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Northwestern – It’s Time to Break Some Stuff

Early season is when you run your core plays, working on their timing and the personnel running them so that you know what’s going to work when you get to conference play.  We saw much of that over the first three weeks, as offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf worked both 11 and 12 personnel, leaned heavily on inside zone and QB runs, and generally pared down the passing game to manageable concepts for Tommy Armstrong.  We also saw some new stuff emerge, as Langsdorf continued to expand on his Split Back Guns look, including the flare screen and the QB Draw off of it.

Eventually, though, those core plays start to form offensive tendencies that defenses pick up on as the year goes on.  A certain formation paired with particular motion means outside zone.  A back lined up opposite a tight end off the line of scrimmage means QB Counter OH is coming.  Sending your RB in Rip/Liz motion tips off the flare screen and triggers safeties to fly down.

When that happens, it’s time to break those tendencies and dial up conflict plays to keep defenses honest.  And that’s what happened in the Northwestern game, as OCDL continually broke tendency to give Northwestern new plays we haven’t seen this year.  We’ll take a look at two of them, and we’ll also discuss a “new” formation that Nebraska rolled out to set up the mismatch that is Cethan Carter.

Continue reading “Northwestern – It’s Time to Break Some Stuff”

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Charting Northwestern – Spread Them Out to Run Through Them

Despite some fumbling issues early in the game, Nebraska comfortably won against Northwestern, cruising to 556 total yards and 24 points on offense while the Blackshirts held the Wildcats to 13 points.  Fumbles inside the one-yard line by Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo prevented the scoreboard from truly showing how bad Nebraska’s offense beat down an overmatched Wildcats defense thin on talent and made even thinner by a rash of injuries in the secondary.

In gaining 310 yards on the ground, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf reminded Nebraska fans that the Huskers’ rushing attack in 2016 isn’t your granddaddy’s running game.  When Nebraska fans think of running the ball, they’re probably thinking of the fullback in 21 personnel and a heavy dose of the I Formation and Option.  Yet in dipping into more modern run game concepts, Langsdorf embraced the principle of formationally spreading a defense out to remove box defenders, eschewing the fullback for all but 6 plays and instead favoring single back formations with a heavy dose of QB run game.  Doubling down on that concept of spread to run, Langsdorf and running backs coach Reggie Davis continued to increase the reps for Mikale Wilbon, a player designed to operate in space created by Spread formations.

With that, we’re again seeing the evolution of the Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf offense.  Let’s take a look at what worked against the Wildcats.

Continue reading “Charting Northwestern – Spread Them Out to Run Through Them”

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Leveraging Personnel – Cethan Carter

If it wasn’t clear before 2015 that Cethan Carter was a pretty good football player, it became undeniable around the Illinois game, in which Carter, despite a loss, manhandled the Illini linebackers in the run game while also adding 63 yards on 3 catches through the air.  Because tight ends rarely carry the ball or catch screens as wide receivers can, getting an elite tight end the ball takes more creativity from the offensive coordinator and it also takes more commitment from the QB to get him the ball.

And over the past 6 games or so, we’ve seen a lot of that from coordinator Danny Langsdorf work hard to get #11 the ball, and we’ve also seen better commitment from Huskers QB Tommy Armstrong follow through on it.  It’s become even more true in 2016, as the Nebraska offense now runs primarily through Armstrong’s legs and passing concepts designed to get Cethan Carter the ball.  That’s not to say that Langsdorf has forgotten the other skill position players.  After all, Alonzo Moore, Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly have 22 combined catches for 6 TDs, and of course Devine Ozigbo, Terrell Newby, Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon are eating too.

But by and large, Nebraska has set its 2016 offense up to own the middle of the field by pairing Armstrong and Carter in a combo that puts conflicting pressure on opposing LBs.  Once that’s established, then they look to get the Savage Professionals involved on the perimeter.  Let’s take a look at some of the concepts Langsdorf is dialing up to get Cethan Carter the ball and own the hashes.  And as per usual, most of the hyperlinks have cut ups of Carter in action. Continue reading “Leveraging Personnel – Cethan Carter”

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Wrapping Up the First Month With Some FAQs

Given some weekly downtime, I thought I’d address some of the more frequent questions I’ve received from readers.  Before I do, though, I want to say thank you for a tremendous response over the first month we’ve been live.  I knew Husker fans were passionate, but I didn’t expect the response to be this much, this quick.  It’s nice to know that this stuff is helpful across a wide variety of readers, some with sophisticated football minds and other novice souls who never played more than a handful of downs in youth league.

