The Ohio State game was such an ass beating that there really is no need for a recap because the short version is the defense sucked and the offense couldn’t run the ball. The end.
So with that, let’s get to something a little less macabre. Charting Checkup at the 7-game mark. Again, standard disclaimer. When you play two games being down 4 touchdowns a substantial majority of the second half, things are going to get distorted. With that, let’s go.
Personnel, Formations and Motions
00 (0 RB/0 TE/5 WR): 0%
10 (1 RB/0 TE/4 WR): 0%
11 (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR): 48% (up 5% from last Checkup)
12 (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR): 35% (down 6%)
13 (1 RB/3 TE/1 WR): 1% (no change)
20 (2 RB/0 TE/3 WR): 0%
21 (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR): 11% (up 1%)
22 (2 RB/2 TE/1 WR): 3% (down 5%)
23 (2 RB/3 TE/0 WR): 0% (no change)
As you can see, Nebraska has utilized fewer two tight end formations since the Rutgers game. Why? Part of it is playing almost three full quarters against Ohio State down three touchdowns. That means a lot of 11 personnel trying to make a comeback through the air.
But the second reason is that Nebraska’s tight ends are poor in the running game right now. Way too often they get no movement, and even worse, they’re frequently pushed into the backfield:
That’s actually one of the better clips I could find in the Wisconsin game for them, and it’s still not pretty. No movement, both tight ends getting pushed back into the hole. Against Ohio State, it was even uglier. When that happens, time to get one of them out and play 11 personnel as much as possible.
Motion is still up for the year at 35%, but it’s gone down considerably the last two games, with the Huskers only motioning 24 total plays out of 122. To put that in perspective, they motioned 34 out of 81 plays against Northern Illinois. No real sense in motioning against Ohio State, as you were down big from the second quarter on.
One new wrinkle that offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has rolled out is an Empty formation that we haven’t run during his time in Lincoln:
Because Nebraska doesn’t have enough scholarship wide receivers (no joke) to run a true 5-wide set, we run Empty out of 11 personnel. The tight end is set to the field in this play with the running back in the slot to the boundary. We’ve also flipped them in later games too. It’s largely been a short-to-medium yardage formation, and I don’t expect that to change until the staff feels comfortable with our pass protection and Lee’s ability to get the ball out hot on blitzes.
We covered Gap Duo in last week’s guest post for Concept Wednesday. The play has featured heavily for the Huskers over the last four games. They’ve also rolled out another running concept recently, designed to take advantage of their tackles’ ability to pull.
We’ve discussed how little Nebraska pulled lastyear, and we’ve also looked at how different that is this year with Counter and Pin and Pull back in the repertoire. You can add Dart to that list because Nebraska finally rolled it out against against Illinois:
Dart is a downhill ISO scheme using the offensive tackle to wrap up to a linebacker on the 2nd level. Rather than putting a fullback in and having him ISO block a linebacker, the OT accomplishes the same thing. Nebraska hasn’t run Dart since 2015 when both Nick Gates and Alex Lewis had the athleticism to pull and climb. Now, with mobile true freshman Brendan Jaimes in the lineup, Nebraska has gone back to running Dart.
Though Illinois is run blitzing in the clip above, this is typically how Dart looks on the chalkboard:
TE steps in to block the backside defensive end while the OT next to him pulls into the opposite B gap. The OT will pull and climb to the first linebacker to show in the hole, in this case the Will backer. Nebraska has also tagged this with their Bubble route from the Slot receiver (R in Nebraska’s nomenclature) to expand the Will and permit the tackle to climb up to a safety down in the box. The center and guard work an initial double before working to the MIKE backer or the backside SAM backer depending on how the defense aligns.
When run properly, as you see above in the Illinois clip, it can result in a lot of open space for Nebraska’s backs. Nebraska didn’t feature Dart against Wisconsin or Ohio State, most likely because it didn’t feel comfortable with its ability to put a tight end on a defensive end to seal the backside. I expect it may make another appearance, though, before the next Charting Checkup.
Wrapping It Up
I know people are frustrated with the Ohio State game, rightly so, but for me Wisconsin was a far more maddening game. Nebraska’s roster isn’t on Ohio State’s level, and it may never be as long as Urban Meyer is in C-Bus. That game was always going one direction from the start because of the athlete difference between the two teams. That’s recruiting AND roster management, and outside of the Satan of Tuscaloosa, Urban is the best in the game at them.
But Wisconsin, that’s a division team with a comparable roster to Nebraska. And if you’re going to achieve national prominence again, the first step is dominating your division. For a half, Nebraska, even with some terrible self-inflicted damage, stood toe to toe with Wisconsin. Indeed, with Nebraska sitting over 300 yards at half, it looked as if the Huskers might be the team to take over the second half if they could just clean up their own mistakes.
Instead, the opposite happened and the rest is history. A lot of people default to Wisconsin’s offense because the fullback and big tight ends remind us of the Glory Days. But if you want to understand why Wisconsin has been so great lately, start with the defense.
Beginning in 2011, this is where the Badgers have finished in total defense: 15th, 15th, 7th, 4th, 2nd, and 7th. They are currently ranked 6th. When you play defense like that, you’re in every game you play. And it shows. Wisconsin hasn’t lost a game by more than a touchdown since their opening game of 2015 against Alabama. In fact, in the last four years, Wisconsin has 13 losses but only 3 by more than a TD: 35-17 to Alabama (won the national title), 59-0 to Ohio State (won the national title), and 34-24 to South Carolina (finished 4th in the country).
If Nebraska wants to reclaim its spot as a top team, it starts with defense first. As we’ve seen the last two weeks, the Blackshirts are a long way away from that right now.