As promised, for today’s Concept Wednesday we look at the second option variant run by Scott Frost in Lincoln. It’s only fitting that one of Nebraska’s last great option QBs is now calling them for the Huskers. Last week we looked at the Triple option from split backs. This week we look at the Speed option from shotgun and a fake inside zone variant Frost likes to run that I call Bluff option.
Outside of the fullback trap and the fumblerooski, there is no football concept Husker fans love more than the option. Even today, when you walk up to an out-of-stater and start talking Nebraska in the glory days, they’re likely to mention the option before anything else. Scott Frost did away with the fullback and the NCAA did away with the fumblerooski, but the option lives on forever in Lincoln. For the next two Concept Wednesdays, we’ll talk about three variations of option that Scott Frost runs.
For now, let’s focus on the grand prize of them all: the triple option out of split backs. The concept itself is nothing new. Oregon was running it during the Chip Kelly era, and several other teams have had it in the playbook after Chip’s initial success. And no, Tom Osborne didn’t run the triple option. But what makes it work for his protege Frost and how he’s different from Kelly is how Frost (a) uses a hybrid player as the second back and (b) marries the concept with a variety of different motions to avoid tipping the play. Today, we’ll look at a few of those variations for Concept Wednesday #2 of this season.
We’ve talked about how the Nebraska offense has largely danced on razor’s edge the last few games, as injuries have played a substantial role in bringing a once formidable ground game to a crashing halt. They found ways to survive those injuries against Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue, but the Badgers brought a top 10 defense into the game (though nursing its own injuries) and it wasn’t meant to be.
What played out against Wisconsin was simply a more exacerbated version of what we’ve seen since the competition got a little better and we got less healthy. Difficulty getting any consistency with the inside zone game, and an inability to get consistent pass protection or accuracy from the QB spot in the passing game. Those two things, coupled with some excellent defense from Wisconsin, added up to a meager 305 total yards and 17 points.
The Nebraska offensive line was licking its wounds and somehow got even less healthy with the early loss of Tanner Farmer, so let’s take a look at what they tried to change against the Badgers to overcome those issues.
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.
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.
Wow. When I said buckle up, I meant it in theory, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like in person. Then game time hit and Huskers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf put out one of the most interesting F U games I’ve ever seen, going Gun with 11 personnel for the overwhelming part of the day and slamming an offense that looked strangely like an Oregon Ducks offense right down Brady Hoke’s throat. Amusingly, Brock Huard referred to it as a “pro style” offense at the same time Langsdorf kept dialing up QB run after QB run packaged with RPOs to constrain the apex defenders. What we saw Saturday was anything but pro style, instead picking and choosing from the best concepts around right now in college football to leverage Armstrong’s legs and other talented skill position players that Langsdorf simply never had en masse at Oregon State.
And it was capped off by a brilliant marriage between Armstrong and Cethan Carter, both of whom completely flummoxed the Ducks’ defense for much of the day. Though Armstrong wasn’t great through the air in the first half, he turned it around in the second half and delivered a classic gut check performance when his team needed it. We talked last week about how Armstrong was quietly delivering one hell of a season coming into the Oregon game. If there were any doubts about whether those numbers were bloated simply by weak competition, #4 erased them against a true Power 5 team, hanging up 295 total yards and 4 TDs. Fittingly, the knockout blow came on a Lead Draw/Y Stick RPO, with Armstrong pulling it down and housing it from 34 yards out. It’s a play that Langsdorf dialed up 3 times in the last 6 minutes alone, forcing Oregon to deal with the twin terrors that Armstrong and Carter have become.
Let’s take a look at how Langsdorf and company pulled chapters out of the Oregon playbook to beat the Ducks over the head with them.
Nebraska-Fresno State wasn’t the prettiest game to watch for one half. For the most part Nebraska tried to run a bastardized version of the UCLA game plan. Heavy, diverse run game with a substantial role for Tommy Armstrong’s legs. A key penalty, plus a DPE fumble, killed what otherwise could have been a productive scoring first half.
In the second half, Nebraska made some nice adjustments and generally cleaned up the mental mistakes. When they did, Nebraska owned Fresno State’s front 7 with a large helping of extra tight ends. Let’s see how the Husker offense did it over their 63 offensive plays.
If, like many other Husker fans, you like to see two backs behind the Nebraska quarterback, the UCLA game was for you. Of Nebraska’s 80 plays, 35 of them (44%) involved some version of a two-back formation paired with Tommy Armstrong’s own run threat. There was also no surprise on Langsdorf’s part, as he sent the message early on with extra backs that he didn’t think UCLA could stop his rushing attack.
A large part of that was the personnel mismatch between UCLA’s front 7 defenders and Andy Janovich as both a runner and a blocker. UCLA didn’t have an answer for Jano in either respect. Another part of that was the ability to create motion out of the backfield while freeing up Tommy Armstrong to do his thing on the Read play.
In this post, let’s take a look at three very different ways that Nebraska employed their two-back personnel, as well as a passing concept they continually went to against UCLA.
Nebraska-UCLA was an offensive beat down. No other way about it. Nebraska had 5 first half drives with time on the clock. They scored a touchdown on 3 of them. One ended with a red zone fumble (after an uncalled defensive face mask) and the last was a punt. 6 second half drives. 2 touchdowns, 1 field goal, 2 late punts and 1 ended by the final whistle.
It really didn’t matter what Nebraska ran because UCLA couldn’t stop it. Inside Zone, Outside Zone, QB Draw/Counter, Power/Counter, Lead Draw, Jet Sweep, Fullback Dive all got play. And they came out of a large dose of 2 back sets, with 32 of 62 carries coming from 21, 22 and 23 personnel. Some of these came from Split Back shotgun formations, while others came from various iterations of the I Formation. Let’s take a deeper look.
Former Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck once said that fullbacks were dead in modern football. In a year where Wisconsin rushed for 581 yards against Nebraska and finished 15 spots ahead of Beck’s unit on the yearly rushing list. Oddly enough, Andy Janovich was also on Tim Beck’s roster that year. True to Beck’s words, Jano didn’t get a single carry.
Thankfully for Janovich, Beck was off ruining Ohio State’s MNC run in 2016 and new coaches Riley and Langsdorf were exhuming the fullback much to the delight of Nebraska fans. In the Southern Miss game, Jano was featured heavily in both the running and passing game.