Charting the South Alabama Game

The South Alabama game was all about inside zone runs and a ton of different motions.  Nebraska showed 4 different inside zone variants, 1 option, 6 outside zone plays, 1 QB Power Sweep, 4 Power/Counter plays, and 3 jet sweeps.  Within those, let’s take a look at how Langsdorf and Riley established the run to the tune of 37 carries for 258 yards.

Inside Zone (22 Runs)

Slice: 15

Nebraska ran Slice using Y Off formations or frequently motioning Andy Janovich from a F Wing position to the backfield.  Here are a couple of those looks from Nebraska’s first two drives:

Y Off Slice

Y Off Slice.gif

F Slice

F Slice.gif

Read: 5

Base Under Center: 2

All told, Nebraska gained 156 yards on its 22 inside zone runs for 7.09 YPC.  It also scored 3 TDs on Inside Zone Slice.

Outside Zone (6 Runs)

Base: 3

Pin and Pull: 2

Read: 1

Pretty basic game from Nebraska when it came to outside zone.  Because South Alabama never stopped inside zone, Langsdorf never had to move away from it with the outside zone complement.  On its 6 outside zone runs, Nebraska gained 78 yards, for an average of 13 YPC.

QB Run Game

Besides the zone reads identified above, which give the QB an option of keeping the ball on a zone run, Nebraska ran two other plays designed to use Tommy Armstrong’s legs.  The first was a QB Power Sweep:

Pin and Pull QB Sweep.gif

This play was in trouble from the start, as both Janovich and Cotton target the same defender before Janovich hesitates and pulls off to the second level where he misses.  Nebraska doubles down on that when both Gates and Newby target the same safety before Newby peels off late to help clean up the defender Janovich missed.  Although Nebraska did a pretty good job this game in staying with their assignments, this was probably their worst running play.

The second QB run that Nebraska used was the same speed option it ran against BYU.  It, too, was ineffective, going for a 1-yard loss.  Small sample size, but Nebraska’s 2 runs for 0 yards in the QB run game were indicative of their efforts throughout the first half of the year.  For whatever reason, and despite QB runs being a sizable part of the 2014 offense, Nebraska struggled to identify blocking assignments and execute them on QB runs.


Nebraska ran 4 plays in the Power/Counter family, with this Counter O (some call it Power Counter) showing up twice:

Counter O.gif

Nebraska gained 2 yards total on these 4 plays, again struggling with their assignments and missing run throughs at the line of scrimmage.  In this case, Nick Gates, the RT, attacks the LILB despite the counter element designed to negate him.  Not sure how Cavanaugh teaches it, but many will draw up that block to target the RILB as the most dangerous second level defender.  Gates, however, cuts him loose and he slows up Newby’s counter path in the backfield.

Jet Sweep

Nebraska ran 2 jet sweeps for 23 total yards (11.5 YPC), both packaged with inside zone looks.  One was from 11 personnel, the other 12 personnel.


Nebraska ran 8 screens this game, 5 smoke screens and 3 tunnel screens.  They gained 62 yards on them, for an average of 7.75 YPC.  At least 4 of them were RPOs, with 3 from 21 personnel and 1 from 11 personnel.


By my count, Nebraska ran 7 different types of motion in this game:

  1. Z Jet
  2. Z Orbit
  3. Y Return
  4. Z Short
  5. F Wing to Far
  6. F I Far to Near
  7. F I Near to Far

Z Jet is standard jet motion from the slot receiver.  Z Orbit is an arcing motion toward the backfield from the slot receiver.  Y Return is the TE (Y receiver) lined up off the line of scrimmage, motioning across the backfield before returning to his initial position.  Z Short is shown in the Counter O play above.  F Wing to Far is the FB lining up in a wing position behind the TE and then motioning into the backfield away from him, just as in the F Slice play above.  F I Far to Near is the FB lining up to the weakside in the Offset I-Formation before motioning across to a semi-stacked look behind the TE.  F I Near to Far is the exact opposite motion from the FB.  

Nebraska most often used motion to establish position and angles for the FB in the Inside Zone Slice play, though they also used FB motion to kick out or seal in the Power and Sweep plays as well.

Wrapping It Up

The South Alabama game was probably the most expansive look into the Riley/Langsdorf offense that Nebraska fans got all year.  Lots of inside zone, lots of motion, and all packaged with screens and RPOs to make the defense respect the perimeter rather than overplaying interior runs.  Nebraska also showed a few new wrinkles on offense that I’ll cover in my next post.  

For now, though, if you want to get an idea of where this offense is probably moving to with Patrick O’Brien as the QB of the future (in either 2016 or 2017), the South Alabama film is a great start.  There will be more vertical passing plays with O’Brien under center, but the run and screen games are likely to look very similar.

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