We’d like to welcome you to a new thing we’re doing at CN, where we have gotten Ryan Reuter to do some work in diagramming how the Nebraska offense works.
You’ll see this more frequently, especially when we get Ryan set up at CN. For now, here is his debut at CN, talking about the Oregon game plan. - Jon
When the clock hit 0:00 on Saturday evening, the gathering of people in my basement erupted into a chorus of excited yelling, that vociferous as it might have been, paled in comparison to the thunderous applause and elation of Memorial Stadium. Not only was I excited about the fact that we had won, I was also excited with how Nebraska had proven victorious, with Danny Langsdorf dialing up some concepts that drove Oregon’s defensive unit crazy, and hopefully, got some of this fan base off of his back in the process.
Today I’ll be taking a look under the hood, so to speak, about one of the concepts Langsdorf employed and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed putting this together.
The most intriguing concept from the Husker offense during the match-up with Oregon was the motion that Langsdorf attached to his plays, specifically the motion that the I-Back would go on just before the snap. There are many names for this, I personally call it “Comet,” because it streaks across the formation like a comet, so we’ll call it Comet Rip/Liz (Rip-motion to the right, Liz-motion to the left; football coaches LOVE mnemonic devices).
This motion, while simple to install into your scheme and utilize, has serious consequences for a defensive structure and integrity. The motion can serve multiple purposes, by causing the defender(s) responsible for the I-Back, to adjust to the motion, and subsequently, vacating gaps or giving up leverage depending on their response. Vacating gaps leaves the middle of the defense vulnerable and giving up leverage means getting out-flanked on the perimeter; something that you never want to see happen to your defense.
When the back goes in motion, the first thing to look for is the defensive response to the motion. Does a defender adjust to the motion? If so, this indicates man coverage, and if the defender is slower than the back, the defense could be in major trouble (think Will Compton vs Johnathan Franklin/UCLA 2012).* If no one adjusts to the motion, this indicates zone coverage and when the defense shows this response, the QB should throw the ball immediately, as the back now has running head start while defenders are standing flat-footed, thus having gained leverage.
Nebraska and Danny Langsdorf first showed this motion extensively in the bowl game, but has since developed it into a pretty nice offensive sub-package this season. Nebraska extensively ran this motion during the Oregon game with three plays attached to it: a run-pass option (RPO) of a QB Draw attached to a swing pass off of the comet motion, a beautiful bit of misdirection with a tunnel screen to Alonzo Moore opposite of the motion, and an over route to Cethan Carter that was unfortunately dropped in the plays preceding Tommy’s winning touchdown run, but remains worthy of a mention. The possibilities are endless of plays that can be attached to this motion, but we’ll focus on these three to begin with.
QB Draw-Comet Flare- 2nd&15, 7:43 1st Quarter
On this play Nebraska comes out in a double back shotgun formation with Bryant flanking TA to the left and Wilbon to the right. Pre-snap comet motion with Wilbon to the wide side of the field and boy does that elicit one helluva response from the Oregon defense; the way they moved toward the motion was reminiscent of Brady Hoke moving toward a buffet table. The two linebackers immediately adjust, as does a safety lined up in a hybrid position. Oregon also brought pressure from their outside linebacker lined up on the line of scrimmage alongside their DE, which could have culminated in some bad football calculus had the play been a drop-back pass. Because of the fire drill adjustment by Oregon’s linebackers, Tommy immediately kills the read of throwing the comet and takes off on the QB draw off the right side.
Re-watching parts of Oregon-Nebraska (b/c I hate myself) and here are three Ducks all following the same motion guy pic.twitter.com/EHc75XyQxG— Dan Rubenstein (@DanRubenstein) September 22, 2016
A couple things hurt this play from going for an even better gain: 1) Sam Hahn gets caught flat-footed by the Oregon rusher and gets knocked back into Tommy’s path, which thankfully, TA runs around and gets out of the scrum. 2) as Tommy races into the secondary, the corner that Brian Reimers is responsible for avoids the stalk block and ultimately aids in the tackle. Had that not happened, there are yards to be had, at the risk of sounding like a yardage glutton.
Tunnel Screen to Alonzo Moore- 2nd & 10, 11:37 2nd Quarter
On this play, Nebraska lined up in a Y Off Near formation to the short side of the field on the right hash mark with Sam Cotton lined up at the Y (TE), Alonzo Moore as the Z receiver to the boundary, Jordan Westerkamp as the H receiver, and Stanley Morgan as the X receiver to the field. Oregon is in some quasi-30 front with a spinner lined up in the B gap to the short-side, indicating blitz.
Before the snap, Armstrong sends Devine Ozigbo (aka “Grown Ass Man”) in comet motion to the wide side of the field. Just before the snap you see the MIKE shuffle over toward the motion and after the snap the MIKE and the WILL bite HARD toward the motion, vacating the middle of the field. After a nice head fake, Tommy comes back to his right and fires a nice pass to Moore, who now has one helluva convoy leading him down the field, where the defense left the front door wide open due to their reaction of the motion.
