Craig has the Scout - Nebraska 2018

Nov 09, 2018

Coming Up

Who: Nebraska Cornhuskers

When: 11:00 am - November 10th, 2018

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE

How: BTN

Opponent Primer:

Head Coach: Scott Frost. Nebraska native and a former Cornhusker, Frost is back to bring relevance to Nebraska. Frost was the starting QB for the 1997 National Champs. Frost started his collegiate career at Stanford before transferring back to Nebraska. He started his collegiate coaching career on defense, but moved to Oregon under Chip Kelly and learned the trade there. He took over as UCF head coach, before returning to Nebraska. Frost is 43, and will be in Lincoln for a good long while.

Offensive Style: Spread Option. Frost never got away from the option, it has just been tweaked from the option attack he piloted in his playing days. Troy Walters is the OC, a former Stanford WR. Frost brought Walters with him from UCF and the offense has been explosive again this year.

Defensive Style: 3-4 press coverage. Erik Chinander also came from UCF to Nebraska with Frost. In fact, Frost brought his whole staff. Chinander has been all over the map on defense this year, mainly because the group of blackshirts he was left is meh at best. This staff's #1 goal will need to be an influx of defensive talent if the Huskers want to move up the pecking order of college football.

Specialists: Barrett Pickering is the kicker, and a shaky one at that for Nebraska. If this game turns on special teams plays, Illinois wins. Nebraska is 112th in Special Teams this year.

Three Things to Watch

  1. Illinois' interior DL vs. the Huskers interior OL. An absolute copy from last week. The Illini interior DL had a really strong performance last week and helped limit the read option from Minnesota. The Cornhuskers will pull linemen more often than Minnesota, and penetration will disrupt what the Huskers attack.

  2. Illinois success on 1st down. Illinois has the 6th best S&P+ rushing attack in FBS. Illinois is doing this though by being incredibly explosive. When the Illini rush offense struggles on 1st down, the entire offense stagnates (see Purdue). Nebraska is 92nd at stopping the run in the same ratings, so expect Illinois to have a big rushing day. Rod Smith needs to keep his team out of trouble on 1st down.

  3. Nebraska on 1st down. Nebraska is also extremely explosive in the run game. The Cornhuskers are the 13th best rushing attack. Nebraska also struggles when they have 3rd and medium or long. They are the 85th in the nation in terms of average distance on 3rd down - the offense is boom or bust. As an aside, Nebraska is one spot behind Illinois in average 3rd down yardage. These two offenses utilize a lot of the same principles on offense, they go about it different ways though. This game will be decided on 1st downs.

Scouting Review - Offense

Not going to lie, this Nebraska offense is really fun to watch. But, I do enjoy watching option football. This is new school option. The main philosophy is obviously to run the ball, and they will use lots of eye candy to force opponents to be assignment sound. Illinois has really struggled with players being forced to play assignment football this season. Teams that have had some success against Nebraska have been those that have forced Martinez into passing situations. The Nebraska pass offense is limited.

The running game is based on the principle of an inside zone base blocking and a shotgun formation. The offense then gives the QB a set of reads nearly every play. This is a bit of a departure from the Chip Kelly offense Frost was part of in Oregon. Kelly relied on more outside zone blocking to mix with the read option. Nebraska makes up for the zone blocking difference by pulling linemen extensively in this offense.

The Huskers are led by a quartet of offensive players. Adrian Martinez is the QB, and he is solid in the run game. He is the best running QB Illinois has seen this year, which makes me nervous. He has two legit receiving threats on the outside in JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan Jr. The RB who gets the most carries is Devine Ozigbo. Ozigbo is a powerful runner between the tackles, but I'm actually more impressed with the freshman Maurice Washington (he might be the leading rusher for Nebraska Saturday).

