ball control may reduce the number of possessions and points scored by its opponent, but it will lose more often than if it did not use ball control."
In their study, the Sackrowitz team developed a mathematical model for evaluating the efficacy of three styles of play: unconstrained (a team's normal mix of offensive maneuvers and actions), time-consuming (using additional time), and hurry-up (using less time than normal).

Beware dorky math mumbo-jumbo ahead.
They modeled a typical time-limited game by a multidimensional Markov chain -- a sequence of random vectors, each of which can be written as a string of numbers. The first three numbers, or coordinates, may indicate which team has possession, the current point difference between the teams, and the amount of time remaining. The remaining numbers of a given vector could represent the values of other variables deemed important for the particular game being considered, such as the number of time-outs remaining. Such a vector describes the state of the game at the beginning of each possession.

Such a computational model allowed the researchers to check game outcomes over a broad range of possible situations involving weak and strong teams adopting different styles of play at different times. A consistent pattern emerged in all the cases studied: An unconstrained strategy is preferable to either the time-consuming or the hurry-up strategies for both teams, even when one team is demonstrably weaker than the other.
And what the hell does that mean?
"The results also force us to the realization that, despite what one feels emotionally, a proficient ball-control offense reduces the number of possessions for both teams," the authors note. "Thus, if anything, one might guess that the better team would decrease its probability of winning by using ball control, particularly if it had reduced its probability of scoring."
But what about seemingly irrelevant Super Bowls involving the Big Tuna?
In a 1993 New York Times article about football coach Bill Parcells, the reporter stated, "His masterpiece was the 1991 Super Bowl, in which his Giants defused the powerful and innovative offense of the Buffalo Bills through the simple expedient of denying Buffalo the use of the football."

The Sackrowitzes have a different view. "Even in the supposed ultimate endorsement of ball control, the 1991 Super Bowl, the Bills had ten possessions (but punted six times)," they remark. "In that game, a great defense helped to create the illusion that ball control is effective."
Hopefully you are at least starting to understand that time of possession is not a key to college football success.

Now let's look at Nebraska's time of possession under Bill Callahan.


Here we see some pretty amazing progress during Callahan's tenure. Unfortunately it is in a statistic that we have highlighted to be irrelevant to success. But wait, here is where it gets a bit tricky.

If we look at Nebraska in 2006 we will notice that the Huskers actually went 8-2 in games in which they won the time of possession battle. They were just 1-3 in games their opponents had the ball longer. So TOP does matter then in Nebraska, right? Wrong.

Time of possession is still a shaky predictor of success. It looks like the football equivalant of a "red herring". We think it matters, but research and a little better understanding of its ability to mask other, more important variables (that I will be focusing on later), allows us to see it a more appropriate fashion.

But for those that are still a bit confused, or who insist on hanging on to the importance of TOP, here is a bit more.
In 2006, Nebraska finished fifth in the country in TOP, but our record was just 9-5. Arkansas State finished one slot ahead of us at fourth in the nation. They finished the season with a 6-6 record.
In 2005 Nebraska won four games when they possessed the ball more than their opponent. The Huskers also won four games when their opponent won the time of possession battle.
It just doesn't matter. Or at least not to the degree we might think it does.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

YouTube Husker History Lesson - 1986 Fiesta Bowl



Here is some classic bowl footage as Nebraska takes on Michigan in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. It is from the Michigan perspective, which is fitting since they won the game, but it's worth seven minutes of your time all the same.

I was actually at that game with my family as we spent Christmas and my 9th birthday in Tempe. It was an amazing atmosphere as two storied programs met and their Midwestern fans made the trek to the sun-drenched valley.

I remember a lot of what shows up in the highlights. First, it was definitely the era of exposed midriffs and towels hanging from the players’ pants. McCathorn Clayton started the game at QB, but was replaced later by freshman Steve Taylor, who wore #11. Michigan RB Jamie Morris ran all over us as our linebackers lumbered aimlessly. And Jim Harbaugh was quarterbacking Michigan in the days before he was busy talking shit about Pete Carroll.

