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A Play That Defined the Day

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Why did things seem to go so bass-ackwards for Nebraska on Saturday? A look at a play that seemed to set the tone for how things were going to go on offense.

Eric Francis


I did it.  I finally summoned up the courage to re-watch the scrimmage we played on Saturday.  I also was able to re-visit, in part, all the various emotions that I cartwheeled through during the course of the...*ahem*...game (scrimmage) we played (walked through) just a scant three days ago.  I have to tell you, going from disgust to disbelief to anger from missed opportunities, to chuckling silently to myself, to punching myself in the face, and outright belly laughing at other whiffs I think I covered them all.

I still want to drink though.

So what do we got?  I singled out one play in particular that just really seemed to portend that the "Red Storm" was going to be more like a light shower...with clouds.

Also note, this post isn't in any way shape or form meant to dog-pile on Tim Beck, since he's taking the brunt of the criticism this week.  I'm simply presenting a play, one of the worst of the day, in my opinion, with what I observed to have taken place.  A play, that as it turns out, he might not have even called.  I'll leave it up to the readers to decide for themselves what Beck is or isn't.

Right after our first timeout with 13:07 left in the 1st Quarter, Nebraska comes out in 11 personnel, Shotgun, Trips Left with Abdullah offset and the TE Carter on the weak side.  McNeese State responds with Nickel personnel in man coverage, with a DB (appears to be the NB) lined up just off the LOS on the hip of their DE, and a single high safety.  Notice that no one on the defense is lined up more than 10 yards from the LOS and when the SS walks down, they'll have eight in the box.  They're playing run all the way.

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Reading blitz and man coverage on the outside, Armstrong approaches the line and checks into another play.  Bell turns towards the sidelines with his hands in the air to get instructions.

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You can see Westerkamp pointing towards his man and Bell turns towards Armstrong and then to the sidelines again, checking on who he's supposed to block on this play.  McNeese doesn't change their alignment at all.

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As soon as the ball is snapped, the safety for McNeese takes a huge step towards the LOS.  You see the flow and watch Armstrong's first step and can immediately tell that Armstrong just checked into a speed option towards the wide side of the field.  The DTs immediately flow to the play side, the OL blocks using zone principles (pre-dominantly inside zone) with Sterup engaging the 3-Tech, Moudy and Pelini doubling the 1-Tech, and Lewis one-on-one with the playside DE (or 5-Tech).  Cotton was uncovered, so he steps to check on the playside DE and then immediately looks to the second level to block the first man he sees.

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Now we have an idea of how this play is being blocked.  At least along the OL.

But here's where things get interesting...or ugly...or...whatever.  Your pick.

Armstrong's pitch key on this play is the LB standing behind and just to the outside of the playside DE.

Now Dear Reader, you may be wondering, "Why isn't the playside DE the pitch key instead?"  That's a great question, and I'm glad you asked.

Since Lewis (LT) is covered by the playside DE (or the 5-Tech, your choice) the DE isn't the furthest man out on/from the LOS.  He's actually almost nose-to-nose with Lewis, just barely outside.  Therefore, Armstrong has to make a pre-snap read to determine who the first defender is outside the tackle.  As stated previously, this happens to be #12...the LB.  Keep this in mind as the play progresses.

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As the play develops, Armstrong proceeds down the LOS.  The OL is engaging their blocks*, with Lewis locking onto the playside DE and attempting to drive him out of the play.  As Armstrong turns to his left, #12 the LB (pitch key) flies up-field looking to wreck shit in his way.  And wreck shit he does.  This play is about to get blown up.

*EDITOR'S NOTE: As an aside, I'm not really sure what the hell Cethan Carter is doing on this play.  It appears that he's supposed to engage the backside DE, but the angle he takes is off and instead it looks like he's trying to either get to the second level to get a block on #10 the LB there, or burn a hole through the guy's head with his laser vision, because he's staring him down the whole damn time right from the snap.  Either way, he ends up getting spun around by the DE and well...doesn't do much to impede anyone's progress.  So ya...your guess is as good as mine.

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Due to the formation alignment, the LB is the responsibility of Kenny Bell.  Since Bell is uncovered the LB racing towards the LOS is his man.  This is why when Armstrong checked into this play, you saw Kenny put his hands up and look back and forth between the sideline and Armstrong.  He was making sure what his responsibility was on this play.

The LB hauls ass towards Armstrong and the LOS.  Bell attempts to block him, but gets destroyed and driven about 5 yards into the backfield.  This was really the first thing that went wrong on this play.  Why?  Because this was a mis-match from jump.  You have a skinny WR in Bell, who's maybe 180 soaking wet (roster lists him at 185, but I'll eat my shorts if he's that heavy) trying to block a LB who's about ~220 with a full head of steam behind him.  Not to mention, Kenny doesn't really get behind his block.  He has no momentum whatsoever when he set it and if you watch the film, he actually bounces once slightly backwards.  So when that charging bull of a LB makes contact with him, he's already moving backwards.

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As a result of Bell's not-so-great block, Armstrong sees the LB coming hard and almost square with him, so he reads pitch and he does so to Abdullah.  However, the rampaging LB caused Armstrong to pitch it quicker than he wanted to, so the ball is a just a liiiiitle bit out in front of Abdullah.  Abdullah bobbles it just slightly, but still ends up securing it.  Unfortunately, Westerkamp pulls an OLÉ! and lets his man run right by him.  Also, you can see the Free Safety rushing towards the LOS as soon as he read option, and he's unblocked as well.

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Now Abdullah is 1 on 2 with no blockers, both defenders within 5 yards, and secured the pitch a split-second late.  What do you think happens next?

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Yep.  Abdullah gets nailed by the CB that Westerkamp was supposed to block, with his buddy the FS trailing a couple yards behind him to clean up anything he may have missed.

In theory, this wasn't a bad play to check into.  It used to be that Nebraska QBs were able to check into an option play at any time, if the opportunity presented itself.  I'm assuming that was entirely the case here.  Armstrong felt there was an opportunity and he took it.  However I believe that McNeese State had us scouted pretty well and were able to sniff out this play in a hurry.