Our first Charting post of the year. If you weren’t around last year, Charting posts look at the big picture of the Huskers offense. What percentage of the time are we under center? Do we have a favorite personnel group? How often are we running motion with our plays? Any particularly explosive offensive concepts?
Last year it was weekly feature. This year, because I’ve already incorporated some of the numbers in regular posts, we’ll look at Charting Checkups every 3 games. So with that, let’s see what looks different this year.
Quick disclaimer. With only three games played, one of which involved Nebraska playing an entire half from way behind, these numbers are a bit distorted from what we’ll see the rest of the year. Thus, hold the big conclusions for the midway point of 2017. For now though, I think there are some unique things coming out this year as the offense transitions back into more of what it looked like in 2015.
Personnel, Formations and Motions
Let’s take a final look at what Nebraska was in 2016 before we start talking this year. With Tommy Armstrong at the helm, Nebraska was essentially an 11 personnel Shotgun team, lining Armstrong up deep on 70% of its plays. Of those plays, 29% of them involved some sort of motion. Here were the Huskers’ favorite personnel groups last year:
00 (0 RB/0 TE/5 WR): 0%
10 (1 RB/0 TE/4 WR): 0%
11 (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR): 52%
12 (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR): 27%
13 (1 RB/3 TE/1 WR): 6%
20 (2 RB/0 TE/3 WR): 0%
21 (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR): 12%
22 (2 RB/2 TE/1 WR): 2%
23 (2 RB/3 TE/0 WR): 1%
None of that is surprising. Nebraska was a Zone Read team in 2016 with Armstrong at the helm, and they also lined him up in Gun to give him a better view of the secondary shell to help read coverages.
This year, we’re seeing a pretty heavy move away from that. Most obvious is that offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has largely scrapped the Zone Read. But he’s also gone under center much more, lining up in Gun only 40% of the time. Why? Probably a couple reasons. One, play action is easier to sell from under center because the QB can hide the ball longer. And Nebraska has frequently tried to take deep shots off play action in 2017. Two, Tanner Lee is, or should be, better at reading coverage, and so there is less of a concern about needing to help him along. But if the first three games are any indication, maybe they should go Gun a bit more to simplify things for him.
We’re also seeing a shift in personnel groups to heavier looks. 11 personnel is down, with the difference largely sliding over to the two tight end sets:
00 (0 RB/0 TE/5 WR): 0%
10 (1 RB/0 TE/4 WR): 0%
11 (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR): 43% (down 9%)
12 (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR): 41% (up 14%)
13 (1 RB/3 TE/1 WR): 1% (down 5%)
20 (2 RB/0 TE/3 WR): 0%
21 (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR): 10% (down 2%)
22 (2 RB/2 TE/1 WR): 5% (up 3%)
23 (2 RB/3 TE/0 WR): 0% (down 1%)
Some of this is sleight of hand, as Langsdorf has frequently used Luke McNitt similar to how he used Andy Janovich. Line him up in traditional tight end and H-Back spots while maintaining the flexibility to motion him into the backfield as needed.
Why the increase in heavier two tight end personnel? It all starts and ends with pass protection. With the offensive line struggling to protect Lee, Nebraska is more frequently running 7-man pass protections early this fall by adding a tight end into the protection. Has it worked? Not really. Nebraska’s tight ends are struggling to get guys blocked in the running and passing games. If the Huskers are going to stay in 12 personnel, those guys have to pick it up.
Motion and shifting is also way up this year, currently sitting at 40%. With that, we’ve seen a couple new movements from the Huskers in 2017. The first is a constraint motion off Nebraska’s typical Jet motion:
It’s designed to create a shift from the defense anticipating the Jet Sweep before switching directions and taking advantage of that shift.
The second is a pre-snap shift into the I formation. Langsdorf has always liked to shift in short yardage situations. Make the defense declare a strength, then shift into something that gives you the ability to attack away from that strength. Here, we also see the value of Luke McNitt being able to play from both fullback and traditional tight end locations on the field:
McNitt initially lines up in an H-back position before shifting back into the fullback spot in the I. What was once a run heavy formation to the left becomes more balanced, giving Nebraska the ability to attack the weak side of the field.
Though I don’t expect motion and shifting to stay up in the 40% range all year, it’s pretty clear we’re trying to help create confusion in the defense to make things easier on a struggling offensive line. Thus far, it’s been hit and miss.
Before the season started, I talked about how infrequently we pulled linemen last year and how I anticipated seeing that increase in 2017. That prediction turned out correct, as Nebraska pulled more linemen in the first three games this year than they did in all of 2016. Much of that comes from two concepts, Counter and Pin and Pull. We’ve talked about Counter before and Pin and Pull is an upcoming Concept Wednesday, so we won’t cannibalize that post here.
Instead, let’s look at something they’ve tweaked with Counter. New in 2017 is running it to the side of the back:
Being able to attack both sides of the defense from the Gun is important to prevent predictability. If you only run to the side away from the back, it’s not long before you start seeing run blitzes from that side when you go into the Gun. Whereas Nebraska typically likes to run Counter from under center, the play above puts Tre Bryant beside Lee while also giving the Huskers the ability to attack that side.
And more pulling has already paid dividends for the offense. The group has 12 runs of 10+ yards this year. Half of them involved pullers. If Nebraska can get back to healthy on the offensive line, look for that to continue.
Wrapping It Up
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Now back to football. Certainly been a wild week in Lincoln, adding yet another layer of unpredictability to a team that already struggles with consistency. No clue what’s going to shake out this weekend against Rutgers. You’d like to think Nebraska could handle a team like the Scarlet Knights with ease, but nothing has been easy in 2017.
And Rutgers head coach Chris Ash is an excellent defensive coach, so he’s going to be sure and press the Nebraska offense where they’ve struggled the last 4 quarters. He’ll also be well aware that true freshman Brenden Jaimes is starting at right tackle this weekend.
Speaking of Jaimes, keep an eye on that kid. He’s not at ideal weight yet, but he’ll be the fifth true freshman in program history to start a game on the Huskers’ offensive line. He’s also probably Nebraska’s most natural offensive tackle right now, with both Gates and Farniok better suited inside. If he can step up and man the position, it bodes well for the flexibility of the offensive line in 2018. And it also plugs a huge hole in our roster for 2017.
If you put me on the spot, I’d say I expect a low scoring, classic Big 10 snoozefest tomorrow. Rutgers hasn’t had much luck scoring against FBS opponents this year, and Nebraska’s offense has played poorly the last 5 quarters. So course, with the way 2017 has gone, Nebraska will come out and drill Rutgers while putting up 40+ points, right?
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