Nebraska’s Outside Zone and Variants – South Alabama

Because inside zone targets the interior DL and LBs, defenses will start to overreact to it after a few times of being gashed in the middle.  Once Riley and Langsdorf see this happening, they mix it up with outside zone (“OZ”).  OZ is also known as the “stretch” play.  Unlike the vertically hitting inside zone play, OZ is about horizontal displacement: move the defensive line and linebackers toward the sideline and make them maintain their gap integrity.  Once a hole opens up in their front, stick your foot in the ground and get vertical.  This type of blocking isn’t new to Nebraska; Osborne and Tenopir frequently blocked their option runs with it, and of course Bill Callahan loved that god damn stretch play against USC.

Nebraska runs a couple of different versions of OZ depending on the game plan for the week and the fronts they see from the defense.  In this post, let’s look at two of them: (1) standard OZ; and (2) the Pin and Pull.

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Trap Coverages – A Quarters Check

As we discussed in the last post, one of the weaknesses of Quarters is the flats against a strong run game and especially out of 10 personnel.  Because they are run first players, the SAM and WILL have to respect the run game, making it difficult to cover the flats if #2 to their side is immediately out on some sort of bubble or quick out.  This is especially true of the weak side away from the back, as the OLB must respect the zone run to his side and thus cannot expand in time to cover his flat.  

When that happens, Quarters defenses answer with a trap coverage, designed to free up the CB to play the out-breaking route from #2 while passing verticals from #1 off to the S on that side.  This is a Quarters check that operates as the defensive equivalent of a constraint play.  Early in the season, we saw a couple of different trap looks from the Blackshirts. Continue reading “Trap Coverages – A Quarters Check”

Cover 4 Bankerball – Nebraska’s Base Defense

With Bo Pelini out and Mark Banker in, the Blackshirts were faced with a sizable conceptual shift.  Pelini liked to play a lot of bracket coverages, with his safeties 2 High and primarily as pass defenders with limited run support responsibility; he tried to overcome this by mostly two-gapping his defensive line (though he unsuccessfully attempted to move away from this late).  This scheme worked great in the Big 12, with offenses using 11 and 10 personnel packages, rarely committing to consistently running the ball and instead throwing it down the field into that bracket coverage.  In the Big 10, Pelini’s defense had substantially less success, as teams would often formation Nebraska into a light box and force Nebraska’s OLBs into playing the run from a man disadvantage (6 blockers versus 5 defenders, etc.) while also having to play RPOs like the bubble, Y stick, pop pass, etc.  That’s an unwinnable battle, and we saw the Blackshirts get drilled a number of times because of it.  Think 63-38 in 2012 and Ohio State running wild on the Blackshirts.

Enter Mark Banker and his Cover 4 (or “Quarters”) base defense.  There are a lot of things I like about this defense and how it fits the Big 10.  Let’s take a peek at its basic principles. Continue reading “Cover 4 Bankerball – Nebraska’s Base Defense”

Inside Zone, the Mike Riley/Danny Langsdorf Staple

If you’ve ever seen a Mike Riley/Danny Langsdorf game, whether in Lincoln, Corvallis or anywhere in between, you’ve no doubt seen the inside zone.  When Riley and Langsdorf have had productive interior offensive linemen, they’ve often based much of their run game around the inside zone play.  Inside zone is a downhill, vertical displacement play, designed to get you at least one double team on the DL to knock them back off the line of scrimmage.  Once the double team is secured, one of the OL will slide off and attack the next playside LB.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the Huskers’ bread-and-butter running play, as well as some common variants that you’ll see the Huskers run.

Continue reading “Inside Zone, the Mike Riley/Danny Langsdorf Staple”

QB Run Game – BYU

Coming into the year, the largest question on offense was how Riley and Langsdorf would use Tommy Armstrong’s legs.  At Oregon State, they never had the luxury of a QB who could get into open space and make plays with his feet.  In Lincoln, that’s exactly what they had in spades with Armstrong, AJ Bush and Zack Darlington.  With the offensive coaches talking in the spring about incorporating the QB run game, the BYU game featured a handful of designed QB runs outside of the standard zone read variety.  Here are a few of them:

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Nebraska Screen Game – BYU

Beyond Nebraska fans’ introduction to jet motion and the sweep, Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf’s robust screen package was also another major change from 2014 and Tim Beck’s offense.  By my count, Nebraska ran 6 different variations of the screen against BYU.  After learning early that inside zone wasn’t going to work against Travis Tuiloma, BYU’s monster nose tackle, Langsdorf began to heavily work the screen game to help remove defenders from the box and get Tommy Armstrong comfortable with easy throws.  Let’s take a look at a couple of his core concepts in the screen game.

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Nebraska’s Introduction to the Jet Sweep – BYU

Nebraska’s first game of the year against BYU introduced fans to the basic tenets that appear throughout Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf’s offense.  Inside and outside zone, a lot of motion (jet, H, Y return, etc.), shotgun, under center, tight end and fullback wings, detached  and flexed tight ends.  This was a lot of variety for BYU to deal with, and to their credit, they handled it pretty well.

A team’s first drive often gives you a good glimpse into the offense’s core principles, largely because offensive coordinators want to see how defenses plan to answer those principles before opening up more of the playbook.  I’m not sure whether Langsdorf is a script play caller, but the first drive showed a lot of things that Nebraska leaned on throughout the year.  Perhaps most importantly, it was Nebraska fans’ first real introduction to something they had heard about in spring and fall camp: the jet sweep.  Or as Riley likes to call it, the “fly” sweep.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at Nebraska’s first drive against BYU, which featured two plays with jet motion.

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