Putting an End to Nebraska’s Slow Starts

| by Alex Groberman

The Nebraska Cornhuskers have taken a more hits than a 5-1 team would or should typically take. Part of it is the direct result of the football program’s longstanding tradition of excellence, part of it because of inflated expectations going into the year, and part of it is purely reactionary.

Whatever anyone’s reason for more heavily scrutinizing the Huskers may be, though, it’s given way to some very interesting analysis and some much-needed research on the good and bad as it relates to Nebraska football.

Recently, Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln-Journal Star indicated a very interesting pattern in the way the Huskers have been playing over the course of four quarters in their games. He accurately pointed out that, for whatever reason, Nebraska is quite clearly playing better in the second half of many of their games than the first.

Here is what he noticed about how the squad performed over the last two months:

Against Ohio State, 306 of the 423 total yards came in the second half.

Against Washington, 319 of the 464 yards came in the second half.

Against Wyoming, 285 of the 490 yards came in the second half.

If you throw out that outing versus Wisconsin -- as you should, it’s an outlier in every regard -- and throw out the Chattanooga game for obvious reasons, Nebraska’s offense has consistently played better in the second half. That, of course, has inevitably manifested itself in the Huskers needing to come back from behind after awful first halves and come up with, at times, historic comebacks to ultimately escape with victory.

Nebraska’s tendency to play with fire has long-since been pointed out as one of the major problems with this group. Even this week, when the Huskers take on the hapless Gophers, the notion that they may fall behind early only to have to rally and come back strong is anything but far-fetched.

Christopherson asked offensive line coach Barney Cotton about this mysterious second half improvement phenomenon.

"I don't know if there's a secret to it, but you bring it up and you talk about it," said offensive line coach Barney Cotton. "Hopefully you go out and have some of the right stuff called. We've had to make some adjustments at halftime, which I'm glad have gone well. But we need to go out and hopefully identify things earlier in the game and make those adjustments sooner and hopefully start a little bit quicker."

Although Minnesota doesn’t pose much of a challenge this weekend, Nebraska still has some tough games left on the schedule. Michigan State and Michigan are both excellent squads, and the latter bunch in particular has shown a certain propensity for exploding offensively. If the Huskers fall behind early in those games and hope for a miraculous comeback in the second half – they could be in for some serious trouble.

With a week to rest and work out the kinks, hopefully the Nebraska coaches have delved as deeply into some of these more troubling trends as outside parties have. The Huskers blowout loss to the Badgers was embarrassing, but it doesn’t have to define the season. So long  as the squad bounces back and performs well for the duration, Nebraska can still finish in very good position to challenge for supremacy in the new-look Big Ten.

The Huskers and Gophers square off this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.