It’s that time of the year where we hear the old tale about “not opening up the playbook” for the non-conference schedule. Well, with a game washed out and a Power 5 opponent on deck, new head coach Scott Frost didn’t have that option. Against Colorado, he unleashed a ton of stuff en route to 329 rushing yards and 565 total yards. Ultimately, untimely turnovers kept him from getting his first coaching win in Lincoln, but the full arsenal was there. Unbalanced formations. Triple option. Multiple pulling concepts. QB runs. Various motions. Double screens. And one hell of a true freshman QB managing all of the noise that comes with a first career start.
In its return, Concept Wednesday this week takes a look at QB Wrap/Dart, one of Frost’s core run concepts that he brought from UCF and one which molds perfectly to Adrian Martinez’s game.
What It Is
QB Wrap, sometimes called QB Dart, isn’t a new play. Auburn ran it extensively with Cam Newton, the Wizard of Manhattan uses it frequently, and it appears in several other college playbooks with running QBs. At its core, the play relies on a tackle pulling back inside and “wrapping” up to an interior LB. Rather than asking interior OL to make tough reach blocks like a standard QB draw, Wrap allows the interior offensive linemen to use blocking angles out on the nose tackle and defensive tackle/end. Most often it’s packaged as an RPO with some sort of perimeter passing concept designed to widen second and third level defenders, with the QB initially faking that throw to allow the OT time to pull.
In Frost’s case, QB Wrap is his core run concept from Empty formation, leaving only the QB in the backfield. While most think of Empty as a passing formation, Frost most often leans on it for his QB run game. Here’s what QB Wrap looks like on the board:
And here’s how it played out on Adrian Martinez’s first run (and second play from scrimmage):
Why It Works
The beauty of the play out of Empty is its simplicity in creating space to run. Greg Bell goes in motion on a fake bubble screen, which widens out the field LB and creates a lighter box for Martinez to navigate. It also redirects the field safety’s eyes to the screen action, taking him away from immediate run support. Matt Farniok pulls around with momentum to stone the interior LB while Tanner Farmer and Cole Conrad are able to block out over Farniok’s pull. Quick fake from Martinez to buy Farniok time and then he’s off for 18 yards.
Easy concept for a true freshman to learn, and it’s one that leverages his best weapon. It also marries well with Frost’s reliance on the Bubble screen RPO. With a willingness to throw that screen several times a game, secondaries can’t cheat against the run. This means Empty almost always produces a light box for the Huskers. In fact, they got nearly the exact same look against Wrap from a 2×2 set on the very next drive:
The RB again motions into a Bubble screen look to the field, carrying the field LB out. The interior LBs do a better job getting downhill once they diagnose the pulling action from Farniok, but ultimately Martinez makes a guy miss and he’s off for 8 more yards before fumbling. This is probably a situation where the offense would like to throw the Bubble against soft coverage, but that’s an adjustment the true freshman will make as he gets more efficient with experience.
Frost went back to Wrap one more time in the first half:
In this, we start to see Colorado adjust to the Wrap concept. Same exact formation for Nebraska as the first time they ran Wrap, but Colorado backs off the corners into softer coverage while going with 1-High safety. The boundary safety to walk down creating a 6-man box, giving them better protection against the Wrap play. Risk/reward for Colorado, as dropping safeties isolates defenders against the Bubble and makes it difficult for backside defenders to pursue in support. Ultimately, Colorado’s safety is able to beat Matt Farniok’s block and prevent a big gain.
Wrapping It Up
Despite the loss, Frost’s coaching debut in Lincoln showed exactly why his offense is successful. He manages to get to his core concepts from a variety of different motions, formations, and personnel groupings, creating confusion for the defense while maintaining simplicity for his offensive players. We didn’t throw many Bubble screens, but it was tagged to several running plays to hold secondary support defenders. He went unbalanced four times in the first half alone to test assignment discipline. And of course he got Martinez involved in the run game, both through QB Wrap and Triple Option from split backs.
I’m interested to see how he adjusts with Andrew Bunch likely getting the call this weekend. Fans got a glimpse of Bunch after Martinez’s injury, and though he’s not Martinez’s equal in the running game, he can still move. The question becomes how much you want to risk losing Bunch by using him in the QB run game. I suspect Frost will have plenty of answers, just as he always has when calling plays.