I worked all night in the rain Thanksgiving night. Finally, mercifully, I got off at 9. It was Black Friday, and I was home free. I was a strange combination of excited and exhausted. My plan was simple, go home, catch a nap, and then watch my Nebraska Cornhuskers blow up the Iowa Hawkeyes perfect season. It was going be so, incredibly satisfying. I had my brew and my leftovers ready as I settled in for the 230 kickoff. As the game unfolded an old Nebraska Football bugaboo reared its ugly head. NU turned the ball over 4 agonizing times and despite out gaining the Hawks by 183 yards lost the game. This was not a single game fluke. NU was -2 or worse in turnover margin 4 times last fall. The Big Red was winless in those games. In fact NU hasnt had a positive turnover ratio since 2009. It’s very simple. Good teams get turnovers, bad teams give them away. The Huskers were -12 in turnover margin in 2015. Considering that figure, its hard to imagine how the Huskers were competitive in as many games as they were. A turnover margin of -12 ranked 117th in the country. That puts them in the same general area as juggernauts SMU (2 wins), Iowa State (3 wins) Army (2 wins) and Eastern Michigan (1 win). Obviously, this is an area that NU must improve upon and their improvement will directly lead to happier Saturdays.
As much as I admire and respect Tommy Armstrong I have to take him to task. Armstrong threw 16 interceptions last fall. That’s way too many. He would tell you that. Armstrong had 1 INT every 21.8 pass attempts. That is 2nd most in the Big 10. Interceptions against Iowa, Miami and Northwestern DIRECTLY led to Husker losses. For a player that is now a 3 year starter, numbers like that are completely unacceptable. A big part of this team improving and making the jump from decent, to good and hopefully great lies on #4’s ability to make better decisions. I don’t want Tom to turn into a checkdown Charlie. That would negate the best part of his game. Rather, Tommy must be more judicious in his risk assessment. Armstrong does a lot of really good things. He’s mobile, strong armed and extremely elusive. That says nothing about his ample leadership abilities. I cringe to think about where this team would have been without him. He is a top half of the league QB, who is capable of leading this team to a conference title. But in order for that to happen, Armstrong must learn to be more conscientious of his tendency to turn the ball over and make better decisions and throws. If he does this, the offense will light up the scoreboard and the win column this fall.
Conversely, the Nebraska defense needs to pick up the pace in the turnover department. The Huskers only got 15 turnovers last fall, ranking 104th nationally. That stat makes me nauseous. Good defenses create takeaways that give their offense a better opportunity to put points on the board. That was never the case with last year’s group. I wrote previously about the horrible pass defense last year. The Huskers intercepted 10 passes ranking 78th in the country. Just 3 more, which would be very easy based upon the number of drops, would send them into the top 50 and give this team a substantial boost. Worse, and completely unexplainable, is the number of fumbles recovered by the Nebraska defense. NU recovered just 5 fumbles ranking an outrageous 113th nationally. I would think a team that played 13 games would trip over more fumbles than that. This number has to go up, and in a big way. The Huskers need to come close to doubling that total this fall. Last year 9 fumbles recovered would have ranked 45th. NU needs to be more in that range to give themselves a chance at winning the West. Not to sound like a broken record, but this falls on Mark Banker and the scheme that he employs. Pressure creates turnovers and more specifically fumbles. With an inexperienced defensive line, Banker must be far more creative in 2016 with the way he packages the defense in an effort to create turnovers and be a difference, rather than a liability.
Given the numbers I’ve laid out before you, it should be no surprise that the Huskers ranked 13th in the Big 10 in both turnovers and turnovers created. It’s a statistical category that puts NU behind the 8 ball every time. Consider the -12 turnover margin in relation to our competition within the division. Minnesota was a paltry -4, Wisconsin a pretty good +3, and Iowa a substantial+11. Yes, that Iowa team that Nebraska largely outplayed on Black Friday was 23 turnovers better on the season. That makes an enormous difference. Its the difference in the kind of season the Hawks had and the kind of season the Huskers had. Its that simple. A better turnover margin, will result in more wins. That falls on Tommy Armstrong being more careful with the ball and the defense creating more turnovers. If those things happen, this team will roll into Indianapolis December 3rd.