The Miami game was not Nebraska’s finest, either from an efficiency standpoint or in terms of offensive balance. A porous defense coupled with early penalties and untimely drops put Nebraska well behind at the half, and an early Miami TD in the third quarter forced Nebraska to rely too much on passing the ball in the second half to catch up.
Even in the early going, though, Nebraska had relatively little success running their base run plays. Let’s take a look at what did and did not work for Nebraska.
(Editor’s Note: For those of you who like to slow down the GIFs or play them frame-by-frame, I’ve now added hot links before each GIF that take you to a separate page where you can pause or play them frame-by-frame and also expand them to full screen mode.)
Inside Zone (10 Runs)
Nebraska ran Slice using a Y Off formation out of 11 personnel and from 22 personnel with an H Wing. Neither was all that successful, as Nebraska gained 5 total yards on the plays.
The inside zone dive play is one that Nebraska favors from under center. It’s a downhill play designed to hit the playside and backside A gaps. Nebraska also ran this out of the shotgun against Miami, though Miami held Nebraska to 3 carries for 7 yards on the play.
All told, Nebraska gained 38 yards on its 10 inside zone runs for 3.8 YPC. As the base play in the Husker running game, and something that the offense uses to set up jet sweep and perimeter screens, this wasn’t nearly good enough to make Miami’s defense react to it.
Outside Zone (2 Runs)
Pin and Pull: 1
Not a whole lot of outside zone in this game from Nebraska. I suspect they wanted to stay away from Miami’s perimeter speed. On its two outside zone runs, Nebraska gained 3 yards for 1.5 YPC.
QB Run Game (1 run)
Though the box score showed Tommy Armstrong with 49 yards on 11 carries for the day, only one of those came on a designed run. Nebraska again went with the QB Power Sweep:
This clip shows the big problem that Nebraska had throughout the game, which is quite simply that Miami’s linebackers and edge defenders continually beat Nebraska’s offensive line. The targeting on this play is actually great, as Nebraska’s OL, Cethan Carter, and Terrell Newby all identify the proper assignment and path. If blocked properly, you can see the lane that opens up behind Newby for a huge gain.
Instead, Alex Lewis cannot hold his block on Miami’s defensive end (#8) and Dylan Utter gets very little drive on his pull against Miami LB Jermaine Grace (#5). If Lewis effectively kicks out the DE, this play may go for a touchdown. Instead, it’s a 1-yard gain on 3rd and 4, and yet another Nebraska punt.
Power/Counter (7 runs)
Nebraska’s most effective running plays were of the Power, Counter and ISO variety, as Nebraska ran 7 of them for 53 yards, or 7.57 YPC. The most successful was a Counter OH off jet sweep action for 22 yards:
This is a great play and something that Nebraska came back to throughout the year. Jet sweep takes the defense in one direction while the backside OG and H-back pull in the opposite direction. The OG kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage and the H-Back wraps back inside of him to seal interior pursuit defenders.
Jet Sweep (2 runs)
Nebraska ran 2 jet sweeps for 13 total yards (6.5 YPC), both out of 11 personnel looks with the receivers initially stacked. Again, Miami’s perimeter speed apparently dissuaded Nebraska from leaning on the jet sweep too much.
Nebraska ran 4 screens this game, 1 bubble screen, 1 tunnel screen, 1 slip screen and 1 double screen with a slip screen to one side and a flare screen to the other. They were ugly, gaining only 8 total yards. Again, Miami had done their film work and knew this was going to be a large part of Nebraska’s offense. They were ready for them and frequently created a lot of traffic around the intended receiver.
Nebraska ran 23 plays in the game with some type of motion (30% of Nebraska’s total plays), mostly using jet motion (12 plays) or moving the tight end or H-back behind the line of scrimmage. Motion supplemented the run game by creating angles and moving defenders out of the anticipated running lane, but Nebraska also used it to get Jordan Westerkamp favorable match ups with Miami’s interior defenders. It worked, as Westerkamp led Nebraska’s receivers with 5 catches for 95 yards.
Wrapping It Up
Miami was not the best insight into what Nebraska fans could expect for the rest of 2015. Because Nebraska was playing from behind, they tilted heavily to the pass in the second half.
Even before that point, it was pretty clear that they respected Miami’s perimeter defense and wanted to stay away from it as much as possible. That said, Miami also played the interior run game solid early on, making it tough sledding for Nebraska on the ground. Subtracting Tommy Armstrong scrambles, Nebraska gained 102 yards on 31 carries, falling short of the mythical 3.5 YPC. When you’re chasing points, that’s a bad combination.
One of the things to look for in 2016 is whether the Husker offense can establish a base running game even against good to great teams. By now, we know that Tommy Armstrong is a below average passer, and a strong run game would take a lot of pressure of him in that respect. Nebraska has to get better interior play on the inside zone. Before the injury to Jerald Foster, I’d say Nebraska had a good chance of doing it. Tanner Farmer should be an upgrade at RG and the Gates/Foster duo was potentially All Conference or more. With Foster’s injury, though, Jalin Barnett or Boe Wilson will have to step up to fill that role. I think Nebraska will be better on the interior run game, but I still think they’ll struggle against good to great teams.