Nebraska went 9-3 in 1985 (just like every other year in the 80s it seemed). We started the season 0-1 after a loss at home to FSU. We then rattled off nine straight wins and were ranked second as we headed to Norman to take on #5 ranked Oklahoma. Oklahoma was led by Jamelle Holieway, who took over for Troy Aikman (broken ankle), four games into the season. Aikman had been injured in OU's only regular season loss, a 27–14 beating at Miami. The Sooners absolutely crushed us with Holieway at the helm, 27-7. They outgained us 423 yards to 161 and would have had the shut out, were it not for a Chris Spachman 76-yard interception return with 26 seconds remaining in the game.

After the OU loss, Nebraska dropped to #7 and would then meet fifth ranked Michigan in that Fiesta Bowl. Nebraska jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead behind a 5-yard TD pass to Doug DuBose and a 3-yard TD run, also by DuBose. Everything fell apart for the Huskers, however, in the 3rd quarter. Sparked by two lost fumbles, a blocked punt and a short punt in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter Michigan'turned the 11-point deficit into a 27-14 lead. In the fourth quarter Nebraska scored on a 1-yard run by Taylor, but later his pass with under a minute remaining the game was intercepted.

Oklahoma would go on to win the National title in 1985. They met #1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl and came away with a convincing 25-10 win. Miami had gone to the Sugar Bowl ranked second hoping for a convincing win over SEC champ Tennessee to keep its title hopes alive should Penn State lose. Instead, the Hurricanes suffered their worst defeat of the year, 35–7.

Bo Jackson beat out Iowa QB Chuck Long for the 1985 Heisman.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Big Red Roundtable: Post-Spring Game Reflections

Another Big Red Roundtable is upon us. Today we look at our post-spring impressions.

1. Keller or Ganz. Pick one, then give three reasons.

Keller. Three reasons huh?

One: Blondie on the left.

Two: Brunette on the right.

Three: 461 yards, 4 TDs and a passing efficiency rating of 155.22 against #5 LSU in 2005.



2. The most impressive guy at the Spring Game?

My dad? I guess I should have mentioned this before, but I didn’t actually see any of the Spring Game. Thus, I’m just going on reports. Based on that Suh seemed to have a pretty impressive day. And I don’t know, how about Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore calling the plays while Callahan relaxed in the booth.

3. If you were the Athletic Director, what would you do with the proceeds?

Let’s see 55,000 fans at $8 a head means roughly $440,000. Paying off our existing debt is BORING! So, we’ll think outside the box. How about a huge party on September 15 with USC visiting Lincoln? We invite back the 1997 team to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their national championship (Muck Fichigan!). Not only does Dr. Tom take the field, but so does the indomitable Frank Solich at the request of Steve Pederson (Ohio plays at VT that day, but play along). The ’97 team takes the field during the pregame, with Pederson tucked away in a suite or in a corner or something. Coach Callahan shakes hands with Dr. Tom and Solich. The crowd offers a roaring standing ovation for Solich’s contributions and those of the incredibly talented 1997 Huskers. God smites Broderick Thomas with permanent laryngitis. And Husker Nation lives happily ever after.

4. Do 54,000 people show up at Nebraska's Spring Game because there is really nothing else to do in Nebraska or because we're more in love with our Huskers than anyone else is with their team?

Well, clearly there is nothing else to do in Nebraska and we like our Huskers. But Alabama loves their team and Nick “I don’t have time for this shit” Saban way more than we could ever imagine.

5. When you heard Marlon Lucky was injured, your first thought was...

…honestly I think I probably sounded a bit like old school Too Short - Mother fucking shit god damn asshole. But I was far more worried about his mental health. After fighting back from his curious medical emergency it seemed unfair to be hurt late in the spring game. I was extremely relieved to hear the injury was minor. I seriously hope that guy has AFLAC.

6. Were you at all concerned by the fairly modest rushing performance overall by the Red team or is that a sign there's some depth on the defensive front seven?

Whoa, I’m a stats junkie and I can honestly say this is the first I’ve heard about modest rushing numbers. After losing all four starters on the defensive front, I don’t think we have much depth in our front seven. But the spring game rushing isn’t a big concern to me right now. We outrushed our opponent in 9 of our 14 games last season and the only change is no BJax. I think we’ll be okay, but get back to me in September.

7. Callahan called the receiving corps the strength of the team. Would you tend to agree with that or would you choose another aspect (e.g. linebackers)?

