The Nebraska football team will conclude its spring practices with the spring game on April 13. As the spring season draws to a close, it is time to take a look back on how each of the previous three coaches fared in their second seasons compared to their inaugural year in Lincoln.
In 2005, Callahan’s second season in Lincoln, the Huskers went 8-4 and beat Michigan 32-28 in the Alamo Bowl. The Huskers finished the season ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll. The season marked a step forward from a disappointing 5-6 campaign in 2004.
Offensively, the Huskers averaged 24.7 points per game in 2005, slightly worse than the 2004 Huskers’ 25.0 points per game.
The Nebraska offense also averaged fewer total yards in Callahan’s second season on the sideline. The Huskers averaged 320.2 yards per game in 2005, down from 363.2 the previous year.
They also averaged fewer yards per play, gaining 4.4 yards per play in 2005 compared to 5.4 in 2004.
Nebraska’s 224.3 passing yards per game increased from 186.9 in 2004. The Huskers also completed 53.8% of its passes in 2005, an improvement from a 48.4 completion percentage the previous year. However, the Nebraska offense was worse running the ball.
In 2005, Nebraska averaged 96 rushing yards a game on an abysmal 2.7 yards per carry. The 2004 Huskers recorded 176.3 rushing yards a game and averaged two more yards per carry.
While the offense was worse in every aspect except passing in Callahan’s second season, the defense was better in every facet but the run game.
The 2005 Blackshirts’ 21 points allowed per game marked an improvement from 27.1 the previous year, while their total yards allowed dropped from 371.6 in 2004 to 332.2 the next season. Opponents’ yards per play declined from 4.9 in 2004 to 4.6 the next year.
Nebraska’s pass defense in 2005 was better, too. The 2005 Huskers allowed 207.9 passing yards a game, nearly 40 fewer yards than the 267.6 allowed through the air in 2004. Opponents also only completed 51.1% of their passes in 2005 compared to 56.7% in the previous season.
While the pass defense was much better, the run defense was slightly worse. Opponents averaged 124.3 rushing yards on 3.2 yards a carry in Callahan’s second year in Lincoln compared to 104 rushing yards on 2.9 yards per carry in his first season.
The Huskers improved on a 9-4 season the previous year by winning 10 games and claiming the Big 12 North title. Nebraska lost to Texas 13-12 in the Big 12 title game but stomped Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl to end the year. Nebraska ranked 14th in the final AP Poll in 2009.
With quarterback Joe Ganz gone, the Nebraska offense struggled in Pelini’s second season, as the Huskers were worse across the board than the 2008 offense. Perhaps most importantly, the 2009 Huskers scored 10 fewer points per game compared to 2008.
Nebraska’s yardage numbers dropped from 2008 to 2009, too — its total yards per game decreased from 450.8 to 322.8, its passing yards per game fell from 281 to 175.7 and its rushing yards per game dropped from 169.8 to 147.1.
Additionally, the Huskers’ completion percentage dropped from 68.1% in 2008 to 57.7% a year later, while their yards per carry decreased from 4.5 to 4 and their yards per play fell from 6.4 to 5.2.
Despite the offense’s struggles in 2009 compared to the previous year, the defense improved across the board.
The biggest improvement came in scoring defense, as the Blackshirts led the country with 10.4 points allowed per game in 2009; in 2008, they allowed 28.5 points per game.
Nebraska allowed 272 yards a game in 2009, an improvement over the 349.8 yards per game given up the previous season. Opponents averaged 178.9 passing yards and 93.1 rushing yards a game in 2009, compared to 233.4 and 116.5 during Pelini’s first season.
Additionally, the 2009 Blackshirts allowed four yards a play and 2.8 yards a carry while holding opponents to a 47.8 completion percentage. These numbers marked an improvement over the 5.7 yards per play, 3.6 yards per carry and 57.7% completion percentage Nebraska allowed a year earlier.
2016 marked a significant improvement forRiley over his first year, as the Huskers went 9-4 compared to 6-7 in 2015.
Offensively, the Huskers were worse in year two under Riley. Riley’s Huskers averaged 26.5 points a game compared to 32.8 in his first season and gained 380.9 yards a game after averaging 446.9 the previous year.
Nebraska averaged 211.7 passing yards a game in 2016, down from 266.9 in 2015. The rushing game declined too, as the Huskers recorded 169.2 yards a game on 4.2 yards per carry compared to 180 yards a game on 4.7 yards per carry in Riley’s first season.
Additionally, the offense’s completion percentage dropped from 55.9 to 50.3, while its yards-per-play average fell from 6.1 to 5.4.
Defensively, the Huskers were much better in Riley’s second year. The Blackshirts allowed just 23.9 points a game in 2016 after allowing 27.8 points a game in Riley’s first season, while they gave up 363.8 yards a game a year after surrendering 400.4 yards a game.
The defense gave up 215.8 yards a game through the air in 2016, an improvement over the 290.5 passing yards allowed per game in 2015.
On the ground, the Huskers held opponents to 148 yards per game after allowing 109.8 yards per game in Riley’s first season. They also allowed more yards with each carry, as the defense gave up 4.5 yards a carry compared to 3.8 in 2015.
The Blackshirts allowed a slightly higher completion percentage in 2016, too, as opponents completed 60.2% of passes after completing 57.8% in 2015.
Opponents averaged 5.5 yards per play against the 2016 Nebraska defense, an improvement from the 5.9 yards per play the defense allowed in 2015.
This year, the Huskers hope to improve on a 4-8 record in Frost’s debut season. The offense showed improvement during conference play in 2018 with the exception of a 56-10 loss at Michigan and defensive slugfest against Michigan State in the snow on Senior Day.
Theoretically, the Huskers should be better on offense with another year to learn the system. However, all of the past three coaches have struggled to maintain the same level of offensive efficiency they had in their first season.
The Huskers scored 30 points per game last season, the 58th-best mark in the country. They were No. 25 in total yards per game at 456.2, averaging 247.2 passing yards a game and 209 rushing yards a game.
Offensively, the Huskers also averaged 6.3 yards a play and 5.4 yards a carry while completing 63.6% of their passes.
Though it wouldn’t hurt if the Huskers improved on those offensive numbers this season, the key to an improvement in record lies on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Callahan, Pelini and Riley each had improved defenses in their second seasons and it showed in the win column.
The Blackshirts certainly have room to make a jump this season, as they weren’t great last year. In each of the statistical categories used in this article — opponent total, passing and rushing yards per game, as well as opponent yards per play, yards per carry and completion percentage — the Huskers ranked outside the top 70 and they ranked outside the top 90 in three categories, including total yards allowed.
Defensively, Nebraska allowed 31.2 points a game, 433.6 yards a game and 5.8 yards a play in Frost’s first season. They also surrendered 237.8 yards a game through the air and 195.8 yards a game on the ground.
The Huskers held opponents to a 56.1 completion percentage last fall but gave up five yards a carry, the 107th-best mark in the country.
Nebraska has finished 4-8 in consecutive seasons. In order to experience a breakthrough season in Frost’s second year, recent history suggests it will require improvement on defense.