Purdue – Let’s Talk Offensive Line and Terrell Newby

We’re going to switch up the format a bit this week.  Nebraska’s offense didn’t show more than a couple of new things against Purdue and what it did show was largely limited by the 1,500lb gorilla in the room: the Pipeline’s major struggles.  So rather than break down three plays as we usually do, we’re going to drill a bit deeper into where things are going wrong for Nebraska’s offensive line.

We’ll also take a quick look at the main man running behind them, Terrell Newby.  Despite the offensive line’s struggles, Newby has managed to put up two 100-yard games in his last three and a combined 324 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.  How?  Mostly by making a lot out of nothing, and also by logging big runs when the line does open up holes.  Newby doesn’t have eye popping stats, with only 511 yards on 103 carries for the year (4.96 YPC).  But given the issues up front, he’s saved Nebraska’s offense from completely shutting down.  And with the line issues not going away anytime soon, he’ll need to have an efficient game against Wisconsin if the Huskers want to put up points.

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Charting Indiana – Back In Black

Jerald Foster.  Cethan Carter.  Jordan Westerkamp.  David Knevel.  By the second play against Indiana, those preseason Husker starters, which include two of its top five offensive players, were no longer a factor.  It didn’t get any better when All Everything offensive tackle Nick Gates rolled his ankle shortly thereafter.  

As we discussed last week, at that point, it becomes a “by any means” necessary game.  And when that happens, unless you have elite talent waiting on the sidelines, you need a defense ready to show up and slow the opponent down.  Right on cue, the Blackshirts answered the bell, holding Indiana to 333 yards and a pedestrian 4.83 YPP.  In case you’re still sleeping on Mark Banker’s crew in 2016, they’re now 29th in total defense, 16th in scoring defense and 13th pass efficiency defense.  That’s a monster change from 2015, and it’s something we’ll look at in our next write up.

For now, though, let’s take a look at how offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf tried to ride out a hard regression to the mean from Tommy Armstrong and a MASH unit up front that made getting into a rhythm difficult.

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Charting Illinois – Survive and Move On

When Cethan Carter left the game with just under 12 minutes left in the first quarter, Nebraska was missing the following offensive starters from the first day of fall camp: Alonzo Moore, Jerald Foster, Tanner Farmer, Cethan Carter.  As Huskers fans saw, they’d also lose Jordan Westerkamp and David Knevel to injuries later in the game as well.  With injured Knevel and his replacement Cole Conrad going up against a future 1st round draft pick and arguably the best defensive end in the Big 10, the mantra shifted from winning pretty to just winning.  Such is life when your offensive line depth is tenuous at best and you’re going up against a team with at least 3 NFL caliber defensive linemen.

Thankfully, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf called another brilliant game, Tommy Armstrong overcame a couple of YOLO moments to deliver another solid performance, and a patchwork offensive line leaned on the undersized Illini front just long enough to open up some holes late.  And when they did, little Terrell Newby, at a generous 5’10” and 200lbs, came through big for the Huskers offense and ran like a much bigger man.

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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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Charting Southern Miss – Hello Jano!

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.

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Miami – Power/Counter, a Fullback Sighting, and 2-Point Conversions

Despite the Miami game being a general cluster the point that the offensive game plan was out the window by the second quarter, Nebraska did show a few new looks that were successful.  In this write up, we’ll take a look at Nebraska’s Counter OH Read play, the appearance of the Cross/Janovich combination in a Wing T on short yardage, and a dip into Nebraska’s bag of two-point conversion plays. Continue reading “Miami – Power/Counter, a Fullback Sighting, and 2-Point Conversions”

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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Inside Zone, the Mike Riley/Danny Langsdorf Staple

If you’ve ever seen a Mike Riley/Danny Langsdorf game, whether in Lincoln, Corvallis or anywhere in between, you’ve no doubt seen the inside zone.  When Riley and Langsdorf have had productive interior offensive linemen, they’ve often based much of their run game around the inside zone play.  Inside zone is a downhill, vertical displacement play, designed to get you at least one double team on the DL to knock them back off the line of scrimmage.  Once the double team is secured, one of the OL will slide off and attack the next playside LB.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the Huskers’ bread-and-butter running play, as well as some common variants that you’ll see the Huskers run.

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Nebraska Screen Game – BYU

Beyond Nebraska fans’ introduction to jet motion and the sweep, Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf’s robust screen package was also another major change from 2014 and Tim Beck’s offense.  By my count, Nebraska ran 6 different variations of the screen against BYU.  After learning early that inside zone wasn’t going to work against Travis Tuiloma, BYU’s monster nose tackle, Langsdorf began to heavily work the screen game to help remove defenders from the box and get Tommy Armstrong comfortable with easy throws.  Let’s take a look at a couple of his core concepts in the screen game.

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