I do agree with Callahan. I think the trendy answer will be the linebackers, but I’m not convinced they go as deep as the receivers. Nunn, Purify, Swift and Peterson are all capable guys. Factor in Hardy, Dan Erickson’s blocking, and youngsters Will Henry, and Meno Holt and I think we have our deepest unit.

At linebacker we have Ruud, McKeon, Octavian, Dillard, Brandenburgh, and occasionally a healthy Nick Covey. Out of that group only Ruud and McKeon have proven their worth over an entire season. Octavian is an enigmatic pinball of talent, waiting to be pushed in the right direction. We’ll see if Cosgrove has both flippers functioning in 2007. Dillard is fighting his way back from injury and Brandenburgh has never gotten enough PT. Both are only likely to see their minutes increase in a 3-4 schematic shift.

So yeah, the WRs are the strength of our team right now.

Be sure and check out the other roundtable posts:

Husker Mike
Big Red Network
Corn Nation
Hi-Plains Drifter
Midwest Coast Bias
Husker Faithful
Husker Guy

Monday, April 23, 2007

Charting Our Progress – Yards Penalized Per Game

With the rebirth of this series I have decided to look at the statistical categories in order of relevance from least important to most important according to the fine work of SMQ. To accomplish this I have combined both parts of his stats relevance watch to determine which statistic was the least relevant in terms of W-L record and Top 25 ranking in 2006.

The overall loser was yards penalized per game. You can see its lack of relevance in CFB in the following table.


Now, here is the chart of Nebraska’s standing relative to the national average in this statistic.


And here is how they ranked nationally in each of those three season.
2004: 46th; 51.00 yards/game
2005: 63rd; 57.75 yards/game
2006: 41st; 43.86 yards/game
I could spend time analyzing Nebraska’s progress in this statistic, and it might actually be interesting to do so. But I won’t. Why spend time analyzing a statistic that has been shown to be irrelevant. How irrelevant? In 2006, Nebraska went 4-2 in games where they were penalized less yards than their opponent. In games the Huskers racked up more penalty yards they were 5-2 (the Cotton Bowl was a push as Nebraska and Auburn were both penalized 45 yards).

Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to examine why this statistic might not be as important as the casual observer might think.

First, let’s go with what SMQ said. After Part I:
“First counterintuitive result: the most penalized teams were slightly better as a whole than the least penalized teams. Penalty yardage, over the course of an entire season, had no discernible effects on winning and losing. You can probably think of a situation that would specifically argue otherwise, cuz penalties are definitely bad, mmmkay?, but they're bad more as situational mistakes than an overall, cumulative drain.
Then after Part II:
”Again, penalty yards stand out as utterly meaningless; as in Part One, higher penalty yardage actually correlates slightly more with success, which makes no sense and should not indicate that jumping offsides is desirable or even, in the short term, meaningless (hello, Louisville), but the overall, cumulative consequences of flags were apparently nil.”
Perhaps surprisingly, SMQ wasn’t actually the first to discover the lack of correlation between fewer yards penalized and success. Football Outsiders also examined this finding in the NFL back in 2003. They point out that this phenomenon was actually first noted in a 1988 book, The Hidden Game of Football written by Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer and John Thorn. However, according to Football Outsiders these authors made a key error in describing it, when they said:
“[Penalties] don’t make a whole lot of difference. Over the course of a season, they tend to even out. For every drive-killing holding penalty, there’s an interference call that keeps a drive going.”
Football Outsiders doesn’t buy the “even-ing out” hypothesis, because:
”The truth is, penalties don’t even out. Looking at the whole of last season, it’s clear that some teams were consistently penalized more than other teams. The difference is equal to a few hundred yards, which is also the difference between the best teams and the worst teams in punt return yardage. Would we say punt returns don’t really matter and even out over the course of the season? Certainly not.”
Football Outsiders goes on to discuss that:
What is perhaps even more surprising is the discovery that the majority of Super Bowl champions have actually been more prone to penalties than their opponents in the regular season. In fact, of the 37 Super Bowl champions, 23 actually had more penalty yards than their opponents.
From here the article goes on to do the work for me. The talented Michael David Smith of Football Outsiders provides his theories for the finding that many of the most successful teams are actually penalized more in the NFL. I would guess that we could also apply these theories to college football as well. I will present each of Smith’s theories in italics and then provide my response after these.

