Nebraska-UCLA was an offensive beat down. No other way about it. Nebraska had 5 first half drives with time on the clock. They scored a touchdown on 3 of them. One ended with a red zone fumble (after an uncalled defensive face mask) and the last was a punt. 6 second half drives. 2 touchdowns, 1 field goal, 2 late punts and 1 ended by the final whistle.
It really didn’t matter what Nebraska ran because UCLA couldn’t stop it. Inside Zone, Outside Zone, QB Draw/Counter, Power/Counter, Lead Draw, Jet Sweep, Fullback Dive all got play. And they came out of a large dose of 2 back sets, with 32 of 62 carries coming from 21, 22 and 23 personnel. Some of these came from Split Back shotgun formations, while others came from various iterations of the I Formation. Let’s take a deeper look.
Inside Zone (23 Runs)
Nebraska ran Slice five times, using Janovich each time to target UCLA’s smallish edge defenders. Slice netted Nebraska 30 yards for 6 YPC.
This was the biggest change from the regular season, as Langsdorf relied heavily on the zone read to get Tommy Armstrong involved in the game. Two of Nebraska’s three longest runs in the game came from Read, including this monster gain on 2nd and 13.
That play also shows a new look from Nebraska: Split Backs out of the shotgun with perimeter motion from the backfield. Nebraska ran Read from Gun Split Backs 6 times. They gained 58 yards on those plays, for 9.67 YPC.
Read also produced two of Nebraska’s touchdowns, one by Terrell Newby and the other by Tommy Armstrong.
Not to be forgotten in the outbreak of two-back Shotgun, Nebraska also lined up under center and ran standard one-back inside zone 5 times. These 5 runs earned Nebraska 19 yards, just under 4 YPC.
All together, Nebraska gained 143 yards on 23 inside zone runs, for an average of 6.22 YPC. This is more typical of a Mike Riley team. Lean on inside zone, complement it with jet motion and then use Bluff to slip backs, tight ends and slot receivers out from behind the line of scrimmage in the play action game. UCLA never found an answer for it, and they paid dearly all night long.
Outside Zone (14 Runs)
Pin and Pull: 1
Nothing fancy here. Nebraska ran 14 outside zone plays, all of them coming from under center. 8 of them came from 22 or 23 personnel, and 8 came with some sort of motion on the play before the snap. The Huskers ended up with 55 yards for an average of 3.93 YPC. Not great, but certainly good enough to keep Nebraska on the down-and-distance schedule.
QB Run Game (6 runs)
Beyond the Read plays, which added substantially to Armstrong’s rushing totals, Nebraska also featured 6 designed QB runs. They gained 32 yards, for an average of 5.33 YPC. That number is misleading, though, as Armstrong took a 14-yard loss late in the game on a QB Counter OH play. Four of the six runs were QB Counter OH, using Cethan Carter as a human rage machine against UCLA’s linebackers and secondary. You don’t see many like him in the Pac-12. Or anywhere outside of the SEC really.
Langsdorf also dusted off the Y Stick QB Lead Draw RPO twice, including this red zone attempt (don’t mind the face mask):
Because injury concerns to Tommy Armstrong were out the window in the season’s last game, Armstrong featured heavily on the ground against UCLA. And he delivered, with UCLA frequently having defenders in position but unable to tackle him.
Nebraska will need that Tommy Armstrong in 2016 to win the Big 10 West. Will the coaches feel comfortable running him that much?
Power/Counter (10 runs)
Again, nothing fancy in the power game against undersized UCLA. 6 Power O runs, 1 ISO and 3 Lead Draws. They gained 45 yards, or 4.5 YPC. With Cross and Ozigbo both battering the Bruins, Nebraska really didn’t need to mix it up in this respect. And perhaps as a nod to Run the Damn Ball Guy, Langsdorf ran all 10 of these plays with 21, 22 or 23 personnel.
I like the Lead Draw a lot moving forward for the Husker offense. Everybody knows that Nebraska’s receivers are a strength in 2016. That means a lot of teams focusing on keeping defenders on top of their routes in the pass game. An easy way to exploit that, and especially with a back like Devine Ozigbo, is to use the initial pass action to give defenses a false key and encourage pass drops. Once that happens, natural running lanes open up and you’ve got a 230lb running back picking up speed through them. That’s tough on safeties who have to come up all game and fill those holes.
Jet Sweep (1 run)
Nebraska ran 2 jet sweeps, but declined to take one of them after a defensive offsides penalty. On the other one, senior Jamal Turner capped his Husker career with a 22-yard gain featuring some nifty moves. Great second effort on that play by Zach Sterup. That’s a nice lesson on what it takes sometimes to spring big runs. Sterup gets his initial block and then goes looking for more. His second block is what turns a 4-yard gain into one for 10+.
Designed FB Carries (2 runs)
Janovich only got 2 carries from the fullback position, both dives on 3rd and 1. Not surprisingly, he got the first down both times as well. Jano did get additional carries from the Gun Split Backs formation on Read plays, but I don’t count those as true designed fullback runs.
2 slip screens for 16 yards and we’re out. Not a whole lot of need to throw to the perimeter with UCLA unable to stop anything Nebraska used on the ground. As we’ve discussed before, right now Nebraska primarily uses screen plays to remove defenders from the box and make it easier to run. In this game, that was entirely unnecessary because UCLA gonna UCLA. Though Nebraska only threw two screens, Devine Ozigbo showed off some solid shakes on one of them, making a lot out of not much on this slip screen.
Holy motion. Nebraska ran 44 plays in the game with motion out of 78 total plays (56%). That’s a ton of movement and considerably up from the season average. The UCLA game also saw the return of Orbit Motion, with Nebraska going to it 4 times including this WR reverse:
That play is a perfect example of what UCLA struggled with all night long. Sterup and Janovich easily handle UCLA’s DE and OLB, and suddenly you’ve got Nick Gates running free in the UCLA secondary looking for a 185lb cornerback to hit. That’s not going to end well for UCLA.
This also shows the value of successfully running inside zone throughout the game. The inside action from Cross triggers the inside linebackers and strong safety to come down quick in run support, ending up with Hovey having a clean angle to crack the safety.
Wrapping It Up
The UCLA game definitely saw a shift in game plan from Nebraska. More heavy personnel, the addition of Gun Split backs and a ton of motion. That’s also the value of having guys like Cethan Carter and Andy Janovich, who can seal the edge against both DEs and LBs alike.
Whether Nebraska can, or should, replicate this game in 2016 is a debatable matter. On one hand, adding Tommy Armstrong to the run game made it a lot easier on everyone toting the ball. His ability on both Read and QB Counter OH made UCLA respect the formation’s weak side instead of overpursuing play side zone runs. On the other hand, Nebraska’s QB depth still isn’t much better than it was last season. True freshman Patrick O’Brien is added to the mix and AJ Bush is out. Fyfe is still Fyfe
I tend to think Langsdorf and Riley will live with the risk of running Tommy more in 2016. That’s his biggest value to the offense, and it’s the thing from UCLA that most easily transitions into this year’s team. And with Janovich off to the NFL, it’s also an easy way to take pressure off Nebraska’s other ball carriers.