{{My apologies for all the Northwestern plays below, they are one of a few 4 man fronts Nebraska has played this season. Additionally, against Nebraska, NW does a lot of the same things I would advocate Lovie do against the run. If Lovie is asking for suggestions from fans this week, I would like to see the Illini corners in press man, run similar to what NW ran on the front, and have a safety hawking Martinez all game to turn the DEs loose crashing.}}

So, on to the play philosophy. Against a 6 man box, Nebraska likes to run the Dart play. This involves a pulling tackle, and I believe the Huskers will run it towards the 1-technique tackle of Illinois.

Nebraska is optioning the weakside DE. Northwestern did a nice job of forcing the give. Northwestern tried to disrupt this by stunting their DL.

This should have been a huge stop by the Wildcats as the DE has stunted into the hole. The LB (who people say is one of the best in the B1G, but is not) is completely asleep at the wheel which allows yardage.

Should Martinez keep, he has the option to run the ball or hit the WR on the bubble screen to the outside. Against the Illini 4 man front, they will run with the RB most times though. The double team they get on the 1 technique clears a nice path for the RB, and the pulling tackle gives them a numbers advantage play side. This should be the play Nebraska runs the most on Saturday.

The core component of the offense though is the inside zone. Earlier in the year, Nebraska was pretty awful at this, and they struggled to win games. Lately, they are getting much better, and suddenly the Cornhuskers are a much better team. Imagine that. Here is the base IZ run.

The Northwestern DT does a nice job of winning the block here, and Ozigbo missed the hole playside.

Martinez will keep out of this look too, much more often relative to the Dart read option.

The safety here is too far back and has taken himself out of the play. Once the playfake has been made, the safety needs to be crashing in.

Should the DE get too much width, Martinez is going to give this every time, and the straight ahead run is much more dangerous for Illinois.

When Martinez keeps, he has the flat pass option available to him. Here is that look.

Nebraska likes to throw to the flat out of this formation more than the trips look they showed against Northwestern.

Moving back to pulling linemen, here is a trap look by Nebraska. They will probably only run this once, but I love the trap play.

Should Calvin Avery be in the game, and as aggressive as he is at getting upfield, if might be seen much more often. The trap is great at slowing upfield penetration, especially for zone blocking schemes.

Illinois has the most issues with teams running off tackle against them. Nebraska typically attacks the edges with read option, but Illinois showed a good defense against that last week. Nebraska uses other ways to get to the edge. The first is the buck sweep.

This is a staple of the Northwestern and Penn State offenses. If Illinois is in man coverage on the edges, the safeties and LBs will need to contain this play.

The Huskers will also invert the option to have the QB option up the middle, while the RB is attacking the edge.

This is play is a naked run for the RB. This play is set up to attack the weak side of the offense.

When the Cornhuskers want to get the RB to the edge, they normally do it out of a read option Power blocking scheme. The play is very effective, and shows action away from the normal option look.

The Cornhuskers use this when they are running some tempo, and this is the play Illinois has struggled to defend this year.

They have a nice little wrinkle out of this play, which is a pure QB run.

The motion of the RB out of the backfield creates confusion in the front 6, and the bouncing LB gives the Cornhuskers a 5v5 front. With the Power blocking scheme, they have an advantage on every block based on scheme. A single high safety crashing will blow this up. I don't think Nebraska will run this much, Martinez is the only solid QB they have, and having him take too many shots is a bad idea.

The Cornhuskers will use an H-back at times in the zone blocking scheme and run a lead block to cut off back side LB pursuit.

Just to show the great play calling of the Cornhuskers, here is how Nebraska will use mundane looks to break big plays.

Same action initially with the eye candy. The LB should catch the offensive line pass pro, but doesn't in time. The H-back should have scored on this one.

A final look in the run game. Although technically this is a pass. The Cornhuskers have a different take on the jet sweep.

This is a jet sweep in every sense, but with the toss forward it is scored as a pass.

The Cornhuskers like to motion the RB out of the backfield. Martinez is a middling passer, but throws a nice ball to the flats. As a result, the Huskers typically throw short and to the edges. The Motion look first sets up the Hitch route. This is a route Martinez runs well, and soft zone coverage is perfect for this pass.

