Craig Has The Scout - Nebraska 2019
Who: Nebraska Cornhuskers
When: 7:00 pm - September 21st, 2019 - under the lights
Where: Home Sweet Home
*Head Coach: Scott Frost. *The savior, who much like the anointed one in West Lafayette, is having a bit of a sophomore slump. The Huskers have struggled to pull it all together this year, and the offense is boom and bust at the moment. Much like Brohm, Frost is recruiting at a level not seen in a decade on the school. If you are going to get Nebraska, this is a good time to do it.
*Offensive Style: Shotgun Triple Option with tempo. *Scott Frost was the Oregon OC during the Chip Kelly era but was not the primary playcaller. He took the concepts of the Kelly offense and blended it with his triple-option roots. The Huskers will motion extensively to get a numbers advantage and run various zone concepts to run the ball. When the Huskers struggle to break yards on 1st down, they struggle period.
*Defensive Style: 3-4 single gap DL. *Nebraska is more aggressive than many 3-4 defenses, and they gamble because the offense will put up points. The Huskers front 3 play similar to the Illini front, and DC Erik Chinader is very creative in bringing pressure.
*Specialists: JD Spielman *is an excellent receiver, and just as dangerous as a punt returner. He is averaging 15 yards per return, boosted by a TD against South Alabama. He is the most explosive player on the field Saturday.
Three Things to Watch
_Illini non-OL in pass protection. _It is hard to read too much into the sacks, part of it was on Peters holding the ball too long. Some of it was the OL not communicating well. The rest was the backs and TEs being porous. I made a comment in last week's scout about blitzing to pressure the Illini. The Nebraska secondary is a bit shaky, and I would be bringing the house with regularity to cover it up on Saturday.
Illini DEs against the read-option. I don't want to relive this, so let's just say the Illini were less than proficient against the read option in the EMU game. Adrian Martinez lives on the read-option, and I think he will feast on Saturday.
_Self-Inflicted errors. _Illinois leads the B1G in penalties and penalty yards per game. They are ceding 40 ypg on average relative to Nebraska. The Illini are 125th nationally, and Lovie has said he is going to clean it up. They will need to against a Nebraska team that thrives on punishing opponent errors.
Scouting Review - Offense
Troy Walters is the OC for the Huskers, and has been with Frost since the UCF days. The UCF offenses were explosive. The Knights were record setting under the two. They have no replicated the same success at Nebraska, and part of that is that the overall talent is closer than what they had in the American. The other portion is because defenses have caught up with the Chip Kelly attack. Teams generally load the box and play press man on the outside to take away the bubble screen option, and to have a 7 vs. 6 advantage in the box. The successful part is having defensive discipline and play the reads.
In previous seasons Frost ran a great deal more 2 back shotgun pro sets. Since Lovie seems intent on staying with the 4-3 set (and Frost has stated he imagines he will stay with it), the main counter is the 2-back set. If you watch the South Alabama, Colorado or Northern Illinois games, they didn't run the formation often. Those teams are all 3-4 defenses, and the LB skillset would negate any advantage. I believe Nebraska will start with the two back set and see what they can create with it. The primary play out of it is the Chip Kelly triple. It is a dive read to the near side back, and a speed option after the give.
If the DE crashes this, it is lights out to the edge for the speed option left. 3-4 defenses slow this down pretty well. Ohio State struggled with it a bit last year out of the 4-3. Of course, the Buckeyes had slightly better athletes on that D than the Illini will roll out Saturday.
There is also a natural counter to this look. The Huskers will utilize the same dive look, but the back will peel to the flat. Martinez then has a few quick-hitting pass options.
Here is Martinez against the Buckeyes last season. Martinez pulled it and broke off a big chunk of yards. This style of play is my biggest fear for Illinois. The team can all be assignment sound, but Martinez is intuitive and quick to take advantage of any space he is given.
Frost and Walters may decide to utilize Martinez as a pure run on Saturday as the Illini will have solo coverage trying to contain him. Nebraska's offense loves pulling lineman to simplify blocks for the OL, and to create side overloads. The split zone concept of Kelly used this as well, and the running capability of Martinez allows for big-play capabilities. Using both of these is the QB dart play, and here it is against Ohio State last year.
The Buckeyes ran a stunt that took the DE right to the hole, and Martinez still scooted loose. Side note, rewatch that play and look at those wide splits.
There is a wrinkle to this as well. Instead of motioning the back out of the backfield pre-snap, the Huskers will move the back to the flat on the snap. They then use a flare pass like a bubble screen to break the back loose.
For the front seven of the Illini, the keys they are using are the same in both cases, and the Dart action pulls them away from the flare pass.
Another wrinkle they showed against Colorado was the QB Power option. The Illini might see more of this with the penetrating 3-technique. The Huskers will run this to the nose, and use the 3-techniques aggressive penetration against him by having him play himself out of position.
