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:
Play 1 – QB Lead Draw RPO
Personnel: 11 (1 RB, 1 TE)
Formation: 3 x 1 (RB away from TE)
Other than zone read, this was the first true QB run they called, and it came at the 9:00 mark in the first quarter. As far as QB runs, this is a long time staple: the lead draw, with the running back “leading” the QB into the hole.
Where this play differs a bit from the classic lead draw is that Nebraska packages it as an RPO. I suspect that, depending on the box look, Tommy Armstrong can audible to put the RB on his left side and run the draw left into the B gap instead of right. That’s because he has a Y Stick concept to that side that puts the LILB in conflict. If the LILB expands with the TE (Y), it opens up a natural lane for the RB to lead Armstrong into the hole. If the LILB stays at home to play run, Armstrong can then move to his secondary read on the LOLB. If the LOLB expands to the flat to cover Z, Armstrong hits the Y Stick. If the LOLB stays at home on the TE, Armstrong can hit Z on the speed out.
To the boundary side, X is running a hitch. This may be another RPO, but I’m guessing it’s more likely a backside concept designed to take advantage of soft Cover 3 corners. If the CB is lined up off, throw the hitch. As it is, BYU has a solid corner blitz called, and that boundary CB, along with questionable execution from the OL and RB, blows up the play. If there is an RPO to the boundary, it’s a ball you’d like to see Armstrong throw to the wide open X. Because he looks surprised, I don’t think it’s packaged as an RPO. Instead, the ROLB squeezes the RT into the B gap, the RB gets taken out by that squeeze, and the blitzing CB is able to take down Armstrong with some help from the RILB.
Play 2 – Inside Zone Bluff Tagged With Jet Motion (Constraint Play)
Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TE)
Formation: 2 x 1 (2 Back, Jet Motion to 1 x 2)
The next QB run is a zone read play coupled off the Huskers’ inside zone look. One of Mike Riley’s base run plays at Oregon State was the Zone Read Slice. Slice is an inside zone variant, where the front side of the play looks just like inside zone. What changes is a front side player, usually a H-Back or FB, comes back across the field to cut or collision the backside DE. Think Cethan Carter coming across the formation and blowing up Shilique Calhoun. Then smile, because we’ll get to that too once Carter becomes eligible to play post-BYU.
For now, let’s look at Bluff. After a few times of getting cut by that H-Back or FB (reminder: Andy Janovich weighed in at 238lbs at the Combine and Cethan Carter does THIS!), those DEs start to go a little soft and try to pinch under that cut block instead of squaring up to it. That’s when you hit them with Zone Bluff, a constraint play where the play side blocker (in this case, the H-Back Trey Foster) passes the DE off to the QB to “read” while wrapping up into the hole to block the next second or third level defender that shows. The QB’s read on the DE is simple. If the DE does pinch,
he’s a bitch. Let’s try that again. If the DE pinches, pull the ball and get up behind the H-Back and into the gap the DE just vacated. If the DE widens or tries to go around the H-Back toward the OT, give the ball to the RB on the inside zone track.
Another thing I like about this play is Nebraska tagging it with jet motion to pull defenders out of the box. As you see the Z (Jamal Turner) go in motion, watch BYU start to roll the safeties and widen out both the RILB and the CB. This movement gives the RG and RT a better angle to double team the DE and then work to that RILB. Additionally, the CB chasing the jet motion play side also expands that edge player and allows the RB to work the inside zone path to the B gap without as much traffic.
Unfortunately for Nebraska, the C, Ryne Reeves, can’t handle BYU’s NT, Travis Tuiloma, and gets pushed back into the H-Back’s pull path. This throws off both the H-Back’s “bluff” block and Armstrong’s read on the DE. Somehow, Tuiloma also wrecks Newby on the inside zone path. Nevertheless, Armstrong uses his feet to make something out of nothing, though a holding call on the X receiver ultimately negates the play.
