The turnover is bucking an ongoing trend for Nebraska

LUKE MULLIN Lincoln Journal Star

When Scott Frost becomes Nebraska’s head coach after the 2017 season, he will undoubtedly bring Eric Chinander with him.

Sure, Frost brought his entire UCF staff to Nebraska, but his defensive coordinator was perhaps the most deserving. That’s because Chinander’s 2016 defense forced 26 turnovers and his 2017 unit ranked No. 2 in the nation with a whopping 32 turnovers.

Chinander’s aggressive defense might not lead the NCAA in yards allowed, but the extra possessions it created for Frost’s rushing offense were integral to UCF’s undefeated season.

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

“I’ve been in a lot of places where you practice blitzing and you practice chasing the quarterback on third down, but then when it comes time to do it, you play it safe,” Chinander told the Journal Star in 2018. “I don’t. I don’t think you can do that if you really want to create a turnover.”

People also read…

Four-odd years later, it’s clear that Chinander’s vision has never translated into NU’s effectiveness on the field. The 21 turnovers in 2019 were Chinander’s career-best, but it still wasn’t enough to get a positive turnover differential.

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

Since 2002, Nebraska has only finished with a positive turnover margin three times (2003, 2009 and 2016). The Huskers have also finished twice (2006, 2019), but that leaves 15 seasons and counting where NU’s opponents have come out with more losses than the Huskers.

Since 2002, Nebraska has lost 236 fumbles and recovered just 142; interceptions are more even, with Nebraska throwing 251 and forcing 267 during that time frame. That puts the turnover differential at -78 over the last 20 years, including seven seasons where NU finished with a margin of -10 or worse for the season.

Early in Chinander’s tenure as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator, the Huskers were nowhere near where they wanted to be. The 2018 defense ranked No. 57 nationally with 20 forced fumbles, and the 2019 group jumped to No. 34 with 21 forced fumbles. The Huskers still finished with a -2 turnover margin in 2018 before finishing even in 2019, but NU has declined in the turnover department in subsequent seasons.

During the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Nebraska ranked 103rd nationally with seven forced fumbles, and even a veteran group with some NFL talent couldn’t turn that around in 2021. Nebraska forced 13 turnovers last season, good for 104th in the nation.

Before the start of the 2022 season, Chinander knew that had to change.

“We’ve got to get some more sacks and get some more turnovers,” Chinander said in late July. “I would have liked a lot more and a lot more, but if we can get one more sack per game, one more loss per game. We intercepted the ball well last year. We didn’t get enough punts and not enough fumbles, so we’re really going to focus on that going into fall camp.”

Despite this, Nebraska has won just one of its four games this year with an overall season turnover differential of -2. The Huskers currently rank 48th nationally with five forced turnovers, which was no doubt a factor in interim head 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 better. For four weeks, I didn’t see us improve from week one to week four.

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

With Bill Bush leading the Huskers defense, there are many different areas that need his attention.

When asked Tuesday about what kind of defense he wants to see for the rest of the season, Joseph didn’t immediately jump to the losses.

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

But the numbers don’t lie—Nebraska’s turnover issues have been a major contributor to its five-game losing streak.

For all his success at UCF, Chinander couldn’t fix that situation. Whether or not Bush can pull it off in the final eight games of the season, those issues have haunted Nebraska’s coaching staffs, defensive schemes and conferences.

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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.