Woah. I said before the game that I didn’t think Ohio State was a great match up for Nebraska and that I wouldn’t be shocked to see Urban step on the gas, but I didn’t see it being 62-3 bad. Though inflated a bit from playing Ryker Fyfe for so long, Nebraska was never in that game from the first minute. Just complete and utter destruction (no pun intended) by the Buckeyes.
We’ve discussed for the last few weeks how the wheels were falling off the Huskers’ offense because of line issues and injuries, and to a lesser extent, steadily regressing QB play that seemed anchored to that nosediving offensive line. The Ohio State game was more of the same, but unlike the Badgers, Boilermakers, Hoosiers and Illini, the Buckeyes had offensive talent and a College Football Playoff committee to impress.
Chalk it up to an unfavorable match up, one team playing its best game in a month, and the other playing its worst game of the year. When that happens with the current talent discrepancy between the two teams, it gets ugly fast. In any event, let’s look at what worked for Nebraska, which was pretty much nothing.
Personnel, Formations and Motions
It was a new week, but the same brutal type of start for the Husker offense. On the third play of the game, Tommy Armstrong made a poor decision on the Slant/Flat concept, and it was off to the races for the Buckeyes:
You can’t see it too clearly from that clip, but the CB was pressed on Stanley Morgan. As a QB, you must be able to understand coverage shells and where the weaknesses are. From the snap, with the LB hanging in the B gap, that ball should go to Terrell Newby. If you’re going to work that side of the field, Newby has the LB outleveraged from the start. More importantly, because the LB is late getting out of the B gap, you know he’s likely going to be in your throwing lane for the Slant route as well. And that’s exactly what happens.
It didn’t get any better before a second quarter play that knocked Armstrong out of the game for good. At that point, though, it was largely academic as the Buckeyes had gone up 24-3 and choked the life out of the Nebraska offense anyway.
Though Armstrong went out, the personnel packages stayed consistent throughout the game’s 57 offensive plays:
00 (0 RB/0 TE/5 WR): 0
10 (1 RB/0 TE/4 WR): 0
11 (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR): 32
12 (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR): 16
13 (1 RB/3 TE/1 WR): 0
20 (2 RB/0 TE/3 WR): 1
21 (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR): 7
22 (2 RB/2 TE/1 WR): 1
23 (2 RB/3 TE/0 WR): 0
With Cethan Carter back in action, Nebraska went back to spreading it out a bit more, with 56% of their plays coming from 11 personnel. That’s up from the season average of 50%. We also got our first look at 20 personnel, as Nebraska opened the 4th quarter with 2 RBs and 3 WRs.
Though offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf increased the motion in the previous two games, he dialed it back substantially in this game, with only 12 plays involving pre-snap movement. 10 of those plays involved a WR in motion, 1 a RB and the final one the H-Back. There wasn’t a whole lot of need to move guys around after going down big. Keep the clock moving (i.e. stop chucking it deep Ryker), run the play, and get out of Columbus.
It was a big shotgun game for the Huskers offense, with 46 plays (81%) coming from deep behind center Dylan Utter. Again, that’s what happens when you fall behind and when you need to create space away from the pass rush.
Inside Zone (19 Runs)
Yet again, in what seems like a continual drumbeat, the Nebraska offense couldn’t get its base inside zone series working. That’s disappointing, as it’s the first running play they install in the fall and it should be one of the easiest for the line to block. Instead, we saw way too much of this on it:
I don’t know what else there is to say other than that’s flat embarrassing. And it means that the rest of your running game is pretty much DOA at that point.
I know some have asked why we didn’t “run it outside” more. To that, I’d simply point to the clip above. If your offensive linemen can’t move straight ahead up the field without falling, they sure as hell can’t move laterally either.
Despite the zone Read being Nebraska’s most productive running play this year, it’s gone considerably south over the last three games. Nothing changed against Ohio State, as Nebraska only gained 12 yards on the play for an average of 2.4 YPC. Some of that was Tommy Armstrong being on the sideline for most of the game, but a lot of it was simply Ohio State beating us up front and then having speed to negate Armstrong on the edges.
On Saturday, in a nice little twist, the zone Slice play was Nebraska’s most productive run, with 40 yards on 7 carries. That’s inflated by a 17-yard gain early in the fourth quarter against the Buckeye backups, but even removing that run, I was still our most efficient inside zone run. We also found a new way to run it from our Split Backs set, and I’ll cover that in my next breakdown.
FB Insert: 0
Add it all up and you get 19 inside zone runs for 62 yards, or an average of 3.26 yards per carry. Remove the big run against the Buckeyes’ backups and it’s 2.5 YPC. Not going to win too many games when your bread-and-butter plays are “working” like that.
