In college basketball, the trendy way to measure offense and defense isn’t scoring, it’s efficiency. A statistic known as “points per possession.”
Teams operate at such different tempos in college basketball, they’re hard to compare.
Wisconsin, for instance, ranked 195th in scoring offense in 2010-11. But the slow-tempo Badgers were No. 2 in points per possession.
As college football offenses experiment with tempo, points per possession is a worthy stat to consider.
For instance, Southern Mississippi had 10 offensive possessions against Nebraska in the season opener. A week later, UCLA had 17. Shouldn’t that be considered when measuring defensive performance? I think so.
The NCAA doesn’t collect “points per possession”, so I can’t measure Nebraska’s defense against its national peers. But I can look at Nebraska game-by-game defensively the past four years.
Let’s grade performances like this:
0-1.0 points per possession = A
1.01-1.5 = B
1.51-2.0 = C
2.01-3.0 = D
3.01-up = F
These are Nebraska’s defensive games since 2009:
2012: 1 A, 1 B, 1 C
Arkansas State 0.5 points per possession
Southern Mississippi 1.3
2011: 4 As, 2 Bs, 1 C, 5 Ds, 1 F
Michigan State 0.3 points per possession
Penn State 1.0
Fresno State 1.7
Ohio State 2.1
South Carolina 2.5
2010: 4 As, 7 Bs, 1 Cs, 2 Ds
South Dakota State 0.2 points per possession
Western Kentucky 0.8
Texas A&M 0.8
Kansas State 1.2
Iowa State 2.1
Oklahoma State 2.9
2009: 10 As, 1 B, 2 Cs, 1 D
Arizona 0.0 points per possession
Florida Atlantic 0.3
Kansas State 0.3
Iowa State 0.7
Arkansas State 0.9
Virginia Tech 1.3
Texas Tech 2.2
As I look at the data, I marvel at that 2009 defense. It faced high-possession games, not necessarily because of tempo, but because the Husker offense was constantly going 3-and-out.
The 2010 defense dropped off a bit, but still only allowed 1.5 points per possession three times. The 2011 Blackshirts did it seven times, including a 4.8 PPP at Wisconsin (48 points, 10 possessions). Ouch.
For the season, the points per possession averages look like this:
Through three games, the 2012 defense has given up 1.36 points per possession. Much better than expected, right? That’s because the Huskers have done a good job forcing turnovers and field goals.
Fans want the defense to force 3-and-outs. Fans want the defense to hold opponents under 300 yards a game. But coaches care more about getting stops — wherever they come on the field. If this defense can stay around 1.36, the Huskers will win a lot of games.
>> Well, now what does Bo Pelini do at linebacker? Zaire Anderson’s ACL tear is the last thing the Blackshirts needed at a vulnerable position. David Santos better be ready to play. Alonzo Whaley better be ready to tackle. Remember, linebacker is a position Pelini didn’t prioritize in recruiting during his Big 12 days. Nebraska just didn’t need many.
Anderson’s injury underscores what I wrote Saturday: This defense will not fix itself with a wave of personnel changes. Veterans are just gonna have to perform better. The Arkansas State game was a good start.
>> Matt Hayes at the Sporting News nails it in his weekly column:
“This is what the SEC has done to college football. It has taken the joy out of the season. It has grabbed the national title chase by the throat, forcing us to watch it all unfold in their own little world. Alabama at Tennessee, LSU at Florida, South Carolina at Florida, South Carolina at LSU, Georgia at South Carolina, Georgia vs. Florida, and on and on and on. …
“I miss the days of meaningful Novembers in the Big Ten, and the Red River Rivalry as a statement game. Now it’s flip the calendar, find the next big SEC game, and away we go. The top two ranked teams, three in the top five, five in the top 14, six in the top 23. It’s enough to make you say mercy.”
>> Credit to the guys at 93.7 FM in Lincoln for an interesting debate topic Monday. We know the Big Ten is down in the dumps. But is college football in the northern United States dying?
Northern schools have only won one national title since 1997. Notre Dame hasn’t been relevant since the mid-90s. Nebraska last made a BCS game in 2001. The Big East is terrible. The only northern program flourishing at the moment is Oregon, which doesn’t face the same climate challenges as Michigan and Wisconsin. Is football becoming like college baseball? It’s possible.
As offenses continue to spread the field and as skill players become more important, it naturally favors regions of the country where kids can practice 12 months a year. But I think it’s a bit of a bad cycle. Give Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke a few years to get comfortable and the landscape in the north will look different.
>> I owe a little bit of my sports passion to Steve Sabol. My brother and I grew up in the 80s watching old NFL videos. Football follies. Super Bowl highlights. Over and over and over. And Sabol was behind every one of them. He introduced me to NFL history.
