Fresno State – New Year, New Looks

Game 1 of a new football season.  No better day of the year.  Your team hasn’t lost yet, you’ve spent all summer sipping on Kool-Aid while turning every player on your team into an All American, and your coaches can do no wrong.  Then game time hits, you get a punt blocked, drop a routine hand off on a jet sweep, mix in a few untimely penalties, and suddenly you’re in a first half battle with Fresno State.

Thankfully the Husker offense not only settled down in the second half, but made some timely adjustments to take advantage of Fresno State’s overly aggressive defensive fronts.  Let’s take a look at a few of the things the offense got done, as well as our first peek at Banker’s 2016 pressure package.

Play 1 – Corner Post Play Action

Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR)

Formation: 2 x 2 Double Tight End

Moore TD.jpg

This is one of Nebraska’s most common motions: short motion from the slot receiver, designed to bring him closer to the formation’s core.  Why?  Increase his options.  Reducing his split allows him to throw crack blocks or get involved in crossing routes, it keeps him timed up with bootleg action away from him, and most important to this play, it opens up space to the sideline to run additional routes.  

From a split outside the numbers, the only outward breaking route a receiver can run is the comeback route.  He doesn’t have enough real estate to run anything else.  Otherwise it’s the go route or something breaking back inside.  That makes it easy on the CB, as he can leverage the inside routes and sit on the comeback or go route.  But by using short motion to bring Moore towards the core, you open up space to sell more outward breaking routes.  Now we’ve got the quick out, the deep out, the comeback, the corner and you can still run the go.  Suddenly the DB has to defend the two-way go from the receiver, a tough ask for even elite DBs.

In this case, it’s the corner post route, one of the most difficult routes for a DB to defend.  Against Cover 2, you’re targeting the safety and trying to get him to bite on the corner.  Stem the route inside to create space, sell the corner route at the break point and then bend back to the post in front of the biting safety.  When done right, it’s a big play waiting to happen because the safety cannot recover.  If you’re a Philadelphia Eagles fan, why? this route from a two-tight end set should look vaguely familiar as a Cover 2 beater.

Fresno State isn’t in Cover 2 here, which makes it even easier for Moore to sell the corner route.  Once Moore’s initial stem gets inside leverage on the CB, it’s over.  Throw your hands up Lane Kiffin style and start counting points.  Moore simply needs to lean into the CB to sell the corner route and the defender has no chance to get back over the post.  Savage Professionalism 101.  Also note the backside corner route from Morgan, designed to hold the boundary safety so that he can’t help back on the post.

Finally, because Nebraska ran the ball successfully up to this point, the field safety comes up on motion to help support the run.  Tight formations with multiple tight ends equal run alert, and so he’s got to come down to help with the run fit.  Also, let’s pull the mountainous LG and give that poor safety another false run key with a one-back Power look.

Hell of a play to open up a quarter too.  In between the 40s is prime “shot” territory for OCs.  Langsdorf is no different, and here he dials up the corner post and Armstrong delivers it perfectly to Moore:

Moore TD.gif
Alonzo Moore’s 57-yard TD Broke the Game Wide Open

Play 2 – Slice Read

Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR)

Formation: 3 x 1 Y Trips Left

Slice Read.jpg

The game within a game.  After its huge success in the UCLA game, Nebraska tried to run Zone Read again early against Fresno State.  The Bulldogs had a solution.  Roll a safety down and bring him off the edge on run support, putting two guys in Armstrong’s running lane: the Read DE/OLB and the DB.  That’s always a give look for the QB.  The problem was Fresno State also frequently slanted its DL toward the RB’s path, meaning Nebraska was giving the back the ball right into the teeth of that DL.  Here’s an example of that slanting in action:

Read Defense.gif
2 Edge Defenders (LB and SS) With Eyes on Armstrong

At that point, it’s up the OC to find a solution.  One of the solutions we’ve seen Nebraska use to deal with this is the bubble screen.  Move that DB back out of the box to defend bubble or leave his buddy to make a perimeter tackle on a WR in a ton of space.  Langsdorf drew up a different solution against Fresno State, though, going heavy with multiple tight ends and melding both Slice and Read together to form Slice Read.

Want to walk a DB up late on the edge?  No problem.  Mr. 191lb Safety meet 240lb Cethan Carter.  Oh, and he has a head of steam.  Plus he generally plays pissed off.  In this play, even though Carter whiffs on the block, the SS has to take such a path of self-preservation that he’s completely out of the play

Slice Read.gif
I’d duck #11 too

From there, the Read defender simply changes from the end man on the line of scrimmage to the interior LB.  If he expands, give and let your RB bend the ball to the backside A gap away from the slanting DL.  You can see that bend back lane open up off Sam Cotton’s block.  If that LB stays, keep the ball and get outside off Carter’s block.   Here, it’s arguably the wrong read because the LB expands, but Tommy is such a physical mismatch for a LB that it doesn’t matter.  Langsdorf with the adjustment and Armstrong on the delivery of the same.

