Welcome back Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer. These two major parts of Nebraska’s offensive provided much need relief from the struggles that have marked the last few weeks. Though by no means was this an explosive offense performance against the Gophers, it was largely an efficient one, with the Husker offense rushing for 4.91 YPC and throwing for 7.8 YPA. That’s the highest YPC that Minnesota has allowed this year and the third highest YPA as well. On the Nebraska side of the ledger, that was also our second highest YPC in conference play and third on the year
How did Nebraska do it? By getting back to more balance in the run game, attacking both inside and on the perimeter, along with a large dose of working the ball out to the Savage Professionals in space on screens. Add it up, package it with a dominant second half from the Blackshirts, and you end up with a 24-17 win in a game where Nebraska played the backup QB a notable number of snaps. It’s not great, but I’ll certainly take it.
Personnel, Formations and Motions
Minnesota played keep away with the ball for the first half of Q1 and finished the game up in the time of possession “battle” despite gaining only 93 yards in the second half (41 on their last drive). Once the Huskers got the ball in the first quarter, it became immediately evident that offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf would relentlessly attack the Gophers’ perimeter:
In fact, Tommy Armstrong ripped off three screen plays on Nebraska’s first drive alone, with two Bubbles and one Flare screen. To put that in perspective, the Husker offense has six games this year where they’ve thrown 3 or fewer screens for the entire game.
In terms of personnel, it was largely more of the same from Langsdorf and the Husker offense:
00 (0 RB/0 TE/5 WR): 0
10 (1 RB/0 TE/4 WR): 0
11 (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR): 25
12 (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR): 17
13 (1 RB/3 TE/1 WR): 3
20 (2 RB/0 TE/3 WR): 0
21 (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR): 10
22 (2 RB/2 TE/1 WR): 2
23 (2 RB/3 TE/0 WR): 0
What did change a bit, however, was how Nebraska lined up their H-Back in the game. We saw a bit deeper setup from the Huskers than we typically have seen this year:
Typically Langsdorf has put that H-Back in a wing alignment off the tight end’s outside hip and then used him to run the Slice/Bluff packages in Nebraska’s inside zone series. In this game, though, Langsdorf deepened the H-Back into the backfield to provide a bit easier angle to the DE on the Slice action. It didn’t always work out like it looks on the chalkboard, but overall it was a nice adjustment that made Sam Cotton’s job a lot easier.
It was pretty much a chalk game in terms of motion, with Nebraska moving someone around pre-snap 15 out of 58 plays, or 26% of the time. That’s down slightly from the season average of 28%, but Langsdorf made up for that by resetting the formation 9 times during the game. Five times that was resetting the RB from one side of the QB to the other, trying to get better running angles into the defensive front.
We again saw Nebraska work from both the shotgun and under center, with 39 snaps out of the Gun and 19 from under center. That’s right on the Huskers’ season average of 66% of the snaps from the shotgun.
Inside Zone (14Runs)
It wasn’t an overwhelming game in terms of the number of inside zone runs called, largely a function of Minnesota holding onto the ball for as long as they did. Nevertheless, when Nebraska did run inside zone, it was much more effective than it has been in five weeks, racking up 86 yards on 6.14 YPC. Why? Good health from the offensive line paired with a couple of excellent runs from Terrell Newby. And importantly, Nebraska only had two negative plays on its inside zone series, one from a bad read by Armstrong on the Zone Read and another from a blocking breakdown up front. Otherwise, Nebraska was far more consistent in positive yardages plays than it has been the last five weeks.
Nebraska ran three Read plays for 25 yards, including Armstrong’s 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put Nebraska up for good:
Also, if you’re scoring at home, that’s a new constraint play off Nebraska’s Flare screen action. With defenses frequently overreacting to the Flare motion out of the backfield, Langsdorf decided to package our Read play with TE Cethan Carter arcing to pick up one safety while the inside zone action from Tre Bryant holds the other safety. And when it works like that, it rips a seam in the defense between the Flare and the inside zone run, allowing Armstrong to scoot right down the middle of it.
As I discussed above, Nebraska ran Slice four times, each one going with Sam Cotton lined up deep in the backfield. This breaks tendency for the Huskers in 2016, though Langsdorf would line up Andy Janovich in a similar spot in 2015. The move worked, as the Huskers gained 31 yards on four plays, including Terrell Newby’s long run late in the fourth quarter.
Along with running Slice with Cotton deep in the backfield, Langsdorf also dialed up Nebraska’s Bluff play three times for 17 yards. Again, it’s a nice play to keep defenses from overusing the scrape exchange to defend the Husker offense, and it’s something we have to be willing to run if we’re also going to run the Read play
FB Insert: 0
Outside Zone (4 runs)
Just as key as the inside zone’s consistency, the return of Farmer and Jerald Foster also allowed Nebraska to supplement with its outside zone plays. It still wasn’t a huge night for the outside zone, but 4 runs are the highest since the Indiana game. The Huskers gained 12 yards on the plays for 3 YPC.