The Huskers will also run this same action, but use it as an extended handoff.

The RB here is basically running a sweep.

If the motion is pulling the LBs out of the box, the Cornhuskers have a numbers advantage in the box. When that happens, they will run a draw with Martinez.

Martinez took some big hits against Ohio State last week, so I'm not sure how much Frost is going to want to run him.

The motion that across the formation will happen quite a bit for Martinez to recognize the defense. Similar to Matt Canada and the Maryland game, they will motion to move the defensive backfield around and sow confusion. Ohio State did a nice job of stunting the DL to offset the run advantage. The Buckeyes were very confused in the defensive secondary though. Against Northwestern, the Wildcats were sound in the defensive backfield, Nebraska will set up easy throws for Martinez, like this where the H-back is in the flat.

A majority of the passing attack is set up off play action. A similar play to the last one is a bubble screen to the slot.

Once again, an easy throw for Martinez, and the receivers are blocking out of the gate.

Off the same play action inside zone look they will run the outside hitches.

If the Illini DL is getting lots of penetration, the Cornhuskers will run a screen to slow down the rush.

Since I think Illinois will run a little more man coverage, a favorite of every Illinois opponent.

The crossing route will be in effect. Martinez is a poor passer over the middle, so Nebraska is going to have to work the perimeter against the Illini.

Final play to watch.

Kendrick Green would like to have words with the B1G officiating crews for calling him almost exclusively as an ineligible receiver downfield. The Huskers OL was deeper than the receiver who ran a 5 yard out.

This game is going to feature points by the Nebraska offense. Illinois is going to have to be strong on 1st and 2nd down to get the Huskers into 3rd and medium. Martinez is not the best passer over the middle, and the Illini corners have been strong against the edge screen game this season.

Scouting Review - Defense

Nebraska is a 3-4 defense. They are also very meh so far in doing so. The Cornhuskers like to run press man coverage and are aggressive in defending the pass. The Huskers are very susceptible to sideline routes, along with crossing patterns. As much as I complain about Illini LBs in coverage, they are more proficient than the Huskers in pass coverage.

The Huskers like to run a press man on one side of the field with a single high safety. They will normally run press against the strength of the formation.

The defense is very aggressive in the play calls though. Against Colorado (the most similar offense to Illinois), the Huskers brought heat almost every play. The first action is a pure run blitz from the LBs.

The Huskers will bring heat from the edges as well. Purdue used this look with great success against Bush.

Nebraska likes to blitz the side that should be the read option side. This frees the read player to be aggressive at the mesh and creates challenges for the read option.

Nebraska is also extremely aggressive with linemen stunting. They will do this on both run and passing downs.

This will require the Illini interior DL to talk and be sound. In the Illini run game, this type of work will be boom or bust for the Cornhuskers.

Passing downs should show a very aggressive Cornhuskers defense. The secondary will be in press man, and with the Illini receivers struggling to get open, Nebraska will send the house.

Nebraska is really poor against the run, so they will be as disruptive as possible on 1st and 2nd downs to force Illinois into passing situations. With Bush, Illinois will need to avoid these situations.

What does it mean?

I really wish the schedule gods had flipped the Nebraska and Maryland games for Illinois. The Cornhuskers are improving every week as they continue to get acclimated in the new systems installed (see their improvement in zone blocking). The last few games have been a marked uptick in the quality of Nebraska. Meanwhile, I believe the coaching staff at Maryland has punted on the season. The loss last week probably cements the Canada exit. Illinois would be ideally situated to kill Maryland this week since the Illini improved markedly in defensive scheme and the offensive line blocking.

For Illinois to Win:

Good AJ Bush needs to show back up this week. Bush will be facing a Nebraska defense that is stout up the middle, but lacking explosive playmakers. Nebraska will try to create havoc with pressure. If Bush keeps his feet set and trusts the give on his read, he can set Illinois up to move the ball.

