It was generally assumed that when Bo Pelini took over as Nebraska’s football head coach and also brought back Marvin Sanders to coach the defensive backs, that the Huskers would get more takeaways on defense.
With Pelini as the defensive coordinator and Sanders the defensive backs coach, the Huskers generated 47 turnovers, 32 of which came via the interception in 2003. With Kevin Cosgrove as the defensive coordinator from 2004-2007, the Huskers combined to produce just 79 turnovers (just 11 in 2007). Nebraska was not that much better at producing turnovers on defense in 2008 – just 17 to be precise. Randy’s Donut Shop on Capitol Beach Boulevard in Lincoln has produced more turnovers than the Husker defense.
That stat needs to change drastically in 2009 but I’ve got to think Pelini will address that very matter when the Huskers begin spring practice.
The Husker offense should continue to produce points but with quarterback Joe Ganz graduating along with wide receivers Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, Nebraska will likely need to lean on its defense in the earlygoing of 2009.
The Huskers improved from 112th overall in 2007 to 55th last season in total defense. Part of that improvement was guys playing with greater effort but it was also at least partially attributable to the offense improving their average time of possession from 29:14 in 2007 to 34:01 in 2008 to help a still developing defense.
Nebraska should continue to improve defensively if for no other reason than they will have had a full season to absorb Pelini’s scheme, thus increasing the comfort level. Secondly, that added comfort should allow Pelini implement more variations of his system.
With 50 redshirts pushing to make their mark, one can reason that the Huskers should do dramatically better in creating takeaways. The returning defenders will know their coverages and responsibilities, so they can play more instinctively rather than thinking about what they have to do.
Nebraska was dead last in the Big 12 in turnover margin at minus-11, which in a way makes its 9-4 record last season all the more impressive. The Huskers went three straight games (all losses against Virginia Tech, Missouri and Texas Tech) without producing a turnover. It wouldn’t have mattered against Missouri because the Tigers beat us 52-17. However, Nebraska lost by less than seven points against VaTech (35-30) and Texas Tech (37-31 in overtime). So, a turnover or two might have changed the outcome of those games.
Granted, part of a defense’s ability to produce takeaways is good fortune but it’s also a skill (i.e. being in the right position and having fewer blown assignments). Good solid hitting can also cause turnovers rather than the “Club, Pull and Rip” move from the Cosgrove years. The first guy goes for the textbook tackle and the second guy goes for the strip.
Some stats can be misleading but it’s a known fact that if a team wins the turnover battle, it will win the game about 75 percent of the time. Of course, the other side of the argument is that “points off” turnovers matter more but I tend to debate that issue. Sure, it doesn’t suck to convert turnovers into points. It also doesn’t suck if your offense turns the ball over and then your defense holds the opposition scoreless or even makes them settle for a field goal.
However, if a team creates a turnover and either a) has a sizeable lead in the second half or b) is trying to preserve a lead late in the game, the offense’s objective is not necessarily to score. Instead, it is to run out the clock. That said, turnovers are vital whether they result in points or otherwise. If your defense creates a takeaway, it prevents the opposing offense from scoring points. If your offense turns the ball over, it is costing the team points.
Since the Huskers have to break in a new quarterback, the offense is likely to have a few bumps in the road. Therefore, if the defense can create more takeaways and give the offense a shorter field, the offense might gain confidence.
The Huskers made baby steps in creating turnovers but are going to need a quantum leap forward in 2009.