I’ve tried to put the pitch of this blog somewhere slightly above Football 101, but not so complex that you have to be a football coach to understand it.  Hopefully I’ve come somewhat close to that mark through the first quarter of the season.  With that, let me answer a few of your questions, and of course, if you have more, fire them away in the comments section. Continue reading “Wrapping Up the First Month With Some FAQs”

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Oregon – Behold, Tommy Armstrong’s Evolution

Tommy Armstrong, much maligned, some of it well deserved, is currently sitting at 29th in the country in passer efficiency rating and 36th in total yards per game.  Perhaps more importantly, he’s only thrown 1 interception through his first three games to 7 TDs.  Part of that is weak competition, but I’d argue a larger part of that is Armstrong’s maturation as a quarterback along with offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf’s growing comfort with how to use him.  #4 is never going to be coldly efficient in the passing game, but he’s made much better decisions with the football this year both passing and running it.  And for his part, Langsdorf has been able to introduce Tommy’s legs not only in the running game, but also by building passing concepts that take advantage of them as well.

This week we’re going to go a little off the reservation to look at this in action.  Instead of breaking down three new plays, we’ll take a look at a single offensive concept and how it unfolds during a game.  When OCs talk about being “multiple” or “flexible,” they’re not just talking in a macro sense about being able to both run and throw the ball.  Rather in a micro sense they’re also talking about being able to run core offensive concepts across a wide variety of formations and with small tweaks on each play.  Another indicator of multiplicity, largely because of the new RPO revolution, is packaging run game concepts with passing game concepts on the same play, and again both of which you can show out of multiple formations.  When OCs can get to that level in their play calling, that’s when you start to see offenses really take off.  Tom Osborne was one of the best at this multiplicity, calling over 75% of his plays as runs but showing those core running concepts out of a ton of formations and with small deviations in the blocking schemes as well.  The end result is hesitant defenses, never sure what they’re going to see after the snap because film study doesn’t reveal too many tendencies. 

As we’ll see in this write up, Danny Langsdorf is starting to pick on defenses in the same way.  Calm down there, Run the Damn Ball Guy,  I’m not saying OCDL is Tom Osborne.  I will say though that he’s starting to climb up the chart of legit OCs in college football.  This week, let’s take a look at Langsdorf’s flare/swing screen concept and how he uses it to dupe opposing coordinators and their players.

Continue reading “Oregon – Behold, Tommy Armstrong’s Evolution”

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Charting Oregon – What You Can Do, Now We Can Do Too

Wow.  When I said buckle up, I meant it in theory, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like in person.  Then game time hit and Huskers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf put out one of the most interesting F U games I’ve ever seen, going Gun with 11 personnel for the overwhelming part of the day and slamming an offense that looked strangely like an Oregon Ducks offense right down Brady Hoke’s throat.  Amusingly, Brock Huard referred to it as a “pro style” offense at the same time Langsdorf kept dialing up QB run after QB run packaged with RPOs to constrain the apex defenders.  What we saw Saturday was anything but pro style, instead picking and choosing from the best concepts around right now in college football to leverage Armstrong’s legs and other talented skill position players that Langsdorf simply never had en masse at Oregon State.

And it was capped off by a brilliant marriage between Armstrong and Cethan Carter, both of whom completely flummoxed the Ducks’ defense for much of the day.  Though Armstrong wasn’t great through the air in the first half, he turned it around in the second half and delivered a classic gut check performance when his team needed it.  We talked last week about how Armstrong was quietly delivering one hell of a season coming into the Oregon game.  If there were any doubts about whether those numbers were bloated simply by weak competition, #4 erased them against a true Power 5 team, hanging up 295 total yards and 4 TDs.  Fittingly, the knockout blow came on a Lead Draw/Y Stick RPO, with Armstrong pulling it down and housing it from 34 yards out.  It’s a play that Langsdorf dialed up 3 times in the last 6 minutes alone, forcing Oregon to deal with the twin terrors that Armstrong and Carter have become.

Let’s take a look at how Langsdorf and company pulled chapters out of the Oregon playbook to beat the Ducks over the head with them.

