Monday Recap: Domination v 4.0

Well that blew.  For almost three quarters, Nebraska looked like it belonged on the field with a top 10 team.  And then for one quarter, it was a flashback to several beatings the Badgers have handed out since the Huskers have been in the Big 10.  The teams have met 7 times in Big 10 play.  Wisconsin has won 4 of them by 21 points or more.

Is it the coaching staffs?  Tough to say.  Pelini got housed 3 of those times, including one to a five-loss Wisconsin team in the conference title game.  Riley ate that defeat pizza for the first time on Saturday.  On the other side, Wisconsin has had three coaches dole out that domination: Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen, and now Paul Chryst.  Despite changing faces, the results tend to stay the same.  Wisconsin either destroys Nebraska or it ends up being a barn burner.

So what is it that allows Wisconsin to thump the Huskers most of the time?  Institutional inertia, consistency of system, player development, take your pick.  When you watch Wisconsin play, you see a ruthless efficiency on both sides of the ball forged over years of running similar systems on both sides of the ball.  Paul Chryst has called his offense in Madison 10 out of the last 13 years.  On the other side, they’ve been running the 3-4 since 2013, when Dave Aranda took over, and they had two elite defensive coordinators running 4-3s before that.  Everything is meticulously recruited to fit both systems, and players know exactly how they’re supposed to do things on any given play.  Add it up and you get a Wisconsin team that frequently punches above its recruiting weight.  Very few missed steps and communication breakdowns, everyone working together to achieve the unit’s goal.

That’s what we saw on Saturday night, and unfortunately it’s all too common these days in the Huskers-Badgers match up.  In any event, let’s take a quick recap of some things that stood out to me.

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Monday Recap: Win and Survive

On a week where the athletic director gets sacked on Thursday, leading to speculation as to when, not whether, the head coach is next, a win is a win is a win.  Nobody is playing the national poll beauty queen contest in those circumstances.

Rutgers isn’t a good team, but they tested Nebraska in the first half.  11 play, 75-yard opening drive from Rutgers to go up 7-0.  I imagine there were a few eye rolls in the stadium, and given the circumstances, you wouldn’t blame the fans if they folded it in.  But they didn’t, nor did the team, and somehow the Huskers pulled a way for a 27-17 win that seemed closer than it was because of a clock killing 4th quarter featuring a monochromatic offense straight out of central casting for the Solich Era.

Here are some quick thoughts on the survival week win against Rutgers.

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Let’s Talk “That” Defense

When Nebraska announced Bob Diaco as its new defensive coordinator, the first thing you thought was “Bet he’s going to give up 500 yards and 27 points in the opener” right?  Yeah, me neither.  Nebraska’s game against Arkansas State ranks up there with Louisiana Tech in 1998 and Wisconsin in the 2012 B1G Championship Game in the “What the f*@$ was that” category.

In a lot of ways, the game felt worse than it was.  If I told you the Red Wolves ranked 71st in the country in yards per play after Saturday, you’d probably call me a fool given the collective angst of Husker Nation right now.  And yet that’s exactly where they are heading into week 2.  Nebraska’s biggest problem was the inability to get off the field on third down in the first half.  After two 3 and outs early because of untimely penalties, Buster Faulkner’s unit ran off a stretch of converting 4 out of 5 third downs in the first half to end it with 17 offensive points.  The Blackshirts cleaned it up in the second half, but the psychological damage was already done.

Let’s take a look at some of what went wrong and what that portends–if anything–for Nebraska’s remaining schedule.

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Sunday Recap: Stranger Things Man

So that was an interesting start to 2017.  You get two special teams touchdowns, two safeties, two onside kicks, one recovered, a touchdown celebration that starts at the 40-yard line, and 100 combined passes in a game that doesn’t involve Texas Tech or Washington State.  Yeah, okay. 

Here are some quick thoughts on that bizarre opener.

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Talking Bob: What to Look For Early from the Blackshirts

In case you haven’t heard, Nebraska hired a new defensive coordinator.  They tell me he’s extremely handsome and some sort of football genius.  What he isn’t, apparently, is Kevin Steele, though I fail to see any relevance in that observation unless you’re a hopefully soon-to-be-retired local media scribe needing to drum up some material because you don’t have anything relevant to say once Tim Miles’s season is over.

Woooooosah.  In any event, Bob Diaco steps into an interesting position as the new coordinator of the Blackshirts.  On one hand, the Blackshirts were statistically a top 30 defense last year, so it’s apparent he’s got some toys to work with in the starting lineup.  On the other hand, Nebraska’s defense faltered down the stretch and at times looked completely overmatched, giving up 500+ yards twice in the last six games and allowing 6.86 yards per play in December and January.  

As always, expectations are high for the Huskers’ defensive coordinator, and he’ll try to meet them with his hybrid system blending 3-4 and 4-2-5 principles to create a variety of looks throughout the game.  Let’s take a look some things I’ll be focusing on against Arkansas State and Oregon.

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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.

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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.

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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”