Nebraska Football: What Huskers Must Do to Fix Third-Down Problems in 2014

Erin Sorensen@erinsorensenContributor IJanuary 14, 2014

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 29: Wide receiver Taariq Allen #7 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers runs past the Iowa Hawkeyes during their game at Memorial stadium on November 29, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

It's one of the stats that matters most.

Third-down efficiency can make or break a team. After all, the best offenses are able to convert on third down.

Coaches know how important it is, too. Tom Dienhart took a look at this topic for in 2011. After talking to numerous coaches, Dienhart concluded that it was one of the most important statistics in college football.

That's no surprise either. According to Dienhart, three of the top four teams in third-down conversions went to BCS bowl games in 2010. Additionally, all but two teams in the top 25 in third-down conversions made it to a bowl game that year.

With the numbers to prove it, there are few that would argue against the statistic's importance.

When it comes to Nebraska though, the Huskers have struggled on third-down conversions over the years.

In fact, Nebraska landed at No. 9 (out of 12) for third-down conversions in the Big Ten in 2013, converting only 39.2 percent of the time.

That percentage has held fairly steady for Nebraska, too. In 2012, the Huskers converted 38.97 percent of the time, per In 2011, that number was 40.91 percent.

To compete at a higher level going forward, third-down conversions must be a point of focus for Nebraska.

In order to do so, the Huskers have some things that need to be fixed. Turnovers should be at the top of the list.

In fact, Nebraska was last in the Big Ten in turnover margin in 2013. The Huskers fumbled and lost the football a total of 16 times this past season.

Five of those turnovers came against Michigan State alone.

As Mitch Sherman of ESPN noted, Nebraska is 104th nationally in turnover margin at minus-28 since 2008. From there, Sherman points out that of the top 26 teams in winning percentage, only the Huskers have a negative turnover margin. More specifically, the 10-most-winning-teams are plus-53 in turnover margin.

That's quite the difference for Nebraska. It's also what's keeping the Huskers from making the needed jump fans are seeking.

Looking at the Michigan State game specifically, the Spartans capitalized on five of Nebraska's turnovers. Of those five turnovers, the Nebraska offense handed the ball to Michigan State at the 40-, 46-, 8-, 22- and 3-yard lines. As a result, the Blackshirts had to do their best to stop the Spartans from scoring. While the group only allowed a field goal on the first turnover, and forced a punt on the second, the final three resulted in touchdowns for Michigan State.

That's what kills a football team.

Nebraska also tends to make those kinds of mistakes on third downs.

How can that be fixed? It takes a lot of practice.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck has commented several times over the last season that he coaches these problems time and time again to his players. However, the mistakes keep happening.

That's where opponents take advantage of Nebraska. Knowing the Huskers will make mistakes means future opponents will look to force them into uncomfortable spots.

That's ultimately what wreaks havoc on the Huskers.

In the offseason, the Nebraska offense will have to work on their confidence level on the field. Additionally, Beck will need to continue creating offensive schemes that work for the Huskers.

Beck's play-calling on third down can occasionally be confusing. Message boards are often filled during games questioning the offensive coordinator's decisions.

The third-down issues are something Beck must address with himself, as well as the team. If he's not giving them the best possible tools to win, it's going to be difficult to convert on the field.

From there, the offense needs to use the offseason to practice, practice and practice. With that, confidence will come. I-back Ameer Abdullah is a player that knows how to power through on third downs—the rest of the offense needs to follow suit.

Third-down conversions have been an issue for Nebraska for quite a few years now. If the Huskers want to make the leap to the next level, it's an area that needs to be addressed.

After all, Florida State converted 52.2 percent of its third downs in 2013. As for turnovers, the Seminoles only lost a fumble five times. Compare that to Nebraska's 16 and there's a big gap.

Coaches know the importance of third-down conversions. Fans know, too.

Nebraska now needs to figure out how to fix it.