For the most part, Wyoming went just as we discussed last week. The Cowboys hung around for a while, selling out to stop the run for as long as they could before Nebraska’s perimeter players and Tommy Armstrong took over. Major hat tip to the Blackshirts as well, who came through with the first 5 turnover performance since Idaho in 2010.
Though the aggregate numbers were perfectly balanced against the Cowboys, Nebraska put it to Wyoming through the air early in the first half. The Huskers hit four passes of at least 28 yards in the first half, with two of them going for 50+. That’s what happens when you don’t have anyone more than 8 yards off the line of scrimmage for a substantial portion of the game. Play both safeties down long enough and you can stuff the run, but you’re going to get burned through the air if you don’t have talent to match the other team’s receivers man to man. You also better tackle well because there is no deep support.
Let’s take a look at what did and didn’t work for Nebraska this game.
Personnel, Formations and Motions
Though Langsdorf favored one back, two tight end sets last week against Fresno State, Nebraska’s offensive coordinator went a bit lighter this week in hopes of threatening the horizontal and vertical passing game. Here are the number of plays per personnel group:
00 (0 RB/0 TE/5 WR): 0
10 (1 RB/0 TE/4 WR): 0
11 (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR): 28
12 (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR): 17
13 (1 RB/3 TE/1 WR): 14
21 (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR): 13
22 (2 RB/2 TE/1 WR): 1
23 (2 RB/3 TE/0 WR): 1
Though Nebraska relied less on two tight end sets this weekend, it was by no means a soft game plan, as the Huskers also expanded their use of a 1 back, three tight end set featuring Cethan Carter, Trey Foster and Sam Cotton. Six of those times they ran a full tight end bunch set, a nasty little formation that we’ll discuss more when we dive deeper into individual play concepts. For now, know that Danny Langsdorf hears you loud and clear Husker fans. Run the ball and use tight ends. That’s been the MO through the first two games and it’s not going to change against Oregon either.
This was also a Gun game, as Nebraska ran 44 of its 74 plays from the shotgun. Any number of reasons for that, but the biggest one is that Nebraska called 37 passing plays, largely to take advantage of Wyoming’s aggressive safeties. With that and Wyoming’s pressure package, Langsdorf moved Armstrong into the Gun to give him extra time against the pass rush and better vision of the field. Nebraska also used Gun heavily in the run game, with all of Nebraska’s QB designed runs coming from deep in the backfield and 16 of 37 total running plays.
Not a whole lot of motion from Nebraska in this game. Only 16 plays with motion, or 22% of our offensive plays. That’s one of the lowest figures we’ve seen in the Riley Era. 11 of those 16 plays featured jet motion, not surprising given how Wyoming frequently rolled their coverage shell in response to it in the Northern Illinois game. Nebraska also reset the formation once on 3rd and 1, going from a three tight end double wing to a Wing T with Trey Foster in the backfield.
Inside Zone (23 Runs)
For as big a role as Zone Slice played against Fresno State, it played no role against Wyoming. Against a heavy box, Nebraska preferred to run the Read play or go straight up under center without any split zone action. I suspect part of this was to set up conflicting tendencies for Oregon and beyond.
Much like the Fresno State game and the UCLA one before it, Nebraska continues to morph into a legit Zone Read team. And with good reason, as it’s become one of the Huskers’ most productive plays with Tommy Armstrong behind center. Nebraska gained 29 yards on 7 Read plays (4.14 YPC) this week, with Armstrong scoring his first touchdown of the game off the play. The total number of Read plays likely would have been higher had Nebraska not pulled away in the 4th quarter, at which time they jammed their QBs under center and burned the clock.
Nebraska didn’t run any Bluff this week, though they did use the look to set up a 19-yard completion off play action:
Again, not surprising given that Bluff is primarily used as a constraint off the Slice play. Without Slice, Bluff doesn’t have much value.
Nebraska also ran 15 standard inside zone plays, 14 of them from under center. This was largely a function of the scoreboard, as Nebraska was content to line up with multiple tight ends in the fourth quarter and continually run the play with Ryker Fyfe in the game. They gained 57 yards on these plays, for 3.8 YPC
In total, Nebraska gained 84 yards on 23 inside zone runs, for an average of 3.65 YPC. In part, that’s understandable against a defense playing as fast downhill as Wyoming did in this game. At the same time, Nebraska leans on the inside zone as a base for a lot of its stuff, and it needs to get substantially better at it before Big 10 play. Otherwise, more Northwestern 2015 type games are going to follow.
Outside Zone (6 Runs)
Pin and Pull: 1
FB Insert: 4
Whereas Nebraska went to outside zone heavily against Fresno State, dialing it up 17 times, Riley and Langsdorf called a mere 6 outside zone plays against Wyoming. One, however, provided Devine Ozigbo’s 4th quarter touchdown after a Ross Dzuris fumble recovery.