Play 3 – Speed Option
Personnel: 21 (2 RB, 1 TE)
Formation: 2 x 2 (FB Detached in Nasty Split; Jet Motion to 3 x 1)
Option alert! Option alert! Four strategy posts in and I still haven’t given you God‘s Play. Well that ends now.
Speed Option. An old classic, though Andy Janovich isn’t in the backfield but instead flexed out as a reduced split WR. Can’t have it all kids! 3rd and 3, down 3 points and on BYU’s 22. Put the ball in Tommy Armstrong’s hands and let him create.
Lots of stuff going on here for the defense to deal with. First, Andy Janovich, the FB, is flexed out into a traditional WR spot. Second, Nebraska is in a pistol look, with Terrell Newby 8 yards deep and directly behind Armstrong. Although you can run both ways when a back is lined up beside the QB, it’s easier to do it from the pistol formation. Third, even though he’s flexed, Janovich is in a reduced split toward the core of the formation. Against a reduced split, and especially with a back 8 yards deep, it’s an alert to (a) the run game (expect a down block or crack from the FB); and (b) some type of crossing route from the FB paired with a QB boot in the same direction (moving the FB closer to the core allows him to keep timing with the QB’s boot). Fourth, jet motion toward the reduced split. So now BYU has a motion man traveling toward a FB flexed in a reduced split look. I don’t actually think Nebraska was planning this, as I think Janovich being flexed was an unfortunate function of Cethan Carter being suspended for this game and David Sutton having been injured. That said, it’s a brilliantly unintentional game planning moment.
BYU reacts heavily to the jet motion, dropping both CBs closer to the line of scrimmage, rolling the FS and bumping out the LILB. On 3rd and 3, you have to protect against the run. Tough break, Bronco, because Tommy is running the speed option to the other side of the field, reading the ROLB and dropping a nice hurdle over your FS. White DBs. Do. Not. Want. Except Nate Gerry. He’s OUR white DB.
Play 4 – Power Read (Inverted Veer)
Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TE)
Formation: 3 x 1 (TE Wing)
Nebraska fans shouldn’t need much of an introduction to this play, as it was a Tim Beck favorite that led to Taylor Martinez busting off a lot of big runs. Urban Meyer also runs it, though his usually come with national title rings. Not with Tim Beck though.
In any event, this play doesn’t really need a breakdown, though it suffered one. Play side OL and TE block down, back side G pulls around and hunts through the first open gap, QB reads play side end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL) to see whether he squeezes the gap or widens out to take the RB. Squeeze equals give, width equals keep.
Pretty nice play by the BYU read guy. He dances a bit, causing Tommy to hesitate on the read and give it to Wilbon. Bad call. Didn’t matter, though, because Nebraska’s C got wrecked and ends up on the ground. The interior OL really hurt Nebraska in this game, though it did improve later in the year with the addition of Zach Sterup and more experience within the system.
Wrapping It Up
Nebraska didn’t run a whole lot of designed QB runs in this game. A handful of true zone read options and then the plays you see above. Something tells me the QB depth chart had a bit to do with it, as Nebraska didn’t have much of one throughout the entire year and the coaches seemed concern with avoiding the injuries inherent in the QB run game. That changes in 2016 with the addition of Patrick O’Brien, a golden-armed QB from Southern California. O’Brien isn’t the athlete that Tommy Armstrong is, but he does have some ability to run (think Andrew Luck, not Russell Wilson) and he also has a sharp understanding of RPOs and moving people out of the box with a variety of screens. If O’Brien starts, I would expect more screens and less QB run game. If Armstrong starts (the best bet), the addition of O’Brien to the depth chart frees up the coaches to take greater advantage of Armstrong’s legs than they could this year because the injury threat is minimized. The bowl game against UCLA was a small snippet of what’s to come, and Nebraska fans should be excited about Armstrong running more in 2016. Especially the QB Dart. Give me more of that please with Nick Gates leading the way.