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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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”