This is a game called “Name that season.”
We look at three Nebraska defenses. Study their first five games against FBS competition. Calculate their average yards allowed, average points allowed and average points per possession allowed.
This is what we find:
Defense No. 1:
Defense No. 2:
Defense No. 3:
Not exactly vintage Blackshirts, huh.
No. 1 and No. 2 are remarkably similar. No. 3 is in the same ballpark, but clearly is the best of the bunch because of a lower scoring average (and because it faced the stiffest competition).
So who are they?
>> Defense No. 1 is Nebraska 2012.
It failed miserably against Ohio State and UCLA. It dominated Southern Mississippi and Arkansas State. It had one good half and one bad half against Wisconsin. I ignored FCS Idaho State.
>> Defense No. 2 is Nebraska 2011.
Its results weren’t as hot and cold. One good performance (Wyoming), one awful performance (Wisconsin) and three mediocre (Fresno State, Washington, Ohio State). I ignored FCS Chattanooga.
>> Defense No. 3 is ... drumroll, please ... Nebraska 2007.
The Huskers shut down a very good Nevada offense, played reasonably well against Wake Forest and Iowa State, but got gashed by USC and Ball State.
Comparisons to 2007 won’t make Nebraska fans feel better about the 2012 defense. But the real value of this exercise is studying what happened AFTER five games.
The 2007 defense gave up 41 points in the sixth game at Missouri — Chase Daniel compared Kevin Cosgrove’s 3-3-5 scheme to “high school stuff.” From there, Nebraska crumbled, yielding at least 28 points in every contest, including 76 to Kansas and 65 to Colorado.
The Big 12 was a scary place for defenses in 2007; four of the nation’s top eight offenses (both in scoring and total yards) were in Nebraska’s conference. If the 2011 defense would’ve faced Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, it also might have finished with embarrassing numbers.
Instead, last year’s defense made improvements. Yes, it faltered against Northwestern and Michigan, but it shut down Minnesota, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa, enabling Nebraska to win nine games.
Which trajectory will the 2012 defense follow?
The Blackshirts, with the help of a feeble Big Ten, can collect themselves and salvage their reputation. They can have a second half like 2011. They can get to Pasadena.
But the clock is ticking.
Every time this defense struggles, it gets harder for Bo Pelini to fix it. He’s battling not just Kain Colter and Denard Robinson, but the forces of momentum and self-doubt. The rolling snowball of frustration gets bigger, heavier and faster.
It’s one thing when outsiders question Pelini’s personnel and scheme. It gets serious when players start wondering, too.
That’s how a defensive meltdown like 2007 happens. One per lifetime is enough.
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