Charting Wisconsin – All Good Things Must End

We’ve talked about how the Nebraska offense has largely danced on razor’s edge the last few games, as injuries have played a substantial role in bringing a once formidable ground game to a crashing halt.  They found ways to survive those injuries against Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue, but the Badgers brought a top 10 defense into the game (though nursing its own injuries) and it wasn’t meant to be.

What played out against Wisconsin was simply a more exacerbated version of what we’ve seen since the competition got a little better and we got less healthy.  Difficulty getting any consistency with the inside zone game, and an inability to get consistent pass protection or accuracy from the QB spot in the passing game.  Those two things, coupled with some excellent defense from Wisconsin, added up to a meager 305 total yards and 17 points.

The Nebraska offensive line was licking its wounds and somehow got even less healthy with the early loss of Tanner Farmer, so let’s take a look at what they tried to change against the Badgers to overcome those issues.

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Purdue – Let’s Talk Offensive Line and Terrell Newby

We’re going to switch up the format a bit this week.  Nebraska’s offense didn’t show more than a couple of new things against Purdue and what it did show was largely limited by the 1,500lb gorilla in the room: the Pipeline’s major struggles.  So rather than break down three plays as we usually do, we’re going to drill a bit deeper into where things are going wrong for Nebraska’s offensive line.

We’ll also take a quick look at the main man running behind them, Terrell Newby.  Despite the offensive line’s struggles, Newby has managed to put up two 100-yard games in his last three and a combined 324 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.  How?  Mostly by making a lot out of nothing, and also by logging big runs when the line does open up holes.  Newby doesn’t have eye popping stats, with only 511 yards on 103 carries for the year (4.96 YPC).  But given the issues up front, he’s saved Nebraska’s offense from completely shutting down.  And with the line issues not going away anytime soon, he’ll need to have an efficient game against Wisconsin if the Huskers want to put up points.

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Charting Purdue – Slogging Through It

I mentioned way back in the Wyoming write up that I had pretty substantial concerns about the interior OL.  Unfortunately, with Nick Gates now working on one leg and David Knevel dealing with his own injuries, those concerns have now spread to the entire offensive line.  Not exactly what you want in October staring down the barrel at two straight games against top 15 teams.

There was no escaping that it was a complete s*^&show against Purdue for much of the game.  With 484 yards and 27 points, the overall numbers weren’t horrible.  But it’s how Nebraska reached those totals that is increasingly becoming the problem.  Nebraska’s inside zone series, the base of its entire run game, has started to go off the rails.  A bunch of plays going for 2 yards or less before finally popping one for big yards.  That makes the box score look good, but it also means a lot of punts until you bust one of those big runs.  Such is life with the state of Nebraska’s offensive line right now.

Let’s take a look at how Nebraska squeezed as much as it could out of its offense on Saturday against Purdue.

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Indiana – The Lockdown U Show

333 total yards, 2.9 yards per carry, two interceptions, including one pick 6, and 3 sacks.  The Hoosiers offense in 2016 may not be what it was in 2013, when it finished inside the top 10 in total yards and generally ran and threw it over and around everyone.  But it isn’t nearly as bad as the Blackshirts made it on Saturday either, holding the Indiana squad to its second lowest total yardage and yards per play this year.  We haven’t talked a whole lot this year about defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s defense for reasons discussed here, but halfway through the season and coming off a game where they bailed out an injured, stagnant offense, it’s time to change that.

Banker’s modus operandi this year focuses on two core principles.  One, stop the run by freeing up the Blackshirts linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage.  They do have coverage responsibilities, but by frequently playing his base Quarters for much of the year, Banker has permitted his linebackers to play run first while knowing they’ve got safety help behind them on play action.  Two, keep everything structurally sound in the secondary to prevent the long pass play.  This was Nebraska’s Achilles’ heel in 2015, but they’ve cleaned it up a bunch in 2016.  Sometimes that means the Huskers defense gives up yards between the 20 while allowing throws in front of DBs, but it’s the cost of doing business when you want to make an offense earn it down the entire field.  It’s also a pretty solid strategy when you’ve got an emerging secondary filled to the brim with above average defenders.  Lockdown U.  It’s bold, but so far they’ve lived up to it.

Against Indiana, Banker used the Lockdown U road show to dial up both zone and man blitzes agains well traveled QB Richard Lagow.   Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at Nebraska’s base coverage in the Nickel and then we’ll turn to how Banker’s pressure packages added up to 3 big sacks for 24 yards.

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Charting Indiana – Back In Black

Jerald Foster.  Cethan Carter.  Jordan Westerkamp.  David Knevel.  By the second play against Indiana, those preseason Husker starters, which include two of its top five offensive players, were no longer a factor.  It didn’t get any better when All Everything offensive tackle Nick Gates rolled his ankle shortly thereafter.  