Pin and Pull: 1
FB Insert: 2
QB Run Game (4 runs)
With Foster and Farmer back reporting for duty, Nebraska once again went back to arguably its most successful QB designed run this year: the Counter OH Lead play. Nebraska has run this 6 times for 50 yards this year (8.3 YPC), including this explosive edition versus the Gophers:
Why does it work so well? Because the playside blocking looks just like Nebraska’s zone blocking for the jet sweep. The playside OT and OG both down block as they would on a jet sweep, and as seen above, this often forces the LBs to take a step or two toward the jet sweep path. Problem is Langsdorf is pulling the backside OG and the TE, along with having the RB take a counter step before reversing path to lead Armstrong back to the playside. Add it all up and you’ve got a defense that is quickly outleveraged, leaving Armstrong with room to run.
On the strength of this run and the Huskers’ Y Stick/QB Lead Draw RPO, Nebraska ended up with 41 yards on its five designed QB runs, for an average of 8.1 YPC.
Power/Counter/Draw/ISO (3 runs)
We still didn’t see any true Power or Counter this week, though with Farmer and Foster returning, I think we still may see it before the year is over. Foster did pull once on a G play similar to the G Lead we ran last week for a touchdown. Other than that, two ISO plays and one Lead Draw for a total of 9 yards.
Jet Sweep (2 runs)
DPE took 2 jet sweeps for 11 yards, or 5.5 YPC. That’s an improvement from Nebraska’s season average for the play, and of course, as we see above, the jet motion was instrumental in setting up several other Nebraska runs.
Designed FB Carries (O runs)
After a rather pedestrian performance against Ohio State, I can imagine that Coach Williams was in the offensive meeting pleading for the Savage Professionals to get another shot. Langsdorf agreed and made them a focus of the offense this week, throwing 7 screens to the wideouts and another two to the RBs. Clearly, with the offensive line still trying to work back to 100% and Tommy Armstrong tilting downward the past few weeks, the screen game was a point of emphasis this week to take pressure off both units.
And it worked, with the Huskers gaining 78 yards on 9 screens, for an average of 8.67 YPA. The most important one was a fantastic pitch and catch to Terrell Newby, who took the Slip screen straight up the sideline 31 yards and into the end zone:
That’s just a great call in the perfect spot. With Minnesota bringing 5-man pressure and playing Cover 1 behind it, the LB assigned to cover Newby must navigate between Jerald Foster and Dylan Utter. When he can’t, it leaves Newby in space against the deep safety. One hesitation high step and a false leg, and it’s over for that safety. Nice job by Bryan Reimers running the CB off and then blocking him into oblivion as well.
That’s two weeks in a row that we haven’t seen anything tricky from Langsdorf, which usually means he’s going to double up the next week.
Wrapping It Up
If you’ve followed the blog this year, it should be clear by now that I’m a big Terrell Newby fan. He’s not perfect, but short of posting a cut up of every Newby touch this year, I’m also not sure Nebraska fans will ever realize how good he’s been in 2016 in a variety of areas. His stats aren’t particularly gaudy, a function of Ozigbo’s early carries along with a rapidly deteriorating offensive line over the past few weeks. Yet Newby is on pace to hit 946 yards on the year, and with Jerald Foster and Farmer back, it’s not out of the question for him to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Much of that he’s had to earn on his own, a marked improvement over last year, when he frequently looked tentative looking for space to run instead of picking a hole and getting through it.
That’s all you can ask for from a Husker player. Not everybody is blessed with Ameer Abdullah’s insane agility or Lawrence Phillips’ blend of speed and power. But for the most part, if a player has the physical gifts necessary to start and improves over a four-year stretch in the program, they’ll end up a valuable contributor.
And it would have been easy for Newby to quit multiple times. He barely saw his carries rise from his freshman to sophomore year, from 54 to 67, stuck behind Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross. 2015 brought a new offense and a new running backs coach, the perfect time for a player with a redshirt year to dip out and find a new program. Instead, Newby stuck around, worked on his craft under new coach Reggie Davis, and has truly become a very good all-around back in 2016. And he’s a drastically undervalued blocker, both in lead plays for Tommy Armstrong and in pass protection.
Perhaps most importantly, he saved the Huskers’ season no fewer than three times this year, turning 50/50 games into Nebraska wins by breaking off long runs and coming through with first downs in late game situations. That’s how you get 10+ win seasons, and I hope fans appreciate Newby’s three remaining games in scarlet and cream. I’m certain we’ll miss him more than most know right now.