Here’s Joe Posnanski on Sabol:
“… it’s likely when you think back to a favorite NFL moment, you are really thinking back to how NFL Films framed that moment. When you think of the Immaculate Reception, you probably think of that blurry film of Franco Harris jogging and the ball floating slow motion into his arms, as if by fate. When you think of the fury of Vince Lombardi, you probably think of him yelling, “Grab, grab, grab! Everybody’s grabbing out there! Nobody’s tackling!” When you think of the genius of Barry Sanders, you probably think of one of those many films where Sanders seems to disappear on one side of the tackler and reappear on the other. When you think of Joe Namath, you probably think of him running off the field, wagging his index finger, We’re No. 1.”
>> Rich Rodriguez, who loves his Popsicles, is off to a fast start in the desert.
>> Lane Kiffin is getting a bad rap for losing to Stanford. I’m not sure his program was ready to run the table anyway. Not enough defense. Not enough depth.
>> Four years ago, Bob Stoops irked his fans by telling them — nicely — to get off their duffs. This week, in preparation for Kansas State, he (sorta) did it again.
>> Vince Young is out of football and out of money.
>> Bruce Feldman’s 10 teams with the best shot at a perfect regular season. How ‘bout Ohio at No. 2?
>> You’ll enjoy this piece: former World-Herald standout Liz Merrill on Russell Wilson.
>> Finally, with Bo Pelini getting a health scare last Saturday, I dug into the World-Herald archives to revisit Tom Osborne’s heart problems. Osborne had bypass surgery in February 1985. I’ve pasted a few articles from that week.
>> From a Mike Kelly column, 2/5/85:
Tom Osborne probably will live to be 100. Let’s hope so.
The University of Nebraska football coach, one of the healthiest-looking, cleanest-living 47-year-old guys around, underwent heart bypass surgery this morning in Lincoln. It’s very serious stuff, and Osborne won’t feel so great for a few days, but he doesn’t want everybody to make a big deal of it.
No hearts and flowers for Dr. Tom. He asked that everyone save the letters and telegrams and bouquets and just think of his ailment as a head cold. Not that bypass surgery is anything to sneeze at.
But Osborne is physically and emotionally strong. If anyone could come through this surgery well and most people do he’s the one.
The legions of Nebraska Cornhusker fans, and all of us at The World-Herald, wish him a speedy comeback.
Nothing against Bob Kerrey, the popular governor, but Tom Osborne is still the biggest man in this state. He’s the most quoted, most respected, most criticized, most praised most unlucky Cornhusker of them all.
I’m not sure when Osborne “became” all of that. But he’s it.
You can get on Osborne for not calling enough passing plays or for not winning enough of the “big ones,” but you can’t say that a bad guy coaches the state university’s football team.
He has led his team to national championship contention for four seasons in a row, and no one else has done that. Something always gets in the way of winning it all. Something little, usually. A few inches here, a few inches there.
Osborne’s players, most of them, reflect his personality emotions under control, intense, tough, well – prepared. The essence of his coaching style, he says, is preparation. But how do you prepare yourself for something like heart surgery?
Nancy, his wife, had warned him to slow down just a tad, he said.
The dawn-to-midnight work days begin to wear on you. The constant pressure gets to you. The recruiting. Even the physically strong can get knocked down.
The news that Osborne would undergo bypass surgery because of partial blockage of an artery floored just about everyone. Maybe it shouldn’t have.
No, he doesn’t smoke, drink or dance until dawn. He jogs five miles a day (but not this week) and he doesn’t overeat. But “clean living” alone doesn’t insulate you from heart problems, especially when you’re like Tom Osborne a self-described “Type A” driven, intense personality.
Osborne said in a bedside interview Monday that stress and heredity are his problems. He said he inherited a heartvalve problem that’s not uncommon and is “nothing of great concern.”
His late father, Charles C. Osborne of Hastings, businessman and a president of the Nebraska Historical Society, died a year ago at age 77. He suffered a heart attack while driving in downtown Hastings.
He lived a long life, as his son probably will. But Tom Osborne knows, perhaps now more than ever, that he has to watch it.
In his job, it’s very, very tough. Fans want him to win, his players want to win, he wants to win. He goes at it hard. He tries, as he says, to “do things right,” and doesn’t cheat on NCAA rules.
It’s not as though you can work under such pressure and not have stress. We all have stress. You have to figure out how to deal with it so it doesn’t seriously damage your health.
In Osborne’s case, the symptom of his problem showed up while he was jogging a discomfort in his chest. It was worst, he said, before the Sugar Bowl in December, when he was under great pressure.
Osborne calls it “the Booker Brown thing,” referring to the former Southern Cal and pro player who accused him 12 years later of recruiting violations. Osborne grew tense at his press conference denying the charges, saying he was “emotionally uptight, upset and mad.”
