Northwestern – It’s Time to Break Some Stuff

Early season is when you run your core plays, working on their timing and the personnel running them so that you know what’s going to work when you get to conference play.  We saw much of that over the first three weeks, as offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf worked both 11 and 12 personnel, leaned heavily on inside zone and QB runs, and generally pared down the passing game to manageable concepts for Tommy Armstrong.  We also saw some new stuff emerge, as Langsdorf continued to expand on his Split Back Guns look, including the flare screen and the QB Draw off of it.

Eventually, though, those core plays start to form offensive tendencies that defenses pick up on as the year goes on.  A certain formation paired with particular motion means outside zone.  A back lined up opposite a tight end off the line of scrimmage means QB Counter OH is coming.  Sending your RB in Rip/Liz motion tips off the flare screen and triggers safeties to fly down.

When that happens, it’s time to break those tendencies and dial up conflict plays to keep defenses honest.  And that’s what happened in the Northwestern game, as OCDL continually broke tendency to give Northwestern new plays we haven’t seen this year.  We’ll take a look at two of them, and we’ll also discuss a “new” formation that Nebraska rolled out to set up the mismatch that is Cethan Carter.

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Charting Northwestern – Spread Them Out to Run Through Them

Despite some fumbling issues early in the game, Nebraska comfortably won against Northwestern, cruising to 556 total yards and 24 points on offense while the Blackshirts held the Wildcats to 13 points.  Fumbles inside the one-yard line by Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo prevented the scoreboard from truly showing how bad Nebraska’s offense beat down an overmatched Wildcats defense thin on talent and made even thinner by a rash of injuries in the secondary.

In gaining 310 yards on the ground, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf reminded Nebraska fans that the Huskers’ rushing attack in 2016 isn’t your granddaddy’s running game.  When Nebraska fans think of running the ball, they’re probably thinking of the fullback in 21 personnel and a heavy dose of the I Formation and Option.  Yet in dipping into more modern run game concepts, Langsdorf embraced the principle of formationally spreading a defense out to remove box defenders, eschewing the fullback for all but 6 plays and instead favoring single back formations with a heavy dose of QB run game.  Doubling down on that concept of spread to run, Langsdorf and running backs coach Reggie Davis continued to increase the reps for Mikale Wilbon, a player designed to operate in space created by Spread formations.

With that, we’re again seeing the evolution of the Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf offense.  Let’s take a look at what worked against the Wildcats.

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Leveraging Personnel – Cethan Carter

If it wasn’t clear before 2015 that Cethan Carter was a pretty good football player, it became undeniable around the Illinois game, in which Carter, despite a loss, manhandled the Illini linebackers in the run game while also adding 63 yards on 3 catches through the air.  Because tight ends rarely carry the ball or catch screens as wide receivers can, getting an elite tight end the ball takes more creativity from the offensive coordinator and it also takes more commitment from the QB to get him the ball.

And over the past 6 games or so, we’ve seen a lot of that from coordinator Danny Langsdorf work hard to get #11 the ball, and we’ve also seen better commitment from Huskers QB Tommy Armstrong follow through on it.  It’s become even more true in 2016, as the Nebraska offense now runs primarily through Armstrong’s legs and passing concepts designed to get Cethan Carter the ball.  That’s not to say that Langsdorf has forgotten the other skill position players.  After all, Alonzo Moore, Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly have 22 combined catches for 6 TDs, and of course Devine Ozigbo, Terrell Newby, Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon are eating too.

But by and large, Nebraska has set its 2016 offense up to own the middle of the field by pairing Armstrong and Carter in a combo that puts conflicting pressure on opposing LBs.  Once that’s established, then they look to get the Savage Professionals involved on the perimeter.  Let’s take a look at some of the concepts Langsdorf is dialing up to get Cethan Carter the ball and own the hashes.  And as per usual, most of the hyperlinks have cut ups of Carter in action. Continue reading “Leveraging Personnel – Cethan Carter”

Oregon – Behold, Tommy Armstrong’s Evolution

Tommy Armstrong, much maligned, some of it well deserved, is currently sitting at 29th in the country in passer efficiency rating and 36th in total yards per game.  Perhaps more importantly, he’s only thrown 1 interception through his first three games to 7 TDs.  Part of that is weak competition, but I’d argue a larger part of that is Armstrong’s maturation as a quarterback along with offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf’s growing comfort with how to use him.  #4 is never going to be coldly efficient in the passing game, but he’s made much better decisions with the football this year both passing and running it.  And for his part, Langsdorf has been able to introduce Tommy’s legs not only in the running game, but also by building passing concepts that take advantage of them as well.

