While statistics aren’t always the be-all and end-all when trying to foretell the outcome in sports, we can often gather tidbits of knowledge from these seemingly trivial tea leaves. Considering what Nebraska and No. 5 Iowa have to lose in next Friday's tilt, let’s look at some major categories and see how these two teams match up, statistically speaking in this case.
We’re going to have a look at these numbers from two vantage points: the entire season and over the month of November considering Turkey Month has been where the Huskers’ momentum has shifted the most.
First, Iowa’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 55 by Jeff Sagarin while Nebraska checks in at No. 51. This makes sense considering both are Big Ten West members and Iowa didn’t have any “name” out-of-conference opponents except for 7-3 Pittsburgh while Nebraska faced BYU (7-3) and the Miami Hurricanes (6-4).
Third down conversions are vital. Not only do they extend drives, but they make the opposing defense have to run around some more, which usually leads to points on the board.
Iowa does very well in this area, converting 47 percent of the time while Nebraska does so at a 44 percent clip. That’s an impressive average for the Cornhuskers considering the trouble they had converting on third-and-short scenarios earlier in the year.
This month, Iowa put up a 50 percent success rate in a 35-27 win over Indiana and converted 67 percent of its third down attempts in a recent 40-35 victory over Minnesota.
Nebraska hit 50 percent in its upset over then-No. 7 Michigan State. However, it only managed 45 percent versus Rutgers, which heavily contributed to the Big Red’s offensive struggles in the middle of the contest.
One of the biggest impacts on a game is turnovers and Iowa’s done very well with a plus-11 (+11) margin. Nebraska, on the other hand, currently sits at minus-10 (-10). The Hawkeyes ended ahead by one against both the Hoosiers and Gophers while the Huskers trailed by one against the Spartans and Scarlet Knights.
If a turnover or two is a problem, penalties (or more specifically lack thereof) may save a team’s collective butts. Nebraska had a tough going during its non-conference schedule, which is especially understandable with a new head coach. The Huskers’ average sits at seven flags per game for 63 yards as a result.
The team east of the Missouri has played tight games but efficient football as the Hawkeyes are averaging five penalties for 51 yards on average.
Nebraska was flagged five times for 55 yards against Michigan State, but only twice for 15 yards versus Rutgers. Iowa has played effectively this month, but has been a little more careless with five flags for 55 yards against Indiana and four for 50 against Minnesota.
Finally, let’s have a look at what happens once these teams enter the red zone. Iowa is tied for No. 41 in FBS, managing to score in some fashion 87 percent on average. The Hawkeyes were a perfect 9-for-9 in their past two scraps.
Danny Langsdorf’s Cornhusker offense ranks No. 16 with a conversion rate of 91 percent. Nebraska converted three of four attempts versus Michigan State and both against Rutgers.
What have we learned? If the numbers tell us anything, it’s that these are two very evenly-matched teams on paper. Nebraska’s going to have to play with the same focus it did versus the Spartans to claim victory. Fortunately, they’ll have the same tens of thousands of Husker fans backing them up.