After 234 yards in the season opener against Arkansas State, the Husker ground game got off to a good start on the hard-charging running of tailback Tre Bryant, with the sophomore rushing for 68 yards on 10 carries in the first half, with a very healthy 6.8 average ypc. That yield by Bryant is notable in the case of playing from behind right out of the gate and being forced to throw the football more than originally desired. Despite playing from behind, Bryant maximized his first half carries. In the second half, Bryant had rushed for another 35 yards, while still playing from behind, before leaving the game with a knee injury, a notable (understatement of the year) loss.
Against the Ducks, the Huskers again leaned on their core concepts in the tailback run game, while sprinkling in a couple of ancillary runs. Three of the Huskers’ five core concepts yielded very robust average yards per carry, although one of those averages is drastically skewed due to one explosive play.
Gap-Duo: Nebraska ran Gap-Duo 5 times for 30 yards against the Ducks, for a very healthy 6.0 average ypc. Gap-Duo was by far Nebraska’s most consistent run play, as its straight-forward approach allowed the Nebraska offensive line to maul the Oregon front off the ball early in the contest.
Pin & Pull, ‘Steeler’: The favored concept of the Arkansas State game generated 31 yards on 7 attempts on Saturday, although one of those runs was the 24 yarder by Tre Bryant. Including Bryant’s 24 yard run, ‘Steeler’ averaged 5.2 ypc. When factoring out the 24 yard run, ‘Steeler’ averaged an anemic 1.0 yard per carry, with many of the runs yielding negative yardage or no gain. Busted assignments and failures to set the edge and sustain blocks contributed to this anemic output.
Counter: Nebraska ran Counter 3 times for a whopping 8 yards, for an average ypc of 2.6. Perhaps even more disheartening is that one Counter run, from Tre Bryant on a new wrinkle in the gameplan went for 10 yards, with the other two going for -2 yards and no gain, respectively. The factors that caused this will be discussed further as a point of emphasis.
Inside Zone: Nebraska’s most versatile blocking scheme generated 11 yards on 3 carries for 3.6 ypc, with 2 of the 3 attempts coming off of the run portion of Nebraska’s bread & butter RPO Inside Zone-Slant/Bubble.
Draw: Nebraska ran the Dallas Lead Draw 4 times for 19 yards for 4.75 ypc. Tre Bryant came excrutiatingly close to breaking long runs off this play. Going forward, if the Husker OL can account for second level threats, or the linebackers take themselves out of the play by bailing deep on the pass fake, this will be a very explosive play.
Ancillary Runs: For the second week in a row, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf dialed up NU’s favorite goalline/short yardage play, G Lead, for a touchdown. On the season that’s 2 attempts, 2 touchdowns. Not a bad batting average for G Lead. Also for the second time in as many weeks, our statewide appetite for fullback runs was satisfied, as fullback Luke McNitt picked up a first down on a Fullback Blast play. These runs netted 4 yards between them for an average ypc of 2.0 yards.
In continuing to track the metric of runs over 4 yards and runs less than 4 yards, the Huskers, out of 24 tailback/fullback attempts had 13 runs that netted less than 4 yards, an unacceptable metric at any rate. Of those 13 runs, 7 of them were on plays that called for pulling linemen, Counter and ‘Steeler’.
The issues with these plays is relatively simple. The Huskers struggled when pulling linemen due to frontside penetration that either altered the paths of the pullers deeper into the backfield, or resulted in the pullers not being able to get to the point of attack (POA) at all. As mentioned in the Counter Trap breakdowns from over the summer, frontside penetration absolutely kills Gap scheme runs.
In the second quarter, Nebraska came out in a shotgun formation with the two tight ends to the boundary aligned in a ‘Nasty’ alignment, possibly suggesting to the defense that Nebraska wanted to run some kind of boundary sweep play with Hoppes and Ketter setting the edge. Instead, QB Tanner Lee turns to Bryant aligned in a ‘sidecar’ alignment, and hands the ball off to him on Nebraska’s base Counter Trap, albeit with a bit of window dressing.
This play goes for 10 yards, despite the fact that the Oregon outside linebacker squeezed pretty far down on the play once he read the down block from Matt Farniok. Left guard Jerald Foster did an excellent job in targeting the inside shoulder of the linebacker to kick him out as best he could in order to define the C gap, with Tyler Hoppes being able to fit inside of Foster’s block to block the 2nd level force player who had not yet scraped over the top.
The frontside offensive line does a good job of getting vertical movement off of the LOS, with center Cole Conrad working in tandem with RG Tanner Farmer on a ‘Slap’ call on Oregon’s Jordon Scott. Redshirt freshmen RT Matt Farniok, making his first start, executes an ‘Oly’ call on the 4 technique DE and I really liked how Farniok didn’t let his feet go dead on contact with his defender. Instead, Farniok continues to move his feet to finish the block. Something as simple as that is a good indicator of nastiness, which is always welcomed along the offensive line. This was no more evident than when he buried his man with a down block on Mikale Wilbon’s touchdown run off of G Lead with 2:47 left in the 4th quarter.
Later in the 2nd quarter, Nebraska tries to run Gun Counter again, although this time it does not net any yards, as penetration occurs from Oregon nose guard Jordon Scott, who blows up the play before it has a chance to really get started. Cole Conrad is already a yard deep in the backfield by the time Foster pulls around his block, forcing Foster, and subsequently, Ketter, to bubble around him even deeper into the backfield. Without this obstruction in the path of the pullers, the C gap would have been defined and Bryant would have able to get through before the backside defensive end was able to clean-up the play for no gain. By the time Farmer was able to get over to help Conrad on the ‘Ace’ combination block, Scott had already driven Conrad too deep into the backfield and Farmer couldn’t help against the penetration. This play serves as a salient example about not allowing penetration, especially so on Gap scheme runs. When a center is being driven back almost immediately on the play, it drastically alters the ability to run Counter.
In conclusion, I think that had Nebraska not been forced to play from behind that the Huskers would have leaned on the Gap-Duo play more, as it provided multiple double teams blocks to combat penetration from the Oregon front. Ultimately, the Husker offensive line needs to continue to improve on sustaining blocks and displaying nastiness along with their drastically improved technique. Falling behind 14-0 right out of the gate and again 42-14 at halftime took the Huskers out of what their initial game plan appeared to be: to lean on Oregon on the ground and target the Ducks’ single high safety in the play-action passing game set up by the run.
As always with football, you’re never quite as good as you think, and you’re never quite as bad as you think.