Turnovers have been a consistent trend for Nebraska

LUKE MULLIN Lincoln Journal Star

When Scott Frost took over as Nebraska’s head coach after the 2017 season, there was no question he was bringing Erik Chinander with him.

Of course, Frost brought his entire UCF staff to Nebraska, but his defensive coordinator was perhaps the most deserving of all. That’s because Cheyder’s 2016 defense forced 26 turnovers and his 2017 team finished No. 2 nationally with 32 turnovers.

Cheider’s aggressive defense may not have led the NCAA in yards allowed, but the extra possessions it created for Frost’s up-tempo offense were integral to UCF’s undefeated season.

The duo aimed to bring that same style of football to Nebraska, with hopes of building a competitive defense that could continue to force turnovers at a high level.

“I’ve been to a lot of places where you practice blitzes and practice taking after the quarter on third down, but when it comes time to actually do it, you play it safe,” Scheider told the Journal Star in 2018. “I don’t think you can do this if you really want to generate turnover.”

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Four-plus years later, and it’s clear that Chinander’s vision never translated into NU’s performance on the field. A 21-turnover performance in 2019 was the best of Chinander’s tenure, but it still wasn’t enough to amass a positive turnover differential.

To be fair to Chinander, NU’s turnover problems run much deeper than one person or even a decade.

Dating back to 2002, Nebraska has finished with a positive turnover margin just three times (2003, 2009 and 2016). The Huskers have also finished even twice (2006, 2019), but that leaves 15 seasons counting where NU’s opponents came up with more turnovers than the Huskers.

Since 2002, Nebraska has lost 236 fumbles and recovered just 142. The interceptions are more even, with Nebraska throwing 251 and forcing 267 over that span. That adds up to a turnover differential of -78 over the last 20 years, including seven seasons where NU finished with a margin of -10 or worse on the season.

Early in Seider’s time as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator, the Huskers weren’t too far from where they wanted to be. The 2018 defense ranked No. 57 nationally with 20 forced turnovers, and the 2019 class moved up to No. 34 with 21 forced. The Huskers still finished with a -2 turnover margin in 2018 before finishing even in 2019, but NU regressed in the turnover department in subsequent seasons.

During the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Nebraska ranked No. 103 nationally with seven forced turnovers, and even a veteran team with plenty of NFL talent couldn’t change that in 2021. Nebraska forced 13 turnovers last season, good for 104th in the nation.

Heading into the 2022 season, Scheider knew he had to change.

“We’ve got to get a few more sacks and we’ve got to have a few more turnovers,” Scheider said in late July. “I would like a lot more and a lot more, but if we can get another sack in a game, another turnover in a game. We did a good job cutting the ball last year. We didn’t have enough punches and not enough fumbles, so we’re really focused on this as we begin the fall.”

Even so, Nebraska has only won on turnover margin in one of their four games so far this year, with a total of -2 turnover margin. The Huskers are No. 48 nationally with five forced turnovers, which was certainly a factor in interim coach Mickey Joseph’s decision to fire Chinander.

“Chinander is a good person and a good coach, but the numbers don’t add up,” Joseph said. “I didn’t see us getting any better. For four weeks, I didn’t see us getting any better from week one to week four.

The fact that NU is in the bottom five in national defense is no accident. Even teams that may not be able to stop their opponents from driving 60 or 70 yards down the field can make their lives easier by creating turnovers, something NU has struggled with for years.

As Bill Busch takes over the reigns of the Husker defense, there are many different areas that require his attention.

Asked Tuesday about the type of defense he wanted to see for the rest of the season, Joseph didn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon.

“A defense that stops the run and stops the pass and shuts people out. that’s a good defense,” Joseph said.

But the numbers don’t lie — Nebraska’s turnover woes have contributed significantly to a streak of five straight losing seasons.

Despite his success at UCF, Scheider was unable to remedy this situation. Whether or not Bush can make it through the final eight games of the season, those issues have plagued Nebraska’s coaching staffs, defensive schemes and conferences.

With a trend this deep, it will take more than a week or two to correct.

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