The Flatirons of the Rockies hold a supernatural mystique to readers of Stephen King. The Shining, The Stand, and Doctor Sleep all feature the idyllic foothills of the Rockies as their setting, and Husker fans should also be familiar with the oddities that have occurred in Folsom Field, nestled just below the Flatirons. An 18 year winning streak snapped in 1986. A questionable forward lateral in 1989. A tie on a blistering cold night in 1991, caused by an onslaught of snowballs thrown by CU students who were most likely trustfunders from Southern California or New England. Storming comebacks by the home team that served as cautionary tales in 1997 and 1999. And the most nightmarish of all the oddities: the day the college football equivalent of Rome fell in 2001.
As a diehard and maladjusted Husker fan— because let’s face it, all of us diehard football fans are maladjusted individuals—that previous paragraph was difficult to type without retching at least a couple of times. But the fact is, weird things happen in Boulder, much like weird things happen in the Nebraska-Northwestern “rivalry” in the Big Ten. Saturday’s 71st installment of the Nebraska-Colorado rivalry was no different. A blistering start on a blistering day, followed by a lull, and then capped off with a shootout ending in excruciating heartbreak that no one saw coming at halftime.
The Husker offense set out to prove that last week’s performance against South Alabama was an aberration; an anomaly that would be the exception, rather than the rule. And for thirty minutes, that looked to be the case. In the Husker offense’s blistering start, quarterback Adrian Martinez was 9-9 for 180 yards and 1 TD, with 45 yards rushing and another TD on the ground.
But after halftime, the script flipped and the Buffalo defense did just enough to slow down and muddy the road for the Husker offense utilizing a few adjustments that the Husker offense did not adjust to. CU defensive coordinator Tyson Summers began employing the Green Dog blitz, Blitzing the Formation (BTF), Tackle-End Exchange (TEX) Stunts, and simulated pressures to get pressure on Martinez, confuse a still developing offensive line, and stymie the Husker offense long enough to get the damned Buffs back into the game.
Many Husker fans of a certain era are familiar with the Red Dog Blitz, a favorite defensive tactic of Bob Devaney and George Kelly, in which a linebacker would rush the quarterback with the ferocity of a pissed off, raging bull. But the Red Dog Blitz was a blitz assignment that had no other reads. In evolving with the spread offense, the Green Dog blitz has become a weapon in defending spread passing games that love to utilize throws to the I-Back out of the backfield. From an NFL standpoint, Bill Belichick loves to call his ‘Rain Blitz’, a Green Dog blitz in which his inside linebackers read the turn of the center.
The Green Dog blitz from the Tite Front that Colorado employs has the two inside linebackers executing a 2-on-1 Blitz Read on the I-Back. If the I-Back releases toward one of the ILB’s, the ILB closest to the back will take him in coverage, while the ILB away from the back will execute a delayed blitz.
The Green Dogs Blitz is essentially a defensive read option play. This call makes the offense wrong and creates confusion for the quarterback and offensive line because setting and executing pass protection is based on alignment and numbers. Dedrick Mills is pushed to the strong side of the formation as the #3 receiver and Nate Landman takes Mills in coverage. This leaves CU with the numbers advantage to the weakside of the formation, with the JACK linebacker taking Stoll, the corner taking Wan’Dale Robinson, and still having a safety over the top.
The play that the Husker offense had called was the Saints-Y Cross play as far as I can tell, without the benefit of the almighty all-22 coaches film. This three level flood concept was set up by Wan’Dale motioning weak to force safety rotation, thus opening up the crossing route for J.D. Spielman and the potential post-alert route for Kanawai Noa. The playcall was set up to force CU’s safety rotation and create a good match-up, but the Green Dogs Blitz call from CU forced a rushed throw to Dedrick Mills as the outlet receiver and the Buffs were able to limit it.
The second tactic that the Buffs used to slow down the Husker offense was simulated pressures from their defensive presnap look. Simulated pressures function pretty much as the name implies, with the defense simulating that they’re bringing pressure presnap, before the walked-up defenders pop out into coverage. This creates confusion for a young offensive line, as pass protection is predicated so much on presnap alignment, as previously mentioned.
On this 3rd & 6, Nebraska is running its Mesh-Spot play from a condensed formation, anticipating man coverage, as Mesh-Spot is a concept that creates natural rubs and picks for a shallow crosser to get separation on their coverage defender. CU defensive coordinator Tyson Summers instead counters with a simulated pressure, which just before the snap you can see him signal in a ‘Casino’ blitz, if you’re good at reading lips.
In setting the protection, center Cameron Jurgens first identifies the MIKE and then adjusts protection toward the defensive strength. Jurgens sets a a half slide protection, with everyone from him to left tackle Brenden Jaimes protecting the gap to their left against the overload. Martinez also has Maurice Washington shift presnap in order to force what they anticipate to be a man coverage defender to check out of his blitz and peel into coverage.
At the snap, the interior three defenders fake the blitz and then pop into their coverage zones, which kills the Mesh created by the shallow crossers. This leaves Jaimes and Farniok overloaded, with two rushers each. CU nickel back Mekhi Blackmon gets the sack on Martinez, effectively snuffing out the drive.
Moving forward, the Nebraska offensive line needs to hit the film room to study simulated pressures that they will undoubtedly see as the season unfolds, as simulated pressures are the en vogue defensive tactic against spread offenses that don’t have the most refined pass protection schemes. The second thing that the Husker offensive line needs to improve upon is passing off stunts like the TEX stunt as seen below.
Getting better at passing off stunts comes through repping the piss out of stunts in practice, something that I have no doubt that Frost and offensive line coach Greg Austin will have the OL doing moving forward. Stunts are designed to create confusion and play upon the tendency of an offensive lineman to be impatient in making contact in pass pro. Working on staying square to the line of scrimmage and allowing the defenders to cross before making contact will make passing off stunts a routine play. Matt Farniok has a tendency to be a “lunger” in pass protection and this tendency was picked up by opposing defensive coordinators even last year.
In any game, win or lose, there are lessons to be taken away. Two things that the Husker offense needs to improve upon in this young 2019 season is the ability to adjust and anticipate. The ability to adjust is predicated upon processing empirical evidence of what the defense has already shown and done. The ability to anticipate is a bit of a gamble, but the great offensive playcallers in college football have the ability to anticipate what a defense might do in response to a look that the offense wants to show. While it greatly pains me to heap praise on anything Colorado Buffalo related, the CU coaching staff anticipated the Mesh-Spot play from a condensed, cut-split formation, even though we had not ran that play yet in this young season. Frost is a great offensive mind and can become a great playcaller. The thing to keep in mind is that he’s still evolving as a head coach and offensive coordinator, especially in the current stages of the Nebraska rebuild. Hopefully next week we are talking about how the Husker offense got off to a blistering start and put together a solid four quarters of football.
GO BIG RED!