The Illini defense was really good at ball-hawking last week, and Nebraska is prone to turn the ball over. If Illinois can create a couple of short fields, Nebraska will concede points. Illinois will have to win a shoot-out to beat Nebraska.

For Nebraska to Win:

Nebraska has to disrupt the Illini rushing attack, and not turn the ball over. Sounds simple, but Nebraska is going to need to find a way to take AJ Bush out of the rushing attack. The Purdue edge blitz is the most effective way to do so, but Bush has been trusting the read more lately. Nebraska will need to put Bush in passing downs and watch him put the ball up for grabs.

Additionally, the Cornhuskers will need to avoid giving Illinois additional scoring opportunities. The Illini can and will score, Nebraska has to make sure they don't play themselves out of the game.

Illinois +17

This line has moved between 17 and 19. The Kool-aid is strong in Vegas on this one. This line is essentially betting the Nebraska defense is going to stop Illinois with regularity. The over/under is set at 69, so the Vegas is placing this score at 43-26. Illinois is averaging 30 points per game, and Nebraska's rush defense is most similar to Rutgers of Illinois' opponents. Weather and the potential for snow might be the biggest hurdle, but that will be an issue with the same impact to both teams. I don't see Nebraska keeping Illinois below their season average on points without weather assistance. I think Illinois can limit the Huskers to under 50. I'll take Illinois to cover with or without snow.

YTD Against the Spread:



illiniranger on November 09 @ 05:18 PM CST

Martinez has two 300+ yard passing games and has thrown for 250+ in 5 of his last 6. I would not discount their ability to throw.

We have not seen a Lovie Smith defense so much as slow down a hurry up no huddle (HUNH) offense that can throw. I think game is a measuring stick for how much of the Ds problems were Hardy related. I expect to give up points, but we cannot offer zero resistance like we have against other HUNH offenses in the Lovie era (North Carolina, USF x 2, Ohio State, PSU, etc).

I think we will lose this game but think we need to hold them under 35 and force a fair number of punts to show a minimally acceptable amount of defensive progress against such a scheme.

CraigG on November 09 @ 05:33 PM CST

I would attribute so much of the big numbers to playcalling. Martinez does well outside the hashes, but he really struggles down the middle. The playcalling for passes tends to be no-read plays. And as always, those bubble screens and jet sweeps are counting as passing yards for Martinez.

I agree, this is a proof of concept for Lovie Smith in the modern era. Nebraska is not as HUNH as you would think, they are about right in the middle for tempo. If Illinois only gives up 35, that is a HUGE victory for the defense. Nebraska is going to score. Illinois will have to score with them to have a chance.

illiniranger on November 09 @ 08:32 PM CST

I don’t want to be overly pedantic, but I would consider middle of the pack tempo wise in 2018 to be HUNH. Reasonable people can disagree.

It might be more accurate to say teams that regularly spread the field with 10 personnel (or 11 with a hybrid TE type at wing back) and throw vs teams that spread with 11 personnel and are run heavy. We’ve had hit or miss success vs 11 personnel dominant teams that aren’t super athletic. The Minnys, Rutgers, Purdue’s (last year), etc. Weve also been ok vs the non spread spread 11 personnel teams like Iowa and Wiscy.

But man... Against teams that are good at 10 personnel sets that can pass we have been hor-uh-bul. That has got to change.

CraigG on November 10 @ 08:20 AM CST

Fair enough.
The teams that really have destroyed Illinois out of the shotgun spread are those that normally use Air Raid passing concepts. North Carolina is the best example...the Illinois defensive secondary has been shredded in those games. Looking at South Florida last year in particular, Purdue this year...the passing schemes of those are all fairly similar. Frost runs a different set of route trees. He uses the All Hitches and a few other concepts. The offense they run pass wise is closest to Northwestern. I don't think Martinez is a solid enough passer to kill Illinois doing that. He doesn't really have to be though, the run game they have is going to be electric.

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