Understanding Nebraska's Offensive Philosophy With Smart Football (Or "We Take What We Want" Revisited under Shawn Watson)

Last May Steve Sipple at Husker Extra did an article in which he tried to boil Nebraska's offense down to an explanation of 50 words or less to explain why Nebraska's offense could be appreciated by quarterback recruits. A couple weeks ago, Sipple used the same phraseology in an article about Shawn Watson and what a great offensive mind he has. 

Here's the short blurb used by Sipple and Watson to describe the multiplicity of Nebraska's offense: 

The Huskers feature a passing attack with NFL user-friendly West Coast principles (and protections) combined with a multi-faceted running game that possesses elements of the spread, including the zone read. Got it?

Got all that that? Of course you did. 

I was flabbergasted (flummoxed? too much gas?) by the blurb, so I asked the master, Chris Brown of Smart Football, for a layman's interpretation. Here's what Chris had to say: 

The offensive coordinator is a West Coast offense guy (I have a clinic talk he gave recently on the passing game and building stretches in the passing game.)

So what he has likely done is take a pro style/west coast timing based pass game, but junked the Byzantine jargon NFL teams use to teach it, and pared the number of concepts down to a number manageable for college kids. (Hence the term "user friendly.")

The run game is just pro style inside zone and outside zone, but they can also get in the gun and have the QB do the zone read, which changes nothing for the offensive line than if they ran the same plays from a pro-style under center set with a tight end and fullback. 

So the idea seems to be that the run game is simple because they can show old school and new school with the same blocking for the offensive line, even if to fans (and opponents?) it looks different. 

And for the pass game it sounds like they are doing the kind of thing Norm Chow got famous doing: running a sophisticated, pro passing game tailored for college kids (Bill Callahan forgot to do this latter part, forgetting that coaching is not what you know, but what your players do).

Brown has an older article that explain what the NFL does on offense (not much variety in the NFL, really), including detailed explanation of the inside and outside zone plays in the appendix of that article. The line philosophy seems to be based on the old KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid, in other words, why make the line blocking concepts so complicated that it increases the chances for breakdowns (mistakes) when those will hurt you more than the complexity will gain? 

There's another key here that Brown discussed in his break down of why Terrell Pryor is wasting his time playing for Ohio State. That key is the concept of having formations from which you can run a variety of plays so that the defense isn't immediately aware of whether you're going to run or pass. Ohio State doesn't do that, and Brown doesn't pull any punches about why they lost to USC.

Nebraska does do that - run a myriad of plays, whether run or pass, from the same formation - under Shawn Watson. That's the biggest difference between the Husker offense now and then. Brown hit the nail on the head about Bill Callahan's short stint as a head college football coach. When you read it, you should think of Callahan's 700-pound playbook. Now recall when you were watching Callahan's offense, things were pretty predictable - it wasn't that difficult to figure out from the personnel grouping whether the play was going to be a run or a pass. 

Remember the Callahan line "We take what we want"? That was Callahan's goal, but Nebraska fans have seen it come true under Shawn Watson. Last weekend was a good example. Arkansas State was determined that the Huskers wouldn't run the ball, so their defense was set up to take away the run. Watson countered by having receivers running all over the field wide open, providing Zac Lee with easy completions. 

It'll be interesting to see how Virginia Tech attacks Nebraska's "multi-faceted" offense this weekend, specifically how their defensive backs and linebackers determine what they're going to do to try to stop both the run and pass. One thing is for certain - Shawn Watson's play calling abilities give us a clear edge relative to what we had under Bill Callahan. Now the biggest key will be how well the Nebraska players execute their instructions on the field. 

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