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Charting the Run Game: Illinois Edition

Increased execution on the offensive line allowed the Husker offense to sharpen existing schemes and implement a few new ones

Nebraska v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

At the quarter mark of the 2017 season, your Nebraska Cornhuskers finally put together a complete game in all three phases of the game, allowing the Huskers to cruise to a 28-6 win in a very businesslike road trip to Champaign, Illinois. In doing so, the Husker offense implemented and executed a game plan that accentuated what they did best, using the inside run game to soften the belly of the defense, forcing the defense to allocate more defenders to stop the run, leaving the Husker #Wideouts to get open against the Illini Man-Free coverage.

Against the Illini, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf leaned on the familiar concepts of the run game that we’ve previously discussed, while also implementing some new concepts for the first time this season for live game reps and to set the table even further for future opponents to consider in their game prep. Some of these concepts may even look familiar to Husker fans from a bygone era.

With 165 net yards rushing against Illinois, the Huskers averaged 4.3 ypc. Excluding the 16 yards in losses for QB Tanner Lee, the 12 yards for receiver JD Spielman on Fly Sweeps, and the 4 yard loss sustained from taking a knee in the Victory Formation, the Nebraska tailback triumvirate ran for 178 yards on 33 attempts, for an average ypc of 5.39. The tailback triumvirate was paced by G.A.M. (Grown Ass Man) Devine Ozigbo with 106 yards on 18 angry attempts (5.9 average), while Mikale Wilbon, who showed some serious juice in exclaiming “they can’t tackle me, man. They can’t tackle me,” registered 60 yards on 13 attempts (4.6 average), and the young buck Jaylin Bradley had 12 yards on 2 attempts (6.0 average). The best part of this strong performance by the three tailbacks is that we have a nice core of offensive weapons once Tre Bryant returns from injury.

Duo: Death, taxes, and Gap-Duo. The Huskers ran Gap-Duo 8 times on Friday night for a total of 39 yards, for an average of 4.87 ypc.

Counter: The Huskers did not run their off-speed pitch, Counter, at all on Friday. 0 attempts, 0 yards.

Power: The focal point of last week’s Decoding Langsdorf, Power was not in the game plan this week. 0 attempts, 0 yards.

Steeler: Nebraska’s Pin & Pull sweep, used to outflank the defense on the perimeter, was ran 6 times for a total 28 yards on 6 attempts, including Devine Ozigbo’s 15 yard touchdown run. The final average ypc for Steeler was 4.66.

Dallas: Nebraska’s Lead Draw play was ran one time to freshman Jaylin Bradley, for a total of 8 yards. 8.0 ypc.

Inside Zone: The focal point of last year’s offense, Inside Zone (IZ) was ran 12 total times on Friday, with 11 of them coming on the final 12 play drive to close out the game before lining up in the victory formation. It was a thing of beauty to see the big guys up front get vertical displacement with double teams right up into the laps of the linebackers. On 12 attempts, Inside Zone netted 75 yards, for an average ypc of 6.25.

Outside Zone: Outside Zone (OZ) was ran 1 time, on Nebraska’s first play from scrimmage with a ‘Ted’ call that had Brendan Jaimes pulling around the down block of the tight end. That one attempt netted 0 yards.

Ancillary Runs: Despite not seeing G/T Lead or any carries for the fullback, Nebraska implemented some new ancillary runs against The Illini, running Dart, a play used as a Spread Iso concept, 4 times for 21 yards, a 5.25 ypc. Dart will be detailed later in the breakdown. The other “new” ancillary run ran by the Huskers was the Inside Trap to Mikale Wilbon. Yes, you read that correctly. On 4th & 1, out of the short yardage Wing T formation, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf called upon the Cory Schlesinger play to convert for a new series of downs. Although the play did not hit at the intended point of attack, Wilbon had the frame of mind to take the ball backside, away from the crashing Illini defense. Inside Trap, “Gut” netted 2 yards for a ypc of 2.0.