This week we’re going to go a little off the reservation to look at this in action.  Instead of breaking down three new plays, we’ll take a look at a single offensive concept and how it unfolds during a game.  When OCs talk about being “multiple” or “flexible,” they’re not just talking in a macro sense about being able to both run and throw the ball.  Rather in a micro sense they’re also talking about being able to run core offensive concepts across a wide variety of formations and with small tweaks on each play.  Another indicator of multiplicity, largely because of the new RPO revolution, is packaging run game concepts with passing game concepts on the same play, and again both of which you can show out of multiple formations.  When OCs can get to that level in their play calling, that’s when you start to see offenses really take off.  Tom Osborne was one of the best at this multiplicity, calling over 75% of his plays as runs but showing those core running concepts out of a ton of formations and with small deviations in the blocking schemes as well.  The end result is hesitant defenses, never sure what they’re going to see after the snap because film study doesn’t reveal too many tendencies. 

As we’ll see in this write up, Danny Langsdorf is starting to pick on defenses in the same way.  Calm down there, Run the Damn Ball Guy,  I’m not saying OCDL is Tom Osborne.  I will say though that he’s starting to climb up the chart of legit OCs in college football.  This week, let’s take a look at Langsdorf’s flare/swing screen concept and how he uses it to dupe opposing coordinators and their players.

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Wyoming – One for the Record Books

I know some people have been bothered by fans griping about the Wyoming game, but I kind of like it.  It means bigger expectations are still around for a team that far too often settled into that 9-4 life the past few years.  Wyoming wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but when you can force 6 turnovers and put up 550 total yards to cover the spread, you’re doing something right.  It also saw Tommy Armstrong become Nebraska’s career passing TD leader, an outstanding accomplishment that perhaps throws a cold bucket of water on him not being named captain this year. 

Wyoming was content to stop the run by quickly dropping extra safety help to the box on any run action, so Nebraska and coordinator Danny Langsdorf did exactly what he should have done in that situation: RPO the hell out of them and put edge defenders in a bind while also taking advantage of those aggressive safeties dropping in run support.  We’ve talked about the running game quite a bit so far, so let’s change it up and look at Tommy Armstrong and his band of Gorilla Wideouts, two of whom broke through the 100-yard mark this game.   And since Run the Damn Ball guy was no doubt peeved seeing Armstrong chucking it all around the yard early in the game, I’ve also got a new formation in there for him at the end.

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Charting Wyoming – One Back Gun Makes Its Return

For the most part, Wyoming went just as we discussed last week.  The Cowboys hung around for a while, selling out to stop the run for as long as they could before Nebraska’s perimeter players and Tommy Armstrong took over.  Major hat tip to the Blackshirts as well, who came through with the first 5 turnover performance since Idaho in 2010.

Though the aggregate numbers were perfectly balanced against the Cowboys, Nebraska put it to Wyoming through the air early in the first half.  The Huskers hit four passes of at least 28 yards in the first half, with two of them going for 50+.  That’s what happens when you don’t have anyone more than 8 yards off the line of scrimmage for a substantial portion of the game.  Play both safeties down long enough and you can stuff the run, but you’re going to get burned through the air if you don’t have talent to match the other team’s receivers man to man.  You also better tackle well because there is no deep support.

Let’s take a look at what did and didn’t work for Nebraska this game.

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Southern Miss – Return of the Fullback

As we discussed in the last post, Southern Miss was the game where Nebraska fans (and coaches) really discovered what they had been missing the last three years with Andy Janovich.  Langsdorf featured Jano in all facets of the Southern Miss game, as a ball carrier, lead blocker and a receiver on play action.  When NFL Scouts cued up Andy Janovich’s game film before the draft, there is no doubt that the Southern Miss game played a large part in their evaluations.

Let’s take a look at two key plays featuring Jano, including a shout out to the old 34/36 Trap from TO’s day, as well one of Nebraska’s many special plays. Continue reading “Southern Miss – Return of the Fullback”

Nebraska’s Outside Zone and Variants – South Alabama

Because inside zone targets the interior DL and LBs, defenses will start to overreact to it after a few times of being gashed in the middle.  Once Riley and Langsdorf see this happening, they mix it up with outside zone (“OZ”).  OZ is also known as the “stretch” play.  Unlike the vertically hitting inside zone play, OZ is about horizontal displacement: move the defensive line and linebackers toward the sideline and make them maintain their gap integrity.  Once a hole opens up in their front, stick your foot in the ground and get vertical.  This type of blocking isn’t new to Nebraska; Osborne and Tenopir frequently blocked their option runs with it, and of course Bill Callahan loved that god damn stretch play against USC.

Nebraska runs a couple of different versions of OZ depending on the game plan for the week and the fronts they see from the defense.  In this post, let’s look at two of them: (1) standard OZ; and (2) the Pin and Pull.

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