Indiana – The Lockdown U Show

333 total yards, 2.9 yards per carry, two interceptions, including one pick 6, and 3 sacks.  The Hoosiers offense in 2016 may not be what it was in 2013, when it finished inside the top 10 in total yards and generally ran and threw it over and around everyone.  But it isn’t nearly as bad as the Blackshirts made it on Saturday either, holding the Indiana squad to its second lowest total yardage and yards per play this year.  We haven’t talked a whole lot this year about defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s defense for reasons discussed here, but halfway through the season and coming off a game where they bailed out an injured, stagnant offense, it’s time to change that.

Banker’s modus operandi this year focuses on two core principles.  One, stop the run by freeing up the Blackshirts linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage.  They do have coverage responsibilities, but by frequently playing his base Quarters for much of the year, Banker has permitted his linebackers to play run first while knowing they’ve got safety help behind them on play action.  Two, keep everything structurally sound in the secondary to prevent the long pass play.  This was Nebraska’s Achilles’ heel in 2015, but they’ve cleaned it up a bunch in 2016.  Sometimes that means the Huskers defense gives up yards between the 20 while allowing throws in front of DBs, but it’s the cost of doing business when you want to make an offense earn it down the entire field.  It’s also a pretty solid strategy when you’ve got an emerging secondary filled to the brim with above average defenders.  Lockdown U.  It’s bold, but so far they’ve lived up to it.

Against Indiana, Banker used the Lockdown U road show to dial up both zone and man blitzes agains well traveled QB Richard Lagow.   Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at Nebraska’s base coverage in the Nickel and then we’ll turn to how Banker’s pressure packages added up to 3 big sacks for 24 yards.

Continue reading “Indiana – The Lockdown U Show”

Illinois – Tricking the Beast With Four Heads

That Illinois defensive line.  Whoa.  When you see future All Big 10 offensive tackle Nick Gates hook a guy on the first play and hope he doesn’t get called for a hold, you know it’s going to be a long day.  Gates has been an absolute animal this year, but he had his hands full all day with Illini end Carroll Phillips.  And as Husker fans witnessed all too frequently, the other side fared even worse, with Dawuane Smoot living in the Nebraska backfield for a large portion of the game.

Nevertheless, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and his patchwork offensive line found just enough cards in the deck to play a few tricks on that impressive Illini line.  In this write up, we’ll take a look at a new play designed to put Gates in motion, and we’ll touch base with another concept that the Huskers have cleaned up and modified substantially since the beginning of last year.  Without these types of plays, Nebraska probably doesn’t beat the Illini by more than a handful of points.  With them, they pour on 21 points in the 4th quarter to win going away.  

We’ll also get some bonus footage on the defensive side of the ball, taking a look at one of the Blackshirts’ man coverage blitzes as well as the progression of Chris Jones, whose rapidly rising coverage skills makes blitzes like that one work.

Continue reading “Illinois – Tricking the Beast With Four Heads”

Fresno State – New Year, New Looks

Game 1 of a new football season.  No better day of the year.  Your team hasn’t lost yet, you’ve spent all summer sipping on Kool-Aid while turning every player on your team into an All American, and your coaches can do no wrong.  Then game time hits, you get a punt blocked, drop a routine hand off on a jet sweep, mix in a few untimely penalties, and suddenly you’re in a first half battle with Fresno State.

Thankfully the Husker offense not only settled down in the second half, but made some timely adjustments to take advantage of Fresno State’s overly aggressive defensive fronts.  Let’s take a look at a few of the things the offense got done, as well as our first peek at Banker’s 2016 pressure package.

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Blackshirts Blitz Package – South Alabama

Against South Alabama, Nebraska fans got their first extended look at Mark Banker’s blitz package.  Perhaps feeling comfortable with the match up between the Blackshirt DBs and South Alabama’s receivers, Banker ran a lot of Cover 0 and 1 Pressures and also mixed in some fire zones as well.  Although the box score only showed 2 sacks for Nebraska, the Blackshirts were able to generate consistent pressure all game long from bringing extra men and asking their DBs to win on the outside.  Let’s take a look at a couple of Nebraska’s 6-man pressures from that game. Continue reading “Blackshirts Blitz Package – South Alabama”

Trap Coverages – A Quarters Check

As we discussed in the last post, one of the weaknesses of Quarters is the flats against a strong run game and especially out of 10 personnel.  Because they are run first players, the SAM and WILL have to respect the run game, making it difficult to cover the flats if #2 to their side is immediately out on some sort of bubble or quick out.  This is especially true of the weak side away from the back, as the OLB must respect the zone run to his side and thus cannot expand in time to cover his flat.  

When that happens, Quarters defenses answer with a trap coverage, designed to free up the CB to play the out-breaking route from #2 while passing verticals from #1 off to the S on that side.  This is a Quarters check that operates as the defensive equivalent of a constraint play.  Early in the season, we saw a couple of different trap looks from the Blackshirts. Continue reading “Trap Coverages – A Quarters Check”

Cover 4 Bankerball – Nebraska’s Base Defense

With Bo Pelini out and Mark Banker in, the Blackshirts were faced with a sizable conceptual shift.  Pelini liked to play a lot of bracket coverages, with his safeties 2 High and primarily as pass defenders with limited run support responsibility; he tried to overcome this by mostly two-gapping his defensive line (though he unsuccessfully attempted to move away from this late).  This scheme worked great in the Big 12, with offenses using 11 and 10 personnel packages, rarely committing to consistently running the ball and instead throwing it down the field into that bracket coverage.  In the Big 10, Pelini’s defense had substantially less success, as teams would often formation Nebraska into a light box and force Nebraska’s OLBs into playing the run from a man disadvantage (6 blockers versus 5 defenders, etc.) while also having to play RPOs like the bubble, Y stick, pop pass, etc.  That’s an unwinnable battle, and we saw the Blackshirts get drilled a number of times because of it.  Think 63-38 in 2012 and Ohio State running wild on the Blackshirts.

Enter Mark Banker and his Cover 4 (or “Quarters”) base defense.  There are a lot of things I like about this defense and how it fits the Big 10.  Let’s take a peek at its basic principles. Continue reading “Cover 4 Bankerball – Nebraska’s Base Defense”