Over/Under for Nebraska: Defense and Special Teams

It's unfair for people to paint this year's Nebraska team with a broad brush and say that this team can't win the North. It's also uninformed to say that the Nebraska offense, defense and special teams won't be improved simply because of personnel and another year in the system. What can be expected of this year's team though?

Many have asked, what number do we need to hit to be successful when it comes to throwing the ball? How many yards allowed? Takeaways? Punt returns? Well, today is your lucky day sports fans because Big Red Report breaks down by offense, defense and special teams the numbers that it needs to hit by telling you the over/under number. This is part II in a two part series to Over/Under for Nebraska's upcoming season in breaking down what Nebraska needs to do to be successful this year.

I am not a betting man, other than playing a little Texas Hold-'Em, but I know how over/under works. What I will do is give my projection on what I think the season record will be and then the major statistical projections to hit that win-loss record.

2004 actual W-L: 5-6
2005 projected W-L: 8-5

Nebraska will have the chance to face some fairly explosive offenses this year. Texas Tech and the 70 that they hung on us last year come to mind. Then there is Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Wake Forest, Iowa State and Kansas who all averaged over 20 points per contest. Nebraska will need to see improvement, in some areas dramatic, to be more successful to help them to a predicted 8-5 record and a chance to square off with the South champion in the Big XII Championship Game.

Defensive Statistics

2004 actual points/game allowed: 27.1
2005 projected points/game allowed: 20

There are two ways that you can win games when you are allowing a lot of points and I believe that Nebraska is trying a little bit of both of them. First, you can try and stop the other team by upgrading your defense. I believe that Nebraska went out and got upgrades at linebacker and at defensive back to help out with that. Secondly, you can upgrade your offense and try and outscore your opponents (a la the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers). Nebraska has done a little bit of both, but I believe that the key here is to hold their opponents to under three touchdowns per game.

2004 actual yards/game allowed: 371.6
2005 projected yards/game allowed: 300

I believe that Nebraska will see some improvements in their defense, but I think that it's not going to go from being a middle of the road in some categories or bottom 10 in other categories to world-beaters overnight. There were some key individuals brought in this year to try and help out in improving this offense, but the defense is still very susceptible to being an injury or two away from being very mediocre again. I envision improvement, not greatness.

2004 actual interceptions: 6
2005 projected interceptions: 17

This is one category that I simply believe there will be the largest improvement. I think that players that were added to the secondary like Bowman, Wilson and Green are bigger playmakers than the players that occupied those positions a year ago. There is also another year on Grixby, the leadership of Bullocks and another newcomer that could be the heir apparent at safety, Leon Jackson. People may dwell on the upgrades in the secondary personnel as having the biggest effect on interceptions, but I would also give credit to a stronger pass rush and more dominant up-front seven.

2004 actual sacks: 29
2005 projected sacks: 35

Like the defensive line in interceptions I believe that there is a relationship to the secondary and sacks. People call them coverage sacks and to some extent I agree, but all you need to three-plus seconds to really give your defensive front-seven the chance to get to that quarterback. I also see Nebraska as having the possibility of being up early or big on some teams that might try and get back into a game by throwing the ball. Nebraska may have the chance to get a couple of more tries at sacks and interceptions. Surprisingly, Nebraska finished eleventh nationally in sacks and with an increase from 29 to 35 would have put them in the top five.

Special Teams

2004 actual average yards/punt: 41.3
2005 projected average yards/punt: 43

Now, this category might be splitting hairs, but there were some games that our punting was just horrendous. I think back to the Missouri game last year at home where Nebraska tried to give the opposing defense the long field into the wind and just couldn't do it. This is where you will see Nebraska getting good chances to make plays like sacks and interceptions by handing their opponents the long field. Nebraska must improve their yards per kick, punt block teams and punt coverage.

2004 actual punt return average yards/punt: 5.8
2005 projected average yards/punt: 12

This is the one category that it just hurts to talk about last season other than the record. 5.8 yards was a trade-off that the coaching staff made with retaining the ball. Grixby might have gotten his shot to return punts had injuries in the secondary not occurred calling for him on the field from down to down on defense. I understand what the coaching staff was doing when they had Panico back there to field punts. He had sure hands. No big play ability, but you don't get the chance to have your offense take the field unless you can catch the punt. I expect this figure to double simply because of some players back there that may be a little more comfortable fielding punts and who have better speed and playmaking ability. The 5.8 number could have been greater had Panico simply ran more North-South than East-West. There was too much time side-stepping that had he simply gone downfield he would have got more yards. Heck, I can fall down and pick up 2 yards.

2004 defensive MVP: (tie)Barrett Ruud, LB and Josh Bullocks, S
2005 projected defensive MVP: Daniel Bullocks, RB

2004 defensive newcomer: Cortney Grixby, CB
2005 defensive newcomer: Steve Octavien, LB

2004 defensive freshman MVP: Cortney Grixby, CB
2005 defensive freshman MVP: Barry Turner, DE

2004 special teams MVP: David Dyches, K
2005 special teams MVP: Jordan Congdon, K

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