Play 3 – Zone Nickel Blitz

Personnel: Nickel 30 Front Subpackage (3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB)

Nickel Blitz.jpg

Welcome to Year 2 of Bankerball, where everything in the playbook is now in play because of the Blackshirts’ comfort with the scheme.  Insert the 30 front nickel subpackage, something that Nebraska hadn’t shown much to this point.  Take a defensive tackle out, bring in the nickel back and leave your damn linebackers on the field.  Subpackages are the new normal, and they’re a great way to match your special personnel to the situation.

There is nothing exotic about this nickel zone blitz.  But it works because of the confusion presented by Nebraska’s defense.  With Young, Gifford, Newby, and Kalu all walked up and showing pressure, the protection package has to account for numerous pressure options.  And because Nebraska has not shown this look on film yet, Fresno State hasn’t been able to specifically game plan for it.

In this case, Nebraska only brings 4 guys because they drop Kevin Maurice into the short hole.  Maurice’s drop is designed to take away the quick hole shot from the tight end or #2 receiver to that side.  Pressure means hot routes in the areas vacated by the blitzers, and you’ve got to have a schematic answer for that.  Nebraska does it with Maurice’s show and go.  His initial rush also holds the LG and C, leaving the LT in a 2-on-1 situation with Kalu and Freedom.  That’s not ideal for the Bulldogs.

With only 4 rushing, it also means you’ve got 7 guys in coverage, a scheme-sound look that can both generate pressure and ensure you have adequate numbers in coverage to blanket routes.  The BTN didn’t give us a wide enough view to definitively know what coverage we’re in here, but Banker can dial up this blitz and play Cover 2, 3 or 4 behind it because of the 7 pass droppers.  Coverage didn’t matter in this case because the look confuses Fresno State and Kalu comes clean for the Blackshirts’ first sack of the year:

Kalu Zone Blitz.gif
#1 Cause of Sacks: Confusion in the Protection Scheme

If Fresno State was any indication, you’re going to see this a lot in 2016.  Nebraska can’t generate adequate pressure with only its DL right now, and of course, having depth with Banderas, Newby, Young, Rose-Ivey, Gifford, and Weber gives you a ton of options.  Also, because he started his career as a safety, Gifford is a natural hybrid player who can cover massive ground in this scheme.  He’s an ideal subpackage player.  

Having seen some of it in practice, Banker has a lot of different stuff he can bring from this look.  I expect him to get more exotic moving forward, as he’s able to play around with far more chess pieces than he had in 2015.  You can also expect the safeties to get involved in this pressure subpackage as well once Nate Gerry returns from his suspension.

Wrapping It Up

Whether you’re a glass half full or half empty fan, you can take some comfort from this game.  Yes, Nebraska played sloppy.  Blocked punt, too many dumb penalties, issues during the Read and Jet mesh.  But they also won by 33, a pretty good sign that they did a lot of good stuff in the game as well.  I was most pleased with the Blackshirts, as the run defense held up much better than I anticipated.  Mick Stoltenberg is a difficult guy to move in the interior, and despite my issues with Dzuris’ athleticism in other areas, he’s as assignment and technique sound as they come in his run fits.  If the front 4 continues to hold its ground and demand doubles, the Blackshirts linebackers are going to have a field day this year in the run game.  The secondary also looked much better with their route recognition and reaction.  Fresno State got some yards through the air, but the Blackshirts forced two interceptions and took away the explosive play for the most part.  They won’t be elite until they find an elite, true cover corner (hello Darnay Holmes?), but they’ll be improved this year.

Also, have to love how the young kids looked and how well the depth chart is rounding out moving forward.  Ozigbo, Bryant and Wilbon all showed Nebraska is set for the near future at RB barring injuries.  The OL, though inexperienced, grew in the second half and started to get more comfortable.  And Nick Gates just destroys everyone.  He may be an All American by the end of the year.  The Blackshirts also had their share of youth, with true frosh Lamar Jackson playing a ton and redshirt freshmen Eric Lee, Avery Anderson, Alex Davis, Carlos Davis and Kahlil Davis also logging minutes.

Line is at -25 against Wyoming.  I’ll have a Wyoming scouting report up later this week, but as a preview, I’ll say that I don’t see Wyoming’s offense doing much against the Blackshirts.  The Cowboys offense is slightly more coherent at this point than Fresno State’s, but they’re going to struggle to get the ground game running.  And because they base everything off that, it could be a long night for Wyoming QB Josh Allen.  As for their defense, they’re sound in both technique and scheme.  But they lack athletes and that gets them in trouble on the perimeter.  Expect to see a nice dose of outside zone, jet sweep and some reverses mixed in as well.

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