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Decoding Mark Banker: Nebraska vs. Iowa

The Husker Defense isn’t absent in their fault vs. the Hawkeyes either last week.

Nebraska v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Good afternoon. I don’t normally cover the issues on Defense, but the Hawkeye Vomitorium beatdown deserves it. The offense was covered yesterday. Now to the defense:

1st Quarter|5:10|2nd & 5

Outside Zone Stretch Ryan Reuter

Did anyone get the plate number off of the truck that just ran over the Blackshirts? After the initial reaction of “WHAT IN THE ACTUAL ____,” that was the first thought that came to mind in trying to figure out what in the name of Mark Banker just went wrong for the Blackshirts on Akrum Wadley’s touchdown run. Unfortunately, I have to relive that moment again, so let’s just get on with it. Although I did not catch the play live (more on that at the end of this play’s breakdown) this play was replayed ad nauseam on Iowa’s miniature video replay boards.

Iowa comes out in what I call Ace Duo, with two wide receivers lined up wide and two tight ends lined up to the other side of the formation. To counter this alignment, Mark Banker calls for the Blackshirts to be lined up in the standard 4-3 defense, although with a few tweaks. First off, both cornerbacks, Jones and Kalu, line up over the twin wide receivers, while Nathan Gerry is lined up to the boundary, acting as the force player to that side, should the play be headed toward his direction. The other safety, Aaron Williams is playing centerfield as the single high safety.

At the snap, Iowa’s offensive line all takes zone steps in unison to the left in their zone blocking scheme. Initially, this looked to me like outside zone stretch, and I’m inclined to still think that it was, but I’ve pondered whether this could be a slight wrinkle to inside zone runs, where a wider mesh point is used to influence linebackers to flow outside and over-pursue rather than flowing hard downhill. Conversely, a tighter mesh on inside zone will manipulate the linebackers into flowing downhill, while allowing the tailback to bounce the play to the outside. Nonetheless, a cutback lane opened up in the middle of the defense and all Wadley had to do was juke a linebacker, Josh Banderas in this case, and he was off to the races.

Although many issues ailed Nebraska on this play, none were more damning than the displacement of the defensive linemen from the line of scrimmage. Mick Stoltenberg is blocked by the playside offensive guard and center on a Jack block. Note, offensive line combination blocks to the playside are named Jack, Queen, and King. Jack is center and guard, Queen is guard and tackle, and King is tackle and tight end. Stoltenberg is secured on the first level before the playside guard comes off of the block to take on Michael Rose-Ivey. On the other side of the center, Kevin Maurice is blocked by the backside guard on a solo block (how ‘bout that no-call on the leg-whip there, Mr. Referee?), while Ross Dzuris is sealed off by the backside offensive tackle. The duo of tight ends arc block to the perimeter in an attempt to freeze second-level players in their recognition and pursuit of the play, in this case Diedrick Young and Nathan Gerry. On the other side of the formation, to the twin receiver side, Iowa’s slot receiver is running a bubble screen, which pulls Josh Kalu and Chris Jones away from the aiming point of the play.

What I have yet to mention is what Wadley did once he hit the gaping hole in the middle of the defense. The lane that opened up for Wadley is the stuff that defensive coordinator’s nightmares are made of, with Josh Banderas not coming downhill immediately because of flowing outside before getting his feet crossed up and slipping on the turf when Wadley made a move to shake the Husker linebacker. Aaron Williams, whose first responsibility on this play is to be a pass-first player, takes his read steps before attacking downhill on his run fit. While some say that he took a bad angle on his run fit, Williams executed his run fit in accordance to his assignment before Wadley gutted the Blackshirts.

Just before this play occurred, Nebraska had just punted and I decided that I would go to the bathroom and grab a cup of coffee at the concession stand since I figured I wouldn’t miss anything of merit and that I would return to my seat in time to see Iowa punt the ball back to us. Famous last words, eh? Anyway, while I was standing in line for the bathroom, a Hawkeye fan took it upon himself to shoulder check me and let out a decree that “guys in red go last.” Unamused, I gave him a laconic answer of “that’s real nice of you,” to which he took serious offense that I seemingly lacked a sense of humor as he profusely told me that he was joking. True to my normally gregarious nature, I ended up having a conversation about college football with the Hawkeye. Upon going to the concession stand to get a hot cup of coffee, I was met with the stark reality of them being out of coffee. After all of this, I arrived back to my seat to find out from my friends, one of whom is unfortunately a Hawkeye fan, about the Akrum Wadley touchdown run. Operation bathroom break and coffee run was at that point deemed an abject failure.

