Former Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck once said that fullbacks were dead in modern football. In a year where Wisconsin rushed for 581 yards against Nebraska and finished 15 spots ahead of Beck’s unit on the yearly rushing list. Oddly enough, Andy Janovich was also on Tim Beck’s roster that year. True to Beck’s words, Jano didn’t get a single carry.
Thankfully for Janovich, Beck was off ruining Ohio State’s MNC run in 2016 and new coaches Riley and Langsdorf were exhuming the fullback much to the delight of Nebraska fans. In the Southern Miss game, Jano was featured heavily in both the running and passing game.
Inside Zone (13 Runs)
Nebraska ran Slice three times using Janovich as the trapper and twice with the tight end trapping. Slice netted Nebraska 31 yards for 5.17 YPC.
Nebraska’s biggest inside zone play came off Bluff, as Tommy Armstrong kept around the left side for a 28-yard gain.
Outside of Armstrong’s long gain, Nebraska wasn’t all that good running inside zone in this game. The totals look good at 76 yards on 13 carries (5.31 YPC), but the Husker offense also had 5 of its 13 inside zone runs go for 2 yards or less, including 2 negative plays. On a hard hitting interior run, and especially as their bread-and-butter play, you can’t have that happen.
Outside Zone (5 Runs)
Pin and Pull: 0
Nebraska went back to the basics on the outside zone against Southern Miss, ditching the pin and pull and instead going with standard base zone runs. Four of these came from 21 personnel, with Janovich lead blocking and searching for second level defenders. Nevertheless, Nebraska struggled (again) with outside zone, gaining only 19 yards on 5 plays (3.8 YPC). Some of this was poor perimeter blocking, but much of it was Terrell Newby failing to make the proper read and get up field.
We’ve talked about bounce/bang/bend reads before, and this is something that Newby struggled with through all of last year. It’s also one of the reasons I anticipate Devine Ozigbo getting far more carries this year, as he’s a much better outside zone runner.
QB Run Game (4 runs)
Nebraska went back to the QB run game against Southern Miss, featuring Armstrong on four designed runs in addition to inside zone reads. Coming off the heels of the Counter OH’s success against Miami, Langsdorf dialed up a companion play off similar blocking. The difference, though, is that Nebraska converted Terrell Newby into a lead blocker on the play while Armstrong kept the ball behind him:
The blocking remains identical. LG Dylan Utter is the trapper and Cethan Carter is the wrapper, with Terrell Newby acting as another wrapper to seal any pursuit from the secondary. The play is a perfect example of the value of Tommy’s legs, as the initial kick out block from Utter is poor. The failed block throws off the paths of Carter and Newby, but ultimately #4 uses his best asset to compensate and get around the end.
Without a doubt, this Counter OH QB run will be featured more prominently this year. With Utter moving to center and Foster out with injury, Nebraska will need its OGs to step it up. Farmer is a bear in the run game and should provide major help at RG. LG remains the question. Barnett isn’t the most nimble puller and Boe Wilson is a true freshman (though a good one). Sam Hahn could be the answer, as he’s a mountain of man built to deliver these types of blocks.
Power/Counter (6 runs)
Nebraska spread the wealth when it came to downhill, power runs against Southern Miss. Nebraska ran Counter OH once, Power O once, two ISO plays, and 2 inside traps. They didn’t generate big numbers, however, gaining only 20 yards on 6 carries (3.33 YPC).
Jet Sweep (2 runs)
Nebraska ran 2 jet sweeps for 10 total yards (5 YPC), one from 11 personnel out of the gun and another from 21 personnel under center. Not great numbers and likely a result of Langsdorf and Riley trying to find a guy they were comfortable with running the sweep while De’Mornay Pierson-El was working back to 100%.
Designed FB Carries (4 runs)
This was the biggest difference in the Southern Miss game, as Nebraska called 5 designed runs for Andy Janovich (one 9-yard TD run on a FB dive was negated by an Alonzo Moore hold). Nebraska called 4 fullback traps and somewhere Cory Schlesinger was smiling. These 4 runs went for 58 yards, at a whopping 14.5 YPC.
So much for the fullback being dead in a Nebraska offense.
6 screens total for the day, with 3 bubbles, 1 bubble and go, 1 slip screen and 1 failed TE throwback screen. Nebraska gained 32 yards on them, for an average of 5.33 YPC. That said, it was feast or famine, with 3 of the screens going for 10+ yards while the other 3 resulted in two incompletions and a one-yard gain. As we’ve discussed earlier, Nebraska was still struggling with timing and targeting on its screens, too often letting defenders run free to the receiver.
Nebraska ran 24 plays in the game with some type of motion (34% of Nebraska’s total plays), again using its typical jet motion, motioning the H or Y behind the line of scrimmage, and also moving the slot receiver in short motion to create stacked and tight splits.
Wrapping It Up
Southern Miss was a pretty balanced game in terms of run and pass action. Nebraska didn’t have too much difficulty moving the ball into the red zone, with 39 carries for 242 yards and 368 passing yards on 35 attempts. That said, once Nebraska did get into the red zone, they struggled to punch the ball in, settling for 4 field goal attempts after trips into the red zone. Too often they were stuck with negative yardage plays in the red zone, as well as some terrible penalties and untimely incompletions.
Being more effective with their bread-and-butter inside zone play would certainly help, as would using Tommy’s legs more often in the red zone. I suspect we’ll see the latter in 2016, though the former remains to be seen.