Some stats Husker D will need to turn around

2013-04-20T23:30:00Z 2013-04-21T21:40:17Z Some stats Husker D will need to turn aroundBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Here we sit, spring ball done, a game still 4½ months away, thumbing through the magazines in the waiting room.

OK, not actually magazines. More like game stat packets.

In this bottom-line biz, the only numbers that really matter from Nebraska’s 2012 football campaign are 10 and 4.

But what are some of the numbers within those win-loss numbers the Huskers must turn around this fall?

We picked out a few.

Today, the focus is on defensive stats. On Monday, offense.

Away we go.

* 63: That’s the number of plays Nebraska gave up last season that were 20 yards or more.

 “Explosive plays,” coaches call them. And when it comes to those 20-yard-plus gainers, Nebraska ranked 90th, according to data from cfbstats.com.

Here’s the thing: Nebraska gave up 151 plays of 10 yards or more, a stat that taken by itself isn’t that bad. It ranks a respectable 20th. Alabama, the best defense in the country, gave up 118 plays of 10 yards or more.

But look a little deeper inside those numbers. When the Huskers got dented, it seemed like a baseball bat through the windshield.

They gave up six plays of 60 yards or more and 11 plays of 50 yards or more. Only seven teams allowed more big gainers from 50-plus.

Yes, four of those plays came in one game — the Big Ten Championship. And it’s not exactly a news flash to tell you Nebraska’s defense took some major lumps last year.

But it’s a stat that points to maybe the biggest test the Husker defense faces in 2013: Being cohesive and tough-minded enough to not let one blown play lead to two or three or four or five blown plays.

* 10: That’s how many rushing plays Nebraska allowed of 40 yards or more. Only Eastern Michigan allowed more.

Now, how many of those 10 runs came in the Big Ten title game and against Ohio State? Six.

Five came against the Badgers, and Braxton Miller had a 72-yarder.

But it wasn't just the huge gainers that stand out. The Huskers gave up 68 runs of 10 yards or more, which was 76th in the country.

Again, it feeds into the topic of being able to brush off a bad play and not let one miscue turn into another, and then a meltdown.

It’s certainly something defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski had on his mind this spring as he talked about challenging his young players to find the necessary toughness within themselves.

“It’s about dealing with the adversity, blocking out the bad play, playing the next play, bowing up and saying, 'Enough’s enough,' and going from there,” Kaczenski said then. “Just kind of getting some grit, getting a little bit more backbone to us.”

* 109: That’s where Nebraska ranked in punt coverage last year. Yes, we’re cheating a bit by merging special teams into the discussion.

But there’s good reason Bo Pelini was so passionate when talking about special teams this spring. "You're going to see our best 11 (players out there)," he said. "Period."

The punt-coverage stat is highlighted here only because it's the worst of several middling or subpar special-teams stats last season. The Huskers ranked 46th in kick-return coverage, 50th at returning punts, 63rd at returning kicks and 86th in net punting.

That won't do. With a young defense that might need some time to find its way, Nebraska needs game-changers to surface in the third phase of the game.

* 1,254: That is the number of rushing yards the Huskers gave up combined in the UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin games. Here's what's amazing: That's 46.5 percent of the rushing total Nebraska allowed all year.

That's how statistically bizarre the year was for Nebraska's defense. As it is, the Huskers allowed 192.5 rushing yards a game, which ranked 90th.

Minus those three train wrecks, Nebraska gave up an average of 131 rushing yards per game. That would have ranked 28th.

* 23: Nebraska's turnover-margin issues were well-documented last year. Going minus 12 for the year in turnovers, the team ranked 105th.

But this is one spot where you can't blame the defense too much. The Huskers actually forced 23 turnovers. That's not amazing. Oregon led the way with 40 turnovers gained. But it's not bad. It does tie for 46th. And only the great 2009 defense has gained more turnovers (28) among Husker defenses with Pelini as head coach.

But you can bet the 2013 group would like to even pick up a few more. One thing that can cover up your warts? Being opportunistic.

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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