1st Quarter|3:39|1st & 10

Inside Zone Play Action H Post Ryan Reuter

What I would like to type here at the beginning of this breakdown is that Nebraska’s defense took the field and put the Iowa offense in reverse, but on this wicked day on the banks of the Iowa River, no such luck was to be had. On the first play after the Huskers punted it away, Iowa struck fast with the play-action pass companion play to their play where Wadley put a crease in the Blackshirts. Iowa comes out in Ace Slot, or what I personally call Patriot, with two receivers to the field and the tight end and single receiver lined up to the boundary. Faking inside zone to the left, Beathard pulls up and launches a pass to Riley McCarron, lined up in the slot, on a post route.

Because of the alignment, bringing Nathan Gerry down to the box as a run-first defender to the boundary, Nebraska has only one high safety on the play, Kieron Williams, lined up toward the field over Iowa slot receiver Riley McCarron. For as much as McCarron just looks like a huckabucka gym rat, the kid actually has some wheels as he displayed on this play at our own expense. Kieron steps forward on the play when he reads run in the backfield and by the time the ball was in the air McCarron was already behind him. Aaron Williams, lined up to the field as a hybrid second level player, is a run-first player and fits into his run fit to spill the ball outside for linebackers that would be scraping over the top of the defensive line.

Because this play was of a quick-hitting nature, there was minimal room for error. If Kieron Williams could have gotten his hips turned a bit sooner to mirror McCarron’s route this play could have potentially been limited. Nonetheless, this playcallby Iowa took advantage of the aggressive gameplan employed by the Blackshirts and targeted some of our weaknesses in space. Targeting Nebraska in space is not something I thought that I would say about this game before kick-off.

2nd Quarter|9:19|2nd & 5

Inside Zone Iso/Fullback Insert Ryan Reuter

After Nebraska had gotten on the board with a field goal and drew the margin to 13-3, I thought Nebraska had an opportunity to seize some positive momentum in the game and claw back into the game. That hope lasted for all of a couple of plays, as LeShun Daniels took it upon himself to keep an iron fist on the game and maintain Iowa’s game control. Vomit. On this play Nebraska had gone to having two high safeties to help protect against the big play and lined up in the standard issue 4-3 Over front. Iowa, with two tight ends lined up right and one lone wideout left, lined up in the I-formation, deftly telling everyone their intent on the play.

At the snap Iowa’s offensive line blocks left and secures the first level with a Jack combo block to the playside with the left guard and center on Mick Stoltenberg. The Jack combo on Stoltenberg opens up the A gap for the run play, where Iowa inserts their fullback to block MIKE linebacker Josh Banderas with an isolation block. Basically, this is inside zone iso. After securing Stoltenberg, the left guard comes off of the block to take on Michael Rose-Ivey, while Diedrick Young pursues over the top from his SAM linebacker position over the tight end. Unfortunately, Diedrick did not have good pad level to make the tackle and Daniels runs through the arm-tackle.

The frontside of the Husker defensive line got totally washed out and a big pile of red was created and then displaced into the laps of the linebackers. Nathan Gerry originally watches for the cutback lane and then comes downhill toward the play on his run fit, but can’t make the tackle to limit the gain because Diedrick Young shields Gerry away from making the tackle on Daniels. Ultimately, Nathan Gerry was able to recover and make the tackle on Daniels, but by then the damage had already been done. Iowa is threatening once again and they take advantage of the big play.

Simply put, Nebraska needed to win one-on-one battles up front with defensive linemen holding their ground and disengaging from blockers. Unfortunately, that did not occur and it made for an extremely long day that made me think longingly of an ice cold Coors Banquet and even more so of a day when Nebraska has some serious ass-kickers on the defensive line that disengage from blockers and attack ball-carriers like a lion attacking a zebra. The bottom line in bolstering our defensive front 7 against the Iowa City waylay ever happening again is relatively simple. Recruit, sign, and develop top flight defensive linemen who are all apex predators. Apex predators on the defensive line completely change the complexion of a game in foisting their style of play upon the offense and forcing the offense to become woefully one-dimensional.

Now, before anyone loudly objects with cries of firing Mark Banker, something should be explicitly understood. In a list that states the top ten rushing defenses of the past ten years in college football 2016 Alabama is number one on the list through 13 games in giving up only 824 yards, with an average of 63.4 yards per game and 2.03 yards per rush. The second team on that list is 2007 Oregon State, who gave up only 918 yards, with averages of 70.6 yards per game and only 2.05 yards per rush. The architect of that albatross? The Connecticut Yankee himself, Coach Mark Banker (by the way, Connecticut Yankee is a term of endearment, Coach Banker). The bottom line is this: Mark Banker’s game plan was a bit too aggressive early on and Iowa took advantage of that. However, Coach Banker has had some terrific game plans in putting the Blackshirts in a position to be successful. I cannot wait to see what the Blackshirts will look like when the Davis twins and Stoltenberg continue to develop and a couple of apex predator defensive ends are brought into the fold on the Husker defensive line. When that happens, Nebraska will be doing some regulating on Big Ten offenses.