1. Good teams have the lead late in the game, which means they’re on defense against the pass more often. This makes them more likely to be called for defensive pass interference, which is the only penalty that can cost more than 15 yards.
I never would have thought of this, but it seems like a possible explanation in the NFL. It is less helpful for college football given that pass interference is still just a 15 yard penalty.
2. Good teams are more likely to decline their opponents’ penalties and have their own penalties accepted. All the NFL’s statistics are for accepted penalties only; declined penalties are treated as if they never occurred. It would make sense that a good team is more likely to have a successful play and therefore decline an opponent’s penalty, whereas a bad team is more likely to have an unsuccessful play and take the penalty yards.
Another thought provoking hypothesis, that would be difficult to prove or dispel.
3. Good teams are more aggressive, and while aggressiveness is usually a positive trait in football, it can lead players to be penalized.
I actually like this hunch. It was the first one that came to mind. Think Florida State in the 90s.
4. Winning teams could be smarter about taking penalties at the right times. For instance, it’s often advantageous to take a delay of game penalty rather than waste a timeout. (This only happens a few times a season and probably isn’t statistically significant.)
I certainly agree with the lack of statistical significance portion of this hypothesis.
5. When discussing penalties, it’s important to keep in mind that, contrary to what coaches and commentators tend to say, penalties shouldn’t really be called “mistakes.” When an offensive lineman holds Michael Strahan, he didn’t do it on accident. He did it on purpose because he knew Michael Strahan would beat him otherwise. He just hoped he wouldn’t get caught. Ditto a defensive back interfering with Randy Moss. Yes, there are some penalties that are mistakes — offsides, false starts, delays of game — but even those would seem to happen more often against better opponents. I’d expect a tackle to be called for illegal procedure much more often against Jason Taylor than against some practice squad scrub. So when you see that the Giants’ opponents were flagged for more penalties than any other team’s opponents last year, don’t assume the Giants just got lucky. The Giants certainly played a role in it. Also keep in mind that NFL officiating crews are not all created equal. Some crews call more penalties than others. But even if one team was stuck with a flag-happy crew more times than another team, it would make no difference in the net penalties shown here.
Now we’re talking! This is one that definitely needs to be considered and should probably be analyzed more carefully. It certainly doesn’t clarify the entire picture, but no one ever seems to bring this one up.

Ok, let’s conclude this piece by keeping our wits about us. Teams should continue to attempt to avoid penalties whenever possible. And we should not expect to hear coaches come out and endorse a high number of penalties, but at the same time we now know a little bit more than most announcers about their relative importance. As Football Outsiders concludes:
So does this data say that penalties don’t matter? It most certainly does not. We’ve all seen penalties that had game-altering implications. But penalties are probably less important than coaches and commentators would have us believe. And this probably deserves further study.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Charting Our Progress - The Do-Over

Ok, Like I said this series has been re-tooled. When I went back and looked at my notes (yes, sometimes, I'm that organized, must be a grad student-thing) I realized I hadn't included what was meant to be an important piece of the analysis.

The piece I will be adding involves the incredible work of SMQ and his stats relevance watch. His work is broken into a few parts, but I will explain that as we go on. In addition, you will certainly want to read his entire series at some point.

Anyway, the idea behind the stats relevance watch, according to SMQ was as follows:
"There are, as they say, lies, damn lies, and statistics. The numbers mean something, yet often we know not what. Here SMQ will look at the final regular season statistics in more than a dozen major categories to suss out who succeeded in what and how that statistical success correlated to overall success in terms of final record. SMQ does not have the luxury of a high-powered supercomputer or degree-type qualification in mathematics or statistics, but his analysis will be driven as deep as his egghead, tinfoil cap curiosity and cell phone calculator will take it. That is to say, quasi-scientific at best".
Part I of SMQ's Stat Relevance concerned Which stat correlates most closely to success, where success = W/L record

This is what the analysis by W-L record looks like in terms of the relationship between the winning percentages on the high and low ends of each category:



And SMQ's commentary:
First counterintuitive result: the most penalized teams were slightly better as a whole than the least penalized teams. Penalty yardage, over the course of an entire season, had no discernible effects on winning and losing. You can probably think of a situation that would specifically argue otherwise, cuz penalties are definitely bad, mmmkay?, but they're bad more as situational mistakes than an overall, cumulative drain.