Outside Zone (1 run)
This is one of the major issues right now with our offense. Early in the year, with healthy personnel, we did a decent job of attacking the edges with our outside zone concept. Now, though, with Gates still struggling to move and the rest of our linemen lacking agility, we’ve essentially scraped even trying to get outside. You can quibble with it if you want, but in the few times we’ve tried to get outside, we haven’t been successful in doing in. We gained four yards on our one true outside zone run against Ohio State, and going back to the Northwestern game, we’re averaging 2.58 yards per carry outside of Terrell Newby’s late 63-yard run against the Illini. Again, that’s simply not going to get it done. More importantly, the personnel issues along the offensive line have made our offense predictable, which further stamps out our inside run game as well.
Pin and Pull: 0
FB Insert: 0
QB Run Game (1 run)
With Armstrong out of the game, this was inevitable. We did run the Y Stick/QB Lead Draw RPO once while he was in, with Armstrong showing some nifty moves to gain 11 yards.
Power/Counter/Draw/ISO (2 runs)
No true Power/Counter again this week, but we did get two fake jet sweep counter tosses in, which is a new look for the Riley/Langsdorf Huskers. Of course, one of them was the infamous “You can’t run Devin Ozigbo” outside play, which lost 6 yards. I don’t necessarily mind the criticism, but it’s a bit myopic. For one, the defense knows he’s your big back too. You can’t just plunge him into the middle of the line all game because that’s where the defense is expecting him to run. At some point, you have to go anti-tendency, and the best way to do that is as a counter off action, like the jet sweep, the other way.
Second, Ozigbo has been effective on outside runs over the last two years. He killed UCLA in the bowl game on outside zone, and he’s run it reasonably well this year too. Of course, when your TE and C get blown up on the play, it didn’t matter whether Ezekiel Elliott himself was in on the play. It wasn’t going anywhere.
Jet Sweep (1 run)
-2 yards on the carry. We tried to hit the weak side of the formation, but the RG got blown up, forcing DeMornay Pierson-El to adjust his path:
Even then, with Ohio State overplaying the jet sweep after getting repeatedly burned against Wisconsin, it wasn’t going to happen.
I’m not a huge fan of running that from the Offset I formation either. It takes too long to get fullback Luke McNitt moving from his stance, and by the time he does, the jet sweep guy is already on top of him. I’d much prefer McNitt in a wing alignment just off the right tackle so that he gets a head start to the edge.
Designed FB Carries (O runs)
With the offensive line struggling to move, our screen game has largely gone the way of the dinosaur as well. One incomplete Slip screen this week, after 2 screens against the Badgers, 3 against Purdue, and 2 against the Hoosiers.
It’s not a good look to run special plays down four touchdowns. On to the next week.
Wrapping It Up
In a game full of infuriating things, many of which directly involved the Huskers on the field, perhaps the most frustrating one was watching Joe Burrow trot out late and immediately lead the Buckeyes down the field for a touchdown. If you don’t recognize the last name, Joe’s father played for the Huskers and currently coaches for Frank Solich at Ohio, and Joe’s two older brothers played in Lincoln as well.
By all accounts, he would have been in a Nebraska uniform for that game if his current offensive coordinator, Tim Beck, had done his job and recruited Burrow while working at Nebraska. And of course Burrow had to play during a game where Tommy Armstrong went out, Ryker Fyfe came in, and the Husker offense continued to sink into the tank. Life is funny that way.
Missing out in recruiting, however, is not. In that game, we saw what happens when you (a) miss out on viable QB prospects; and (b) entirely whiff on multiple classes of offensive linemen. That a school like Nebraska played the entire second half with a walk on QB behind three walk on offensive linemen is absolutely nauseating. Doubly so when it comes against arguably the most talented team in the country.
If we’re going to get better moving forward, the most immediate and necessary step is to drastically improve the lines on both sides of the ball. The 2016 offensive line class was a great start, as John Raridon, Boe Wilson, and Matt Farniok (and perhaps more) figure to help in a big way next year. Now we need to find it for the other side of the ball and continue to add to the Pipeline’s depth as well.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Pipeline won’t be rebuilt in one either. Sadly, Saturday night was a shining example of that in action. Let’s hope Tommy Armstrong gets healthy, we find a way to smoke and mirror our way past Minnesota, and then close strong with hopefully better (maybe full?) health against Maryland and the clowns to the east. And I can’t wait until Husker fans get to see Jerald Foster back. The addition of him to a hopefully healthy Nick Gates by itself will substantially improve our running attack.