As we discussed last week, at that point, it becomes a “by any means” necessary game.  And when that happens, unless you have elite talent waiting on the sidelines, you need a defense ready to show up and slow the opponent down.  Right on cue, the Blackshirts answered the bell, holding Indiana to 333 yards and a pedestrian 4.83 YPP.  In case you’re still sleeping on Mark Banker’s crew in 2016, they’re now 29th in total defense, 16th in scoring defense and 13th pass efficiency defense.  That’s a monster change from 2015, and it’s something we’ll look at in our next write up.

For now, though, let’s take a look at how offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf tried to ride out a hard regression to the mean from Tommy Armstrong and a MASH unit up front that made getting into a rhythm difficult.

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Scouting Indiana – Defense

It used to be that you could count on Indiana being a one-trick pony, with a potent offense and a defense somewhere between Bo Pelini meets Melvin Gordon and John Papuchis meets Baylor’s bowl game single wing offense.  Now, however, the Hoosiers have stepped up their defense in 2016, though by no means are they an elite unit yet.  49th in total defense and 51st in scoring defense.  The good news is that while their passing defense has been solid, at 73rd in the country their run defense still tilts toward poor.

Let’s take a look at what has changed for Indiana in 2016 and why the Huskers’ offense can’t sleep on them in this game.
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Scouting Indiana – Offense

After a bye week hiatus, we’re back with the scouting report.  Up next, the Indiana Hoosiers.  This is the first time the Huskers and Hoosiers have matched up in the Big 10, and though the Blackshirts may have liked the match up a few years ago, that’s far less true today.  In a statistical oddity, Indiana’s offense is ranked 39th in total offense but only 84th in scoring offense.  As can be expected, that is largely due to a putrid red zone offense, sitting at 124th (out of 128) in the country.

In other words, this is the perfect type of game to get Nebraska fans needlessly riled up, and not in a good way.  The Blackshirts have shown a tendency to give up yards before ultimately tightening up inside the 20.  If that holds against Kevin Wilson’s Indiana offense, it’ll make for some serious heartburn for total yardage watchers.  Let’s take a look at how Indiana likely puts up those yards.

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Glossary – the Husker Motion Package

After reading various articles, and more specifically the Charting posts, a number of readers have asked me if there was a glossary they could reference while looking at the posts.  As always, the glossary at Inside The Pylon tends to be a great resource for a number of terms or phrases you’ll read here at Husker Chalk Talk.  That said, as good as it is, it doesn’t apply specifically to the Huskers and it doesn’t provide the visual clues that some need to understand a concept.

Accordingly, this is the first post of many I’ll call the “Glossary Series.”  These won’t be the typical deep dives you’ve seen thus far from the site, but rather surface level posts in which I’ll post descriptions and/or film cut ups of certain words or phrases that you’ll see in the Charting posts.  And so if you’re ever confused about a particular concept and the Inside The Pylon glossary doesn’t answer your question, this series will hopefully have something in it to solve the riddle.

For our first post in the series, let’s take a quick look at the types of motion that we’ve seen from the Husker offense in 2015 and 2016. Continue reading “Glossary – the Husker Motion Package”

Illinois – Tricking the Beast With Four Heads

That Illinois defensive line.  Whoa.  When you see future All Big 10 offensive tackle Nick Gates hook a guy on the first play and hope he doesn’t get called for a hold, you know it’s going to be a long day.  Gates has been an absolute animal this year, but he had his hands full all day with Illini end Carroll Phillips.  And as Husker fans witnessed all too frequently, the other side fared even worse, with Dawuane Smoot living in the Nebraska backfield for a large portion of the game.

Nevertheless, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and his patchwork offensive line found just enough cards in the deck to play a few tricks on that impressive Illini line.  In this write up, we’ll take a look at a new play designed to put Gates in motion, and we’ll touch base with another concept that the Huskers have cleaned up and modified substantially since the beginning of last year.  Without these types of plays, Nebraska probably doesn’t beat the Illini by more than a handful of points.  With them, they pour on 21 points in the 4th quarter to win going away.  

We’ll also get some bonus footage on the defensive side of the ball, taking a look at one of the Blackshirts’ man coverage blitzes as well as the progression of Chris Jones, whose rapidly rising coverage skills makes blitzes like that one work.

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Charting Illinois – Survive and Move On

When Cethan Carter left the game with just under 12 minutes left in the first quarter, Nebraska was missing the following offensive starters from the first day of fall camp: Alonzo Moore, Jerald Foster, Tanner Farmer, Cethan Carter.  As Huskers fans saw, they’d also lose Jordan Westerkamp and David Knevel to injuries later in the game as well.  With injured Knevel and his replacement Cole Conrad going up against a future 1st round draft pick and arguably the best defensive end in the Big 10, the mantra shifted from winning pretty to just winning.  Such is life when your offensive line depth is tenuous at best and you’re going up against a team with at least 3 NFL caliber defensive linemen.

Thankfully, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf called another brilliant game, Tommy Armstrong overcame a couple of YOLO moments to deliver another solid performance, and a patchwork offensive line leaned on the undersized Illini front just long enough to open up some holes late.  And when they did, little Terrell Newby, at a generous 5’10” and 200lbs, came through big for the Huskers offense and ran like a much bigger man.

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