What's more interesting is that offensive categories in general come out looking far more important in the relative measure, which reveals just how truly horrid teams that couldn't move the ball or convert or third downs really were. At the extremes, winners played lights out defense, but big losers offer some evidence that offensive deficiency was slightly more difficult to overcome this season than a defensive one. Again, on the whole.

Extrapolating: want to be good? Play good defense. Want to be very good? Convert fourth downs. Want to not completely suck? Move the ball and convert a few third downs. Penalties? In the end, irrelevant.


Part II of SMQ's Stat Relevance examined What do the best teams do best? Here SMQ was looking at success in terms of rankings and the relevant statistics. The analysis thus invovled examining the AP Top 25 "which was measured in two groups - the Top 10, which are then also included as part of the entire Top 25 - to determine as a whole where the elite of the sport are separating themselves from the pack."

This is what the analysis by rankings looks like:



And SMQ's commentary:
The rallying cry here is de-fense, validated by defensive categories carrying the top half of the chart in a sweep. Ranked teams not only found their run defenses among the nation's best more often than in any other category, but also never among the worst; run defense had the "highest basement" (Tennessee, surprisingly, ranked 71st), and the Vols were the only ranked team not in the top 50 against the run. The other defensive categories, total and pass efficiency defense, can make similar claims - only a couple ranked teams had to overcame a serious weakness in any of the defensive categories. More were able to make do, though, with average or bad aspects of their offense, where playcalling can more easily hide deficiencies. So the numbers show a general trend among ranked teams towards good defense across the board and efficiency and balance more than big yardage offensively.
So what does that mean for the "Charting Our Progress" series. Well, I now plan on examining these variables in terms of how well we performed in 2006 and over the course of Callahan's tenure. What we now will have, however, is some context from which to understand the relative importance of each statistic.

Make sense? I hope so. Now just check back tomorrow for the first installment of the new and improved attempt to chart our progress under Callahan.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Erin Andrews Picture of the Week, Etc.


I figured we hadn't put a shot of Poopsie up for a while, so here ya go. Also, I've decided to retool the Charting Our Progress series I had started. I didn't really like the way it was going, and it didn't match my original intentions. I plan on having the first of the new versions up on Monday and I think it will be more meaningful.

Orange and Maroon Effect Day


I never really know what to think about these types of memorials, but this one certainly makes sense. Today is an Orange and Maroon Effect Day:
"VT family members across the country have united to declare this Friday April 20th, an "Orange and Maroon Effect" day to honor those killed in the tragic events on campus Monday, and to show support for VT students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, and friends.”

"Orange and Maroon Effect" was born several years ago as an invitation to Tech Fans to wear orange and maroon to VT athletic events. We invite everyone from all over the country to be a part of the VT family this Friday. To wear orange and maroon to
support the families of those who were lost, and to support the school and community we all love so much."
I got an email from Brian at MGoBlog with an idea to change the color scheme of one's blog to show support for Virginia Tech. It seemed like an easy enough decision, and perhaps it will help show solidarity in a time of great pain, fear and uncertainty.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is it Friday Yet?

Yeah, so I still haven't been around here much. Not the best time to writing about Nebraska football. Spring practice is over, so the daily updates from campus have slowed to a trickle. I feel like I've analyzed 2006 from just about every angle already and next season just feels a bit too far away. I suppose I could join everyone else by taking sides in the golf tournament debacle, but quite frankly, I don't feel like touching on the divisiveness of Husker Nation again. Why can't our love for Nebraska be innocent and pure?

Wait, what's that? You want Nebraska-pride in its purest and most unadulturated form? Cue the cute kid video.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Obligatory Spring Game Post

I suppose I should say something about Saturday’s ultra-competitive spring scrimmage. I put something up at the FanHouse, but can elaborate here a bit more.

· First, I didn’t actually see any of it. I was in small town Texas for a yeehaw wedding. We had a great time at the wedding and it was nice to be meet a bunch of new friends and future family members. Even if they were Aggies. I sorta had a chance to watch the game, as the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at had Direct TV. But since the reception was in full force at 8:00 I decided to be a team player and remain at the festivities. They tell me this is called “maturity”.