Although the game plan was straight forward, the game plan also served to get live game reps for plays that will be beneficial against the Odd Front employed by Wisconsin; in addition to also putting new looks on film, as previously mentioned. In today’s breakdown, we’ll look at the pathology of the Dart play, how it works, and why we should expect to see it against the Badgers on Saturday.


Dart is a gap-blocked run where the backside tackle pulls to lead the way for the tailback, essentially functioning as an Iso play out of spread formations. This play was utilized in the days of Tom Osborne, under the name 47/43 Tackle Trap, as a compliment to the Zone Lead of 47/43 Draw in the Osborne offense. Recently, the Baylor offense of Art Briles utilized Dart as a base run attached to their RPO series. Last year against the Illini, Nebraska utilized QB Dart with QB Tommy Armstrong, although the result was less than desirable, as the Huskers did not have the adequate OL personnel to execute gap scheme runs.

Dart, when used as a Spread Iso, is a great call against defenses with 6 in the box. It also distorts the reads of the linebackers by appearing to be Inside Zone away from the point of attack, before the dancing bear BST wraps around into the B gap bubble. I’m sure this play will be utilized against Wisconsin, as their Odd Front will leave an open B gap and will allow the Husker OL to double on the nose guard with a Slap call, defining the point of attack even wider.

Inside Trap-”Gut”

Although Nebraska has ran the official play of the state of Nebraska twice before in the Mike Riley era, the Huskers had not ran it to the tailback, opting instead to give the ball on the trap play to the fullback position; the position synonymous with Nebraska grit.

On the first play of the 4th quarter, Nebraska faced a 4th & 1 while up 21-6 and looking to plunge the dagger into Illinois for the game. The Huskers, who at this point had worked the frontside 3 tech mercilessly with Duo and Steeler runs, opted to play upon the Illini 3 tech, anticipating that the 3 would mount an undisciplined charge upfield to split a Deuce block (OG and OT double).

Instead, Illinois aligns with down defenders in the A gaps, which results in the MIKE crashing into his B gap run fit to be the victim for the kick-out block by Jerald Foster. While center Michael Decker blocks back on the defender aligned over Foster, right guard Tanner Farmer returns the favor for Decker, blocking down on the shaded nose, who immediately submarines and muddies up the path.

Seeing this, Mikale Wilbon bangs the play to the backside, picking up 2 yards for a crucial fourth down conversion. Good vision and wiggle by Wilbon allowed this play to be successful despite the two shaded nose guards for Illinois doing everything to subvert the play. What I really like about this play is that had the trap been called to a fullback, a fullback likely would have tried to jam the ball into the A gap, rather than display the vision and lateral movement of Wilbon. Without this vision and lateral movement, this play would have been blown up in the A gap. But because of the aforementioned attributes of Wilbon, the chains were moved for a fresh set of downs.

Despite the fact that Illinois used two shaded noses on the play, the overall blocking scheme would stay intact against Wisconsin’s Odd Front, just with Decker & Farmer doubling on the Wisconsin nose guard, back to the Weak Inside Linebacker; while Jerald Foster would pull to the Strong Inside Linebacker.

The execution that Nebraska displayed against the Illini was a great confidence booster heading into Wisconsin week. I don’t think anyone would disagree that OL play, or lack thereof, against the Badgers the past two seasons has been a central theme in the excruciating losses to the Ditch Weasels. Although no one will confuse the 2017 OL with the 1994 Pipeline, I do think that our rushing output against Wisconsin will be better than the past two match-ups, due to our ability to run gap-blocked runs with upgraded personnel. Last season, a well-timed Counter play with excellent execution could have potentially been the difference in the 23-17 overtime loss, by getting the ultra-aggressive Wisconsin linebackers out of position to be sealed off by the pull-wrap block of the H-Back. Unfortunately Nebraska’s offensive line personnel, particularly in the G-C-G area, precluded the Huskers from utilizing such concepts at that juncture of the 2016 season.

On Saturday, I think it’s safe to say that our game plan will feature a core objective of getting the nose guard blocked with an Ace block (center and playside guard) on plays like Duo, Power, and Counter against the Badgers. It sounds like something Lee Corso would have said on NCAA 2005, but this game will be decided in the trenches.