Alonzo Moore follows his escorts down the field for a nice gain that would have been even better had the offensive line blocked somebody down the field. Oregon’s insistence on playing a cover 2 with two high safeties both helped and hindered them on the play, as they were in position to make the tackle downfield to prevent a longer gain or touchdown, but it ultimately hindered them because the defensive structure of two deep safeties to safeguard from the big play required the response that the linebackers showed toward the motion side.
Swing Pass to Devine Ozigbo- 2nd & 16, 10:27 2nd Quarter
Two plays after the tunnel screen to Moore, Nebraska faced a 2nd&16, after an ill-fated fly sweep to DPE that resulted in a 6 yard loss. On this play, Nebraska lines up on the left hash in the same Y Off formation with Cotton and Moore to the short side and Westy and Stanley Morgan to the field side. Oregon counters this by lining up in a more traditional 30 front, with two high safeties at a depth of 14 yards toward the short side and 11 yards to the wide side.
Now that we have the foundation poured for the play, you know the drill. Ozigbo goes in motion to the right, but this time the defense does not adjust to the motion, indicating zone coverage. At the snap, Tommy turns and fires the swing pass to Ozigbo, which the defense actually has a nice response to, with the MIKE getting on his horse quickly out to the perimeter, where Westerkamp gets him with a good enough block to spring Ozigbo for a seven yard gain.
However, Oregon’s defensive front 5 were slanting toward the short side with pressure, taking themselves out of the play, although I’m curious if they did so to hedge against a possible zone read to the weak-side of the formation.
No other eligible receivers run a route combo on the play, they just block on both sides of the formation, indicating that this is either two things: 1) it was called as a designed swing pass to Ozigbo in the huddle or 2-it was attached to the QB draw which we had seen earlier in the game, but this time without a lead blocker. Either way, the Liz/Rip Comet motion and the plays ran with the motion are turning football into a game of calculus; by sending the back in motion, the defense is often forced to adjust and remove a defender from the box (vacating the middle), which turns the numbers game in the favor of the offense. Although these plays look flashy, they really are just modern iterations of option football.
Y Over to Cethan Carter- 3rd & 9, 3:48 4th Quarter
One of two moments in which doubt that Nebraska would not win began to creep into the back of mind and permeate through my cerebral cortex, like has happened so many times in big games of the past 15 years. When it appeared that Carter had caught the football for a crucial first down, I jumped out of my chair in excitement, nearly spilling an ice cold, freshly opened can of Coors Banquet beer. (Editor’s note: We cant help the beer choice here, y’all.)
Much to mine and the entire state of Nebraska’s dismay, the pass frittered to the turf, as the state of Nebraska collectively sighed. Thankfully, the Coors Banquet beer did not spill, and most of its contents would be drank with one hearty gulp just two plays later.
The double back shotgun with two receivers and one tight end is becoming Nebraska’s go-to formation; although on this play Carter’s wider than normal TE split he is masquerading as a wideout. The comet motion did its main job-leverage the defense and pull coverage apart by forcing the defense to account for the comet flare pass. At the sight of motion, Oregon once again goes on a fire drill to contain the motion, with three players to the motion side adjusting wide and exposing the middle of the defensive structure. The MIKE and SAM adjust, but this time Oregon peels a defensive end toward the motion, an old anti-option football tactic called the BITCH concept (please excuse the crass expression). BITCH stands for Back out of backfield or Pitch.
On the weak-side of the formation, Oregon also has a late change into a pressure package with their cornerback, the cowboy blitz (Corner, Cowboy-again football coaches and mnemonic devices). The Oregon WILL also comes in on a blitz, anticipating/thinking/hoping/wishing Nebraska would be running QB Lead Draw to this side.
Not so, although the backfield action by Ozigbo is exactly the same and that proves fortunate for NU, as Ozigbo is in position to pick up the corner cowboy blitz. The pass protection isn’t great, but Armstrong does a fantastic job of getting rid of the football before the Ducks have a defensive team meeting in the Husker backfield.
With the adjustment to the Rip Comet motion, Carter has a clean release off the line of scrimmage and is able to slip underneath the MIKE linebacker and get to his landmark, even with a safety over the top. In my opinion, the late show of pressure on the weakside of the formation is what gave Oregon a chance to contest this pass, because if the safety did not adjust to the weakside to fill in over the top for the corner blitz, there wouldn’t have been anyone there to cover Cethan Carter and we’re looking at a clean catch for a first down and possibly more.
Bottom line, this motion had the exact effect on Oregon’s defense that Danny Langsdorf had hoped for. As the old expression goes, it worked exactly like it was drawn up. Over and over again, Oregon defenders adjusted to the motion while leaving their middle vulnerable and other times they didn’t adjust; allowing themselves to be outflanked on the play.
I look forward to seeing what Coach Danny Langsdorf continues to come with within this package of plays to continue to stress both the perimeter of the defense and the defensive middle.
*I still have nightmares about Nebraska defenders trying to tackle UCLA’s athletes in space.