Can the Huskers Actually Improve During the Season
Based on general observation without any numbers to back this claim up, it seems that the Bo Pelini led Huskers usually start to figure out what it is they are supposed to do well into the season. With this complex defensive scheme, the learning takes time, reps, off field work, or a light bulb just has to click for a dozen players wearing the Blackshirts. It has been obvious some years that the offense has had the same sort of growing pains come into play. The complex systems gets pared down to be usable by the players running it on the field.
So the question is, are their any numbers to back this claim up or is it just something that has been heard and printed in the media so many times that it has become some sort of Pelini stigma? Looking at 2008 through 2011 points for, points against, yards for, and yards against paints a picture that tells otherwise. The rolling average of each of these statistics through the season do not tell a compelling story.
In 2008, it was Pelini's first year. Joe Ganz and company were putting on a new spread offense clinic. Yards and points were up, but opponents were getting more against the Huskers. Yes, there appeared to be some improvement at the tail end of the season, but blowout losses against Missouri and Oklahoma helped skew these results.
2009 looks a bit different than the previous season. The defense was clearly the key to any Husker success in 2009 as the points against stayed low and the yards against dropped from even the non-conference into the regular conference. The offense seemed to regress as they did not put up the same type of points and yardage as the non-conference games showed.
2010's charts look a lot like 2009's, but with a slightly better offense and a slight step back in the defensive numbers. Again, no significant defensive improvement this year either.
And the first year in the Big Ten does not paint a pretty picture for improvement during the season. Once out of the non conference, it was pretty much the same thing week after week.
These numbers tell me that a coach and players can say in the middle of the season that they are starting to "get it" when it comes to the system, but numbers really tell otherwise in terms of the results. A good second half of the season probably has more to do with the level of competition rather than any improvement of the weekly process.
Weak non conference opponents hide the flaws of a team on either side of the ball and numbers are again skewed towards better results. The remedy is to play tougher opponents in that part of the schedule so coaches and fans can truly know the makeup of a team before the conference season begins.