For a long time in Nebraska, no one surpassed athletic director and former coach Bob Devaney in popularity and no one can ever take Devaney’s place in the state’s history. He brought people together.
Osborne became head coach 12 years ago and, naturally, didn’t immediately assume Devaney’s place in public affection.
But now, despite having detractors, despite not winning a national football championship as Devaney did, the 6-foot-3 Osborne stands very tall in the eyes of most. Nebraskans have lived his successes and agonies, the narrow misses, the great emotion of it all.
They like what they’ve seen.
Tom doesn’t want cards and flowers, which is fine. He said he appreciates everyone’s concern. The day before surgery, he acted as if his biggest concern was recruiting signing date is just over a week away, and he doesn’t want kids backing out.
He has put a lot of effort into recruiting good players, just as he puts effort into everything else he does. He goes at things hard.
You’ve got to admit. The guy has plenty of heart.
>> Here’s a news story from 2/12/85:
Tom Osborne said he expects to be ready to coach Nebraska’s spring football practice April 1, but plans to reduce his work schedule.
Osborne, who checked out of Bryan Memorial Hospital on Monday six days after double bypass heart surgery, said his illness convinced him that he needs to cut back his work schedule that has involved 15-hour days, seven days a week for seven straight months.
“I tend to overschedule myself, and that causes you to pay a price,” Osborne said. “That probably is going to have to be altered some. I think we can do it and still have a good football team. And it doesn’t mean I’m going to take two days a week off.”
Osborne held a 30-minute press conference Monday in the South Stadium complex that houses the football offices.
Osborne, smiling and joking, said he expects the surgery to eventually make him feel better than he has for years.
He said it would be two or three weeks before he would work full time, and a month or two before he’s totally regained his strength.
“I don’t think I could go out and run five miles today,” Osborne said. “But I’m not really what you would call damaged goods either. I expect within a month or two months to probably be more fit than I have been in four or five years.”
Osborne, who lost six pounds off his 6-foot-3, 204-pound frame during the hospital stay, said he is convinced he will be ready to coach spring practice, which begins April 1.
“Spring ball will be no problem,” Osborne said. “And this in no way alters any plans I have about coaching. I’ll coach as long as I feel like it, and as long as people want me to coach.”
Osborne said his hospital stay gave him time to think and to realize that he had to cut down on his schedule and workload.
“I don’t believe in 23 years that I have missed a single day of work because of illness,” Osborne said. “I think I’ve tended to regard myself as a little bit of an indestructible person, which is not right. And that’s probably why I am where I am today.”
Osborne said he knows it won’t be easy to break his workaholic lifestyle.
“I have a compulsive personality,” Osborne said. “I’m one of those guys, if there’s something I think needs to be done, I usually stay up and do it that day rather than put it off to the next day.”
In addition to reducing his workload, Osborne said, he must also watch his diet. Osborne said his doctors have placed him on the Pritikin Diet, which is low in fat, cholesterol, protein and highly refined carbohydrates such as sugar.
“It ain’t no fun,” Osborne said, smiling. “I’ve watched my diet a little bit. But these things start back when you’re 18, 19 or 20 years old.
“You may have 20, 30 or 40 percent blockage and you’ll never know it until you get 80, 90 or 95 percent blockage. This thing has probably been going on over a long period of time.”
The doctors who operated on Osborne said they found 90 to 95 percent blockage in the left anterior descending artery of Osborne’s heart. Both bypasses were performed in the single artery.
Osborne was given three options medication, angioplasty or bypass. “I think we did the right thing,” Osborne said. “And we did it quickly and did it well.
“I’m sure as soon as I get my strength back, I will be able to do things physically that I couldn’t do a year or two ago.”
A joking Osborne said he knew something was wrong when his wife Nancy and Husker assistant coach George Darlington were able to keep up with him jogging.
“When it got to where I thought my wife was speeding up dramatically, and George was running twice as fast as he ever had before,” Osborne said, “I began to take stock of things and realized that maybe it wasn’t George and Nancy, but maybe it was me.”
Osborne also drew laughter when he said that Nancy would have to be his chauffeur for a few days. Osborne said the doctors recommended that he not drive until his chest has time to heal.
“They don’t feel it’s a real good idea to bang that real hard against the steering post for a while,” Osborne said. “The doctors apparently don’t think I’m a very good driver. But they’ve never seen Nancy drive.”
Osborne, who has a pilot’s license, doesn’t think the operation will hinder his flying. Osborne said he doesn’t think stress necessarily caused his physical problems.
“I’ve never felt that stress has been a problem with me in coaching,” Osborne said. “I can sleep the night before a game. I enjoy most of the things I do in coaching. And when you enjoy it, it’s not high stress.”