Southern Miss – Return of the Fullback

As we discussed in the last post, Southern Miss was the game where Nebraska fans (and coaches) really discovered what they had been missing the last three years with Andy Janovich.  Langsdorf featured Jano in all facets of the Southern Miss game, as a ball carrier, lead blocker and a receiver on play action.  When NFL Scouts cued up Andy Janovich’s game film before the draft, there is no doubt that the Southern Miss game played a large part in their evaluations.

Let’s take a look at two key plays featuring Jano, including a shout out to the old 34/36 Trap from TO’s day, as well one of Nebraska’s many special plays.

Play 1 – Fullback Trap

Personnel: 21 (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs)

Formation: Offset I Formation Weak

FB Trap.jpg

This is classic Nebraska football right here.  It’s an inside trap to the fullback with option action from the QB and RB to hold the end man on the line of scrimmage and hopefully a secondary player to that side as well. In the TO days, Nebraska ran this play from the standard I Formation and called it 34/36 Trap.  Certainly if you’re a Husker fan you remember Cory Schlesinger’s version of the 36 Trap from the 1995 Orange Bowl, a beautiful call against a fast-flowing defense eager to defend the perimeter.  

The concept in the Langsdorf/Riley version is no different, as Nebraska used it as a constraint play to keep defenses honest when it comes to defending the middle of the field.    Once defenses start fast flowing outside to defend outside zone or option, you come back with the FB Trap.  The key here is the trap block from the LG, who pulls across the formation to trap the defensive tackle.  The RG gives that defensive tackle a free release to invite him into the backfield, right into the trap block from the LG.  On this play, it works to perfection:

FB Trap Good.gif

Notice that both safeties chase out of the middle of the field, opening up a wide seam for Janovich with a full head of steam.  This is the benefit of the constraint play.  In particular, the the option action from Armstrong and Newby takes the SS out of the play so that he can’t recover to catch Janovich.

Also, this is a great look at the interior blocking on this play.  Oddly enough, the defensive tackle anticipates being blocked by the RG so much that he trips over his own feet, nearly gumming this play up simply by being on the ground in Jano’s designated hole.  Most defenses will tell their DL to step down, or pinch, when their heads up OL blocks down, as this usually means a trap block is coming from the other side.  By stepping down and wrong arming the trap block, the defense can spill the ball carrier to the outside and into pursuit.  On FB Trap, though, the action happens so fast that it’s a tough read for the DT to make.

The play also shows the considerable running ability of Jano.  For a big man, he’s got great balance and the ability to quietly shift his weight to make defenders miss.  Moreover, he hits the hole decisively, which doesn’t allow the safeties to regroup and find an angle.  I look forward to seeing how the Broncos use him in 2016, as he’s a guy who can bring some value to interior runs in additional to his notable blocking and special teams skills.

Play 2 – PA Flood Concept

Personnel: 21 (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs)

Formation: Pro I Formation Right

Flood

On the very next drive after springing Jano on the FB Trap, Langsdorf went back to him in the play action game.  This is a nasty play to defend for the linebackers.  It’s a Flood concept in the passing game, designed to flood one side of the field with multiple routes and take advantage of both horizontal and vertical stretches of the defense.  The deep comeback is designed to run off the corner, while the flat route from the FB and the crossing route from X horizontally stretch the flat defender to that side.  In this case, it’s a modified version of the old Air Raid staple Y-Cross.  Because X is in a reduced split to the boundary side, he can get across the field quickly to preserve the integrity of the route combination.

The play action aspect of this is what makes it work.  The blocking is traditional zone blocking, and the initial backfield action looks just like outside zone to the left.  This is key, as the whole point is to force Southern Miss’s LBs to react and play the run.  Once that’s done, Nebraska can slip Jano out to the right and into his route, hopefully with a ton of open field in front of him. 

That’s exactly what happens in this case, as the OLB overreacts to the run and realizes too late that this is play action coming to his side:

PA Flood.gif

It’s an extremely difficult play for that OLB to defend, as he’s the bend back player against the outside zone run but still has coverage responsibilities for the flat. That puts him in a bind.  If he stays too wide to the field to play the pass, he’ll never get to the bend on a run and the RB is free up the middle.  If he sucks in too tight to play that bend on the run, as he does here, he can’t get to the flat on a pass.

Because it’s so difficult to defend, you’ll see Riley and Langsdorf use this type of route from the backfield a lot, and they’ll do it with different players.  In this case, it’s Jano from the FB spot.  Many times it’s Carter as the H-Back on Bluff Action or even the Z receiver coming off Jet Motion.  With Jano off to the NFL and Cethan posed for a big year, I suspect you’ll see even more of this in 2016 with #11.

Play 3 – Double WR Reverse

Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs)

Formation: Tight Bunch Left Y Detached

Double WR Reverse.jpg

Nebraska typically runs at least one special or “trick” play per game.  In the Southern Miss game, they ran two.  First, a WR Reverse Pass with Jamal Turner, who smartly decided not to throw it to a covered Tommy Armstrong and instead pulled it down for a two-yard gain.  The second play, diagrammed above, was more successful, as Brandon Reilly took a double reverse around the left end for a 9-yard gain:

Double Reverse.gif

This is another example of a constraint play, as the Huskers package this reverse off their inside zone Slice run.  Again, the hope is to play with the eyes and feet of the defenders, giving them both inside zone action and an initial reverse to Alonzo Moore to consider.

The personnel is also a nice touch.  Rather than going with 11 personnel and three wide receivers, Langsdorf uses two tight ends in the bunch, with Carter detached from the offensive line and Cotton lined up in a traditional H-back spot.  This gives them a bit more perimeter strength to seal the edge in the run game than what a traditional 3WR bunch might offer.

I’m not an overly large fan of double reverses, both because of the extra ball handling by guys who usually don’t do it and also the time needed to make two separate exchanges.   Against fast defenses, it’s tough to hold blocks for long enough to let the play develop.  That said, this one works in large part because of an excellent block on the edge by Tommy Armstrong.

Wrapping It Up

The Southern Miss game ended up as a nice homage to traditional Nebraska football.  I don’t think either Riley or Langsdorf intended it as such, but instead were simply trying to get the ball to a good football player on offense.  That’s a nice change from Tim Beck’s declaration that the fullback was dead while refusing to use an NFL-caliber player in that role.

We don’t have a complete fullback like Janovich on the 2016 roster.  Harrison Jordan is a hammer in the running game.  Luke McNitt is a great weapon out of the backfield.  Graham Nabity is probably the best runner of the bunch.  But none of them put it all together to the point they justify the number of plays that Jano received.  Nevertheless, I expect Riley and Langsdorf to continue to find ways to get them involved.  With defenses focusing on Carter and Nebraska’s WRs, it wouldn’t surprise me to see McNitt break off a handful of long receptions this year on the play action flood concept above.

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