Continue reading “Charting Oregon – What You Can Do, Now We Can Do Too”

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Scouting Oregon – Defense and Special Teams

Oregon’s offense is really, really good.  Their defense is almost a perfect inverse of that, as they’ve been largely poor over the first two games against putatively overmanned opponents.  When you’re 82nd in total defense and you’ve played UC Davis and Virginia, things aren’t going too well for you.  That’s not altogether surprising, as the Ducks finished last year 117th in the country in total defense, though they were slightly better in the pace-adjusted YPP allowed (98th).

The new man in charge of the unit is a familiar face to Husker fans:

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I suspect by the end of this year Oregon fans may wish he had stayed where he was.  As for what the Ducks defense will bring into Lincoln for Nebraska, the short answer is not much.  But because we’ve got to fake a meaningful scouting report this week, let’s take a closer look at Hoke’s squad.  Let’s also throw in Oregon’s special teams, as they’re an exceptional group that deserves to make the rare special teams appearance in our scouting report.
Continue reading “Scouting Oregon – Defense and Special Teams”

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Scouting Oregon – Offense

And here I am rolling my calendar to the week of September 12 . . . and it’s Oregon week!  It’s perhaps Nebraska’s first true pressure test in the Mike Riley Era, as last year few national pundits paid attention to our BYU game and the season was already dead meat by the time Michigan State rolled into Lincoln.  This time, it’s an undefeated Nebraska team versus what Nebraska used to be, when 9-win seasons like Oregon’s 2015 campaign were considered miserable failures.  The road back to the top starts by showing up and delivering in these types of games.  

Okay, so Oregon.  Holy f*%^, that means their pace and space offense.  This one isn’t going to be easy.  Despite my attempts over the summer to curse Oregon’s QBs, it appears I’ve failed miserably.  Dakota Prukop won the job after fall camp and the early returns are favorable.  That said, Nebraska is a team with a pulse, unlike football cadavers Virginia (who lost to Richmond by 17 points) and UC Davis.  And Oregon in 2016 isn’t peak Oregon of the Chip Kelly/Marcus Mariota years.  

Turn the page for what the Ducks will bring into Lincoln this Saturday afternoon.  And as usual, hit the hyperlinks  if you want cut ups of Oregon’s scouted games.

Continue reading “Scouting Oregon – Offense”

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Wyoming – One for the Record Books

I know some people have been bothered by fans griping about the Wyoming game, but I kind of like it.  It means bigger expectations are still around for a team that far too often settled into that 9-4 life the past few years.  Wyoming wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but when you can force 6 turnovers and put up 550 total yards to cover the spread, you’re doing something right.  It also saw Tommy Armstrong become Nebraska’s career passing TD leader, an outstanding accomplishment that perhaps throws a cold bucket of water on him not being named captain this year. 

Wyoming was content to stop the run by quickly dropping extra safety help to the box on any run action, so Nebraska and coordinator Danny Langsdorf did exactly what he should have done in that situation: RPO the hell out of them and put edge defenders in a bind while also taking advantage of those aggressive safeties dropping in run support.  We’ve talked about the running game quite a bit so far, so let’s change it up and look at Tommy Armstrong and his band of Gorilla Wideouts, two of whom broke through the 100-yard mark this game.   And since Run the Damn Ball guy was no doubt peeved seeing Armstrong chucking it all around the yard early in the game, I’ve also got a new formation in there for him at the end.

Continue reading “Wyoming – One for the Record Books”

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Charting Wyoming – One Back Gun Makes Its Return

For the most part, Wyoming went just as we discussed last week.  The Cowboys hung around for a while, selling out to stop the run for as long as they could before Nebraska’s perimeter players and Tommy Armstrong took over.  Major hat tip to the Blackshirts as well, who came through with the first 5 turnover performance since Idaho in 2010.

Though the aggregate numbers were perfectly balanced against the Cowboys, Nebraska put it to Wyoming through the air early in the first half.  The Huskers hit four passes of at least 28 yards in the first half, with two of them going for 50+.  That’s what happens when you don’t have anyone more than 8 yards off the line of scrimmage for a substantial portion of the game.  Play both safeties down long enough and you can stuff the run, but you’re going to get burned through the air if you don’t have talent to match the other team’s receivers man to man.  You also better tackle well because there is no deep support.

Let’s take a look at what did and didn’t work for Nebraska this game.

Continue reading “Charting Wyoming – One Back Gun Makes Its Return”