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Charting the Run: A Brief Survey

How bad was Saturday?

Ohio State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Last Saturday’s tilt against the Buckeyes was defined by largely by one thing, athletes. Just as Tom Osborne once said “it’s not game plans, it’s athletes” at half-time of the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, Saturday night was about athletes once again, with Nebraska on the other side of that coin for the second year in a row against the Buckeyes. This talent disparity was particularly evident in comparing the Husker line play on both sides of the ball with the Buckeye line play. This talent disparity, punctuated by being a developmental work in progress, had a direct implication upon how the Husker offensive brain trust elected to attack the Buckeye secondary.

Out of 63 total snaps against Ohio State, the Huskers threw 47 passes between starter Tanner Lee and back-up Patrick O’Brien, leaving 16 rushing attempts as the remainder of the offensive snaps. In further extrapolating this out, only 12 of these 16 attempts were tailback rushing attempts, for a grand total of 27 yards; an average ypc of 2.25. True to form, we’ll breakdown the rushing totals of each concept, discuss what went wrong, and take a look at a new play that the Huskers unveiled for the first time this season.

Duo: 3 yards on 1 attempt. 3.0 ypc.

Inside Zone: 20 yards on 7 attempts. 2.85 ypc.

Outside Zone: 0 yards on 1 attempt. 0.0 ypc.

Mid-zone: a hybrid between IZ and OZ, with the tailback running an IZ track and the OL blocking OZ netted 0 yards on 1 attempt. 0.0 ypc.

Delay Draw: 2 yards on 1 attempt. 2.0 ypc.

Power: not in the traditional sense, but Nebraska ran the Stretch-Shovel Read, a play popularized by the Kansas City Chiefs this season, for 2 yards on 1 attempt. 2.0 ypc.

So, yeah. When the rushing numbers are this low, I think it’s appropriate to deduct two things that are exclusive of one another. 1. we didn’t run the ball enough to give it an adequate change, and 2. running the ball more wouldn’t have mattered. More rushing attempts would not have mattered against the stalwart Buckeye Front 7, as it was a case of talent winning out, as it typically does.

The optics of 56-14 render most glimmers of optimism, such as the play of Michael Decker, Brendan Jaimes, Tanner Lee, and J.D. Spielman as moot points. The reality of it is that these 4 players played excellent games, despite the final score being so lopsided. This goes back to what I spoke about in last Friday’s “The Apologea of Mike Riley,” where I had stated that the incremental improvement that we had shown, at least offensively, would not likely not show up in the box score against the Buckeyes.

Despite the fact that the Husker offensive line struggled so mightily in the running game, it’s a bit of a statistical oddity that Nebraska did not give up a sack or tackle for loss against the Buckeyes. Despite this statistical oddity, it does not excuse the issues that ailed the Husker offensive line. Before the game was completely out hand, i.e. down 21-0, the Huskers ran 6 of 12 total tailback attempts. A common theme arose out of these 6 attempts, with the left side of the Husker offensive line struggling to secure the frontside B gap on Inside Zone and Duo, most notably. Another area of concern stemmed from tOSU running down Mid-Zone and Outside Zone plays from behind, having no fear of a cutback or bootleg, as seen here:

and here:

On the Duo play, Jerald Foster gets caught leaning into the block vs the inside shade, allowing the defender to spike into the frontside B gap and help slow down the play. Offensive line coaches continually harp on not leaning into blocks for this very reason, as maintaining a solid base helps to account for movement from down defenders.

New Play of the Week

As mentioned earlier, Nebraska utilized their Power blocking scheme to run a play that is particularly en vogue in the NFL right now from the Kansas City Chiefs, the Stretch-Shovel read. This play was originally popularized last season by the Pitt Panthers in their monumental upset of Clemson last year before proliferating to the NFL. Stretch-Shovel read operates conceptually similar to the Inverted Veer play, in which the QB and RB exchange paths, with the QB being the inside run threat. On this play however, the Shovel path from the Z receiver replaces the QB run. If the frontside defensive end (FSDE) squeezes down on the down block from the FST, then the appropriate response is to give the ball to the tailback on the sweep path. If the FSDE expands with the sweep path, the QB will flip the ball forward on the shovel pass.

On this play, Nebraska presents Stretch-Shovel read out of their Splitbacks 20 personnel formation, with Zip motion from Demornay Pierson-El and tailback Mikale Wilbon running the sweep path. The offensive line blocks this just the same as Inverted Veer with Power blocking. Because the FSDE squeezes down on the down block from Nick Gates, Tanner Farmer traps the WILL, as he is scraping over the top in a gap-exchange. Farmer’s vision and recognition of this play is excellent, despite not getting a clean block on the scraping linebacker.

Elsewhere on the play the 1 technique DT penetrates the frontside A gap, but is not detrimental to the path of the puller. Penetration by Jake Bosa on the hinge block of Jaimes is something that cannot occur on the play, as if the FSDE had expanded with Wilbon, DPE’s shovel path would have been disrupted by Bosa and resulted in a negative play.

This new play was a way for Nebraska to utilize its Power concept without having to front up with the Ohio State front 4 as they would in a more traditional Power O play. The concepts that Nebraska has run out of Split 20 are some my favorites in the construct of the offense, so I am curious and excited to see this play ran in the future, hopefully with better execution on the frontside and backside of the offensive line. Of course, it’d be unfair to the Husker offense if I didn’t mention that the biggest reason this play didn’t pop for a bigger gain is attributed to the team speed of the Buckeye front 7.