One thing that Langsdorf has been doing quite often, even with the notable absence of Andy Janovich, is inserting the fullback into his outside zone play. It’s a nice addition, as Luke McNitt has been surprisingly good leading the play:
I also suspect we’re setting this up to sneak McNitt out at some point this year on play action, maybe for SPIDER 2 Y-BANANA!!!!
It wasn’t a great outside zone game from the Huskers offense, as they only gained 15 yards on the play for an average of 2.5 YPC.
QB Run Game (5 runs)
Despite Armstrong’s contribution in the Read game, Nebraska continues to struggle with designed QB runs. That said, they’ve been extremely basic in the first two games, and Wyoming was a testament to that, with 4 QB Sweeps and 1 Counter OH Lead. These five plays gained Nebraska 15 yards, for a ho hum 3 YPC. That’s misleading, though, as one of the Sweeps went for 11 yards while the other four plays gained 4 yards total.
Power/Counter/Lead Draw (1 run)
Nebraska rolled out an ISO play on 3rd and 1, gaining three yards on the play, but otherwise Power/Counter was non-existent. This is the second game in a row that we haven’t seen any Power. Whether this is simply Langsdorf playing games with the film for Oregon or a lack of confidence in our guards to pull is up for debate. I think we’ve got some serious issues at left guard right now, and so it makes sense not to rely heavily on Power and Counter given those problems. We need to find a solution, though, as it’s a great constraint play off our zone looks and it’s something that has given Oregon fits thus far this year:
Jet Sweep (1 run)
We talked a bit last week about Brandon Reilly being a surprisingly good jet sweep guy. Really, Reilly is great at a lot of things. In this game, he got the Huskers’ only jet sweep, going 13 yards with it on 2nd and 5. Despite the lack of carries on this play, the Huskers frequently used jet motion as bait to expand Wyoming’s defensive edge on inside zone plays.
Designed FB Carries (O runs)
I was calling for this in the 4th quarter once Nebraska went up big, but Langsdorf wouldn’t throw me a bone. Maybe next week is when we see Luke McNitt sneaking through the Ducks’ secondary just as his predecessor did on Thursday night.
Much like last week, Nebraska started out horribly in their screen game, with a bad throw on a slip screen that resulted in a two-yard loss. Over the Husker offense’s next five screens, though, they stepped on the gas and put up 69 yards on a variety of Slip and Bubble screens. By game’s end, Nebraska had averaged 11.17 YPC on screen plays, a welcome improvement from the last 12 months of questionable screen plays.
For a lot of reasons, Nebraska hasn’t been very good at running screens to their backs. It’s too bad because Nebraska’s considerable vertical threat from the WR often creates a ton of space for the backs to operate if the offense can execute the play. Perhaps Wyoming is a sign of things to come, as the Huskers hit a couple slip screens, one going for 39 yards and another for a TD that was called back because of an unnecessary Cethan Carter block in the back.
Hello Mr. Carter, tell me where have you been? Nothing gives me more joy on football Saturdays than watching Cethan Carter with the ball in his hands bearing down on a DB:
After carrying a late TE reverse to clinch the UCLA game, Mr. Carter’s run threat returned in this game, as he took a pseudo Statue of Liberty play around the right end for 9 yards:
Carter is surprisingly nimble carrying the ball, showing just how valuable he is to this team. This play also continues Coach Riley’s trend of dialing up at least one special play per game.
And no Caleb Lightbourne, your fake punt was “special” but not in that way.
Wrapping It Up
Nebraska did what Nebraska needed to do. We talked about how Wyoming’s primary goal was to stop the run, with almost extreme dedication of the safeties to do it. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what Wyoming did during the game. And it also cost them dearly in the passing game, as Armstrong, despite a couple of questionable throws, played a great game and continually stood and delivered in the face of Cowboys pressure. An eye popping 11 YPA, along with five completions over 25 yards, took pressure off the Nebraska running game and gave Nebraska 4 passing touchdowns. Fitting, then, that Armstrong became Nebraska’s career passing TDs leader.
And really, though the competition hasn’t been great, Armstrong has performed pretty damn well given all he’s being asked to do right now in the Nebraska offense. We know Langsdorf has tasked him with a high number of Read plays since UCLA, and for the most part Tommy has done the job. In tonight’s breakdown of plays, we’ll cover a couple RPOs that again require #4 to make great decisions. And finally, 30+ passes in a game to back off an opponent’s safeties is no joke either. It’s not always the prettiest thing to watch, but it has been effective thus far this year. Nebraska needs it to continue next week, as the Huskers get their first big test of the year with a primed Oregon team coming to town.