I don’t think it’s a secret anymore that I love pulling offensive linemen. There may be nothing better in football than a guard coming down the line of scrimmage and burying a 185lb cornerback. When done properly, pulling plays send a message to perimeter defenders that they’re going to have to man up for 60 minutes or simply be overwhelmed by force.
As I kind of hinted in the season opening piece, the Arkansas State game showed Nebraska is back to pulling linemen in 2017 after a short hiatus the year before. One of Langsdorf and Riley’s “identity” runs (I hate it, but the coaches use it so we’ll go with it) has been Counter OH. Corn Nation did a great job breaking down the core Counter play, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Instead, today for Concept Wednesday I’ll take a look at a couple derivatives of Counter that Nebraska uses to protect its core Counter play.
What It Is
This is what Nebraska’s basic Counter OH play looks like:
It’s effective because it takes two blockers from the backside of the play (in this case Tanner Farmer and Connor Ketter) and pulls them to the front side of the play to increase numbers at the point of attack. RG pulls and kicks out, and the H-back leads the RB through the hole. When done right, because the front side of the line looks like a standard inside zone play, it can create monster holes like the play above.
But you can’t just sit in Counter forever because as soon as defenses see that backside guard and H-back pulling, they’ll trigger hard on the Counter run and your numbers advantage at the point of attack is gone.
So how do you prevent it? CONSTRAINT PLAY! If you were around last year, you saw me talk about the benefits of constraint plays. If not, take a spin on the search feature.
Why It Works
Constraint plays are all about protecting your core running plays from overpursuit from the defense. They give the defense elements of an offense’s core running play for a second or two before turning into something different. Usually that something different is headed the other way in a hurry, typically in a lot of free space. And last Saturday, OCDL called up two new constraint plays off the Counter look.
The first was a slick throwback screen to H-back Tyler Hoppes:
If you’re a second level defender, the initial steps of this play look exactly like Counter. Right side of the line down blocks, LG Jerald Foster and LT Nick Gates pull, H-back Tyler Hoppes takes an inside step to block the defensive end, and Tre Bryant takes a counter step in the backfield before faking a hand off. All this screams Counter and tells a defender he better get his butt to the path of the pullers so his defense doesn’t get outnumbered. In fact, if you look at the Red Wolves linebackers, they’re both convinced Bryant has the ball.
Except the play isn’t what they think it is. Instead, the down blocking C, RG, and RT release into the left flat while Hoppes chips off the defensive end and then drops off to catch a pass. Gates stops his pull and cuts the defensive end to create a throwing window for Tanner Lee. Tight end Connor Ketter releases vertical to pull coverage down the field and create open space for Hoppes to run. In fact, if center Cole Conrad hits his block, this goes for huge yardage. As it was, Hoppes gains 8 on the play and Langsdorf sends a clear message to the defense that they better not overpursue Counter because he has an answer for it.
The second constraint play off Counter was also our first **red alert** special play of the year. Late in the 4th quarter, having already run Counter OH four times, Langsdorf rolls out a WR reverse to Stanley Morgan off a Counter look:
Again, we see initial Counter action from the offensive line and tight ends. Gates, Foster, and Conrad all down block while Tanner Farmer pulls. Connor Ketter pulls as well and Mikale Wilbon takes a counter path in the backfield while faking an exchange with Tanner Lee.
Yeah, no. Ketter pivots out of his pull and instead heads back where he came from to lead Stanley Morgan around the end. Morgan comes flying around and takes a short pitch from Lee. I really, really like this play, and you can see how it distorts ASU’s inside defenders. Both take three hard steps toward Wilbon before belatedly realizing it has all gone wrong for them. Stanley made a poor read on Ketter’s block and cut inside instead of heading outside, turning an explosive play into a one-yard gain. Understandable given Stanley has 1 career rushing attempt.
But I’ve heard Nebraska has a dynamic young receiver backing up Morgan. And he’s got a bit more history carrying the ball from the backfield:
Yep, that’s how I feel too Coach Dub. I can almost guarantee you we’ll see Tyjon Lindsey running the ball on this play at some point in time in his Husker career. And if we block it like we did up above, it may be a house call.
Does It Work With Nebraska’s Personnel?
It’s only fitting that Counter is a concept created by two men Nebraska fans might know: Tom Osborne and the late Milt Tenopir. And in seeing it come back in a big way for 2017, we’ve come full circle.
Counter works for Nebraska in 2017 because they’ve taken a big step forward in the athleticism of the interior offensive line. After missing much of 2016 with a knee injury, big Jerald Foster returned to full strength. I’d still like to see him trim a bit of weight off, but he’s a much better mover in space than what the Huskers had last year at that spot. Speaking of cutting weight, Tanner Farmer used wrestling as a way to not only cut a substantial amount of bad weight, but also as a tool to drastically improve his footwork. With these two being the key pullers in Counter, it puts Nebraska back in the pulling game.
And the constraint plays above also show that the Huskers’ offense now has dynamic perimeter players to take advantage of overpursuit. Hoppes had a nice introduction to fans, and you can tell Langsdorf is making a concerted effort to get him the ball in space. And with Spielman, Lindsey, and De’Mornay Pierson-El, the Huskers also have three wide receivers capable of carrying the ball and creating explosive plays with only a bit of space.
Keep an eye on the Counter concept moving forward because I have a sneaking suspicion Danny Langsdorf isn’t done finding ways to put new wrinkles into it.