· I don’t really know what to say about the current spring game format. It certainly does make it the game very interesting for the fans – especially with a scoreless second half. I would love to see us do what Texas A&M does, having two sets of captains actually draft the respective teams. If we are going to have planned TD celebrations, its not like the coaching staff is completely anti-fun.

· Both quarterbacks apparently looked good and obviously nothing was settled with regards to this battle. Meh. Gives us something to talk about from now until the first game.

· Callahan called the receivers one of the team’s strengths. It certainly is a much, much deeper unit than we he arrived in 2004. Now if we could just find a tight end.

· Ndamukong Suh evidently looked good, which is a great sign for the inexperienced defensive line. He finished with three tackles for loss, and two sacks.

· Randy Jordan “couldn’t breathe” when he saw Marlon Lucky go down in the 4th quarter. Coach Callahan is calling it a sprain, but hasn’t Lucky endured enough this off-season?

I don’t have much else to say right now. As always check out what other Husker bloggers are saying:

Husker Mike
Big Red Network (Live from Barry's - talk about making me homesick)
Jim Rose
Husker Guy

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Scoring Explosion Highlights



A recent YouTube find, and one that brings back pleasant early childhood memories. God, that offense was beautiful. Check out the option pitch to Irving Fryar who was lined up in the backfield at about the 2 minute mark. That's why I grew up wanting nothing more than to be a wingback for Dr. Tom.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Quick Hits

· The OWH notes that Marlon Lucky is all smiles this spring. I actually posted my response to this at the FanHouse.

· The LJS points out that Nebraska’s seniors took part in a leadership seminar. I think this is a good move on the part of the coaching staff. Some will argue that leaders are born and not made, but I think that is a fairly simplistic outlook. Clearly there are identifiable traits displayed by leaders and many of these relate to core personality traits. Others, however, can be nurtured the same way as communication skills, or goal-setting.

The program was led by Tim McFadden, an administrative assistant on the Nebraska football staff who has an advanced degree in educational leadership. According to McFadden:
“What we’ve tried to do is encourage players to start speaking the language of leadership,” he said. “What constitutes leadership? What gives you the authority to lead? We want players to analyze the kind of leader they are now, how they see themselves as a leader, how their peers see them as a leader, and really make a decision and say, ‘OK, this is the kind of leader I feel I should be.”

“What we’re trying to do as a staff is really empower these guys to make the team their own. Because that’s where the highest performance will come from, is if these kids feel invested and feel it’s their team.”
It is certainly important for the players to take some ownership of the program. I worked on a similar project while a sport psychology intern at the IMG Academies for use with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It seemed to go over very well with the NFL guys, so I hope the Nebraska players also buy into it.

· Jake Wesch and Alex Henery are battling it out for the kicking job in relative obscurity. These two have a nice opportunity to make some noise before Adi Kunalic arrives on campus in August. I don’t care who ultimately wins the job, as long he can gain the confidence of Coach Callahan. A year ago we went for it on fourth down 23 times, which ranked us 2nd in the Big 12 and 19th nationally in fourth down attempts.

· Lastly, I want to point you guys out to some other fine Husker work in the blogosphere in my absentia. First you should already be reading the following daily.

Big Red Network

Corn Nation
Husker Mike

In addition, you should also add Brandon Vogel’s Hi Plains Drifter to your habits. It is great to see Brandon writing everyday (and well), and he covers the Huskers pretty regularly.

I’ve also recently discovered Husker Guy, which appears to just be getting off the ground. It looks like he’s off to a good start, so check him out.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ranking the Big 12 Coaches

Tom Dienhart recently provided his rankings of the Big 12 head coaches. Dienhart’s list looked like this:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
2. Mack Brown, Texas
3. Bill Callahan, Nebraska
4. Mike Leach, Texas Tech
5. Mark Mangino, Kansas
6. Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M
7. Dan Hawkins, Colorado
8. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
9. Guy Morriss, Baylor
10. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
11. Ron Prince, Kansas State
12. Gene Chizik, Iowa State

It’s hard to argue with the top two coaches listed, although some might question the order of Stoops and Brown. I’d give the edge to Stoops right now based on what he did last season alone. In addition, his national championship came without the benefit of Vince Young. Clich├ęd statement for sure, but its not without at least some merit.

For me, the surprise actually comes with our own Bill Callahan at third, or first among coaches who haven’t won a national title. According to Dienhart:
“Give him kudos for daring to change the culture in option-football mad Lincoln. It hasn't gone smoothly, but Callahan has the Huskers poised for a breakthrough. No one knows the game better than Callahan, the only Big 12 boss who has coached a Super Bowl team.”
Yes, Callahan has a Super Bowl on his resume, but the bottom line at this point is a 22-15 record (13-12 vs. Big 12) during his three-year stint in Lincoln. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s the right man for the job, but I would have ranked Mike Leach ahead of him at this point. Leach has helped change the Big 12 from a power-running conference, into one of the more pass-happy leagues in the country.

The rest of the list seems pretty straightforward. Mangino, Franchione and Hawkins make up a pretty good second tier of coaches. A&M fans will question Mangino over Franchione, but hey, he’s phat. I would probably flip Pinkel and Gundy. Gundy is on his way up, while Pinkel seems to be on the perpetual hot seat in Columbia. Besides, Gundy will no doubt benefit from the free-spending of Boone Pickens.

Prince and Chizik round out the list due to their lack of experience. Although neither had prior head coaching experience, Prince still seems like the bigger gamble of the two.

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.

McKeon Breaks Down the QBs


The LJS got some great stuff from Corey McKeon Monday:

"Joe's a great quarterback because he has a lot of athletic ability and can make plays on his own and he knows the offense very well," McKeon said after practice. "Everyone's like, ‘Well, Sam’s this competitor.’

"The gist of it is, they are two different styles of quarterback. Joe's a product of the system. He goes through his progressions (to find the open receiver)."Meanwhile, Keller "knows how to attack people," McKeon said. "He's got that experience. He's looking for Maurice Purify every play. If you look over and see Cortney Grixby guarding Maurice Purify, Sam knows where to put the ball to get a big play.

"Sam knows how to attack people. He knows if he's going to run a three-step quick slant to look for Terrence Nunn or Nate Swift -- guys who can beat people with speed. He knows how to use his weapons.

"That's something Joe has not been able to do yet because he's not been on the field (in games) as much (as Keller)."

In the final analysis, "It's hard to choose, because you have a guy who knows how to take advantage of a defense, but also a guy who knows how to read a defense."
I thought this was very telling. McKeon is the first to really verbalize the strengths and weaknesses of each guy.

Now we (ok, technically, just the coaches) have to decide which we prefer. A guy who can operate the system to its fullest potential. Or a guy recognizes and attacks weaknesses by utilizing his strengths and those of his teammates.

My take - Get ready to hear A LOT of "Keller's pass complete to Purify."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Divine Comedy

Ok, so even after taking the weekend to sit with it, I still don't have anything meaningful to say about Zack Bowman. I will give you my initial stream of consciousness ramblings that hit me Wednesday night, however.
I really, really hoped I would be writing Thursday about a bruise or a sprain, or anything, but a major ligament or tendon. I think back to the late 90s and mentioning to friends that Dan Alexander was “God’s cruel joke”. An absolute physical specimen. Big. Fast. Strong. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stay on his feet and he couldn’t catch a pitch, two important traits in an option running back. Alexander finished with a solid career, but with his speed and body, his field of dreams shouldn’t be 85 feet wide by 50 yards long.

Then we found Bowman. A franchise cornerback from Alaska? He too, is big and fast and strong. A Mel Kiper wet dream making a pit stop in Lincoln. When the talent-gap struck Husker fans square in the face in 2005, Bowman was our lone bright spot. A radiant flash blanketing the Wolverines’ best. “Wait until next year,” we said.

But next year never came. Bowman’s ACL gave him up the first week of August. USC torched his replacement and we quickly realized what we now had. As the season trudged on, we questioned the scheme, we longed for sacks, and we blamed Grixby. God, did we blame Grixby.

After the New Year Bowman considered his options. We prayed. The NFL could wait, but Husker fans could not. Finally, Zack would be back. In the spring. Wearing green. “Wait until August,” we said.

Then in a bizarre week of falling TVs, Zack Bowman also went down. God’s cruel joke seems less funny this time. I’m tired of waiting.