Martinez should have kept this, but the Buffs DEs were home all day on the reads and Martinez anticipated the need to give.
A pure run play Nebraska will use is the Buck Sweep. Northwestern and Wisconsin run this play with abandon, and both have used it to great success against Illinois
I'm not sure why they ran it away from the trips into the boundary against Colorado, but the version to the field against South Alabama was stout. The RB Washington has good speed and is shifty enough to outrun LBs to the edge.
The pure read option though will be half of the plays Nebraska runs on Saturday night. The first is the classic read option EMU and UConn both used with some success against Illinois.
After that, they will move over to the triple version utilizing the bubble screen as the third option. Here is the dive option to the tailback.
The third option Martinez has is the bubble screen out to the flat. Bad snap notwithstanding, here is that play.
The final option for Martinez is the QB keep.
Martinez is reading different players in this set of plays. The offense moves linemen and gives a litany of different looks to defenses. Assignment sound football is key.
They can also run this same look starting out of the Pro set backs, and then motion a back to the opposite flat.
The player motioning to the flat started in the backfield on this play. Colorado defended this very well, and it will be interesting to see if this play comes out this weekend as well.
The final pure run play I expect to see is the jet sweep. Nebraska will go with an empty backfield, then motion the back across the formation.
The Illini LBs will need to hand off the motioning back, and stay with their keys on the read. The OL opposite the jet sweep are pulling on this play as if it is QB sweep, so any cheating from the LBs means this play goes to the house as demonstrated by Northern Illinois.
There is a natural counter to this with a play action pass on the Jet Sweep.
The Illini like to sit in zone, and have been showing quite a bit of Cover 2. The Huskers pass offense where Martinez is passing is done mainly out of empty backfield. Martinez is much more comfortable in the pocket this season and is completing his passes at a 60% clip. All at 9.7 yards/attempt. The Huskers offense is all about options, and that occurs in the passing game as well. Against a Cover 2, the offense has a nice set of zone-beating routes.
The receiver on the top of the video is running a post, pulling the safety. The two slot receivers run rub routes with each other, and the LBs do not hand off the crossing receivers. With the LBs not trailing and the safety pulled, Martinez hits the receiver as he clears the zone.
If the Illini do shut this down, it also serves as a great deal of eye candy. And confused defenders is lovely for Martinez.
The Buffaloes played this perfect, and Martinez took off for a big gain. Illinois + Mobile QB = Problems.
With the five receivers, there are some other ways to attack Cover 2. In this play, they use the top receivers to lock up the corner and safety, with a post to attack the middle of the safeties.
With Martinez being mobile, the Huskers will roll the pocket, and when they roll Martinez, look out on the backside.
The Huskers like to take advantage of LBs following the QB while a receiver leaks across the field. They had a good deal of success with this.
Since Lovie blitzed the lights out of EMU, he might do it against Nebraska as well. When Martinez gets blitzed, he reads his hot routes well.
Nebraska breaks off a high number of big plays, but their scoring drives tend to be long, sustained drives. The main reason is that the Huskers give up a very high number of stuffed plays. Disciplined defenses are able to slow and stifle the Husker defense. And teams tend to improve as the game progresses. The Huskers will look to score early and often against Illinois while maximizing the number of plays to wear out the Illini defense. The Illini front seven will need to play disciplined football, and be prepared for the fact that the Huskers are going to break off some big plays.
Scouting Review - Defense
Erik Chinander is the DC for Nebraska, and he is trying to bring back the Blackshirts of yore. They are far from being there, and that mainly revolves around talent. As the talent level increases in Lincoln, the defense will improve. Chinander is very aggressive and reminds me of Dave Aranda in that regard.
Nebraska is a 3-4 defense, and they will have 3 down linemen pretty much every play. The Huskers D is pretty assignment sound though, and they run a LOT of zone behind the defense. Chinander will run what appears to be Quarters during games, and when they do the Corners walk up into press coverage and jam at the line of scrimmage. I suspect they will do this often against Illinois as they look to bring pressure against Peters and take away hot receivers.
Chinander has turned his LBs loose, and they are extremely aggressive in their reads. At times, they are so incredibly aggressive it appears they are run blitzing. Here is an example of an MLB flying downhill.
The Huskers have been bringing LB blitzes all year and will blitz over half of the plays against Illinois. The fact they have four LBs means the pressure will come from all directions, so the Illini OL needs to communicate this week. Here are two other examples of LB blitzes.
The Illini OL has been fairly solid in blocking, but by bringing pressure the Huskers negate the ability of Green and Kramer to get to the 2nd level. I suspect they will blitz Petitbon, in particular, to pin him on the LOS.
The Husker DL will stunt and twist on most passing downs. The Illini OL will need to communicate to pass off the movement, and the non-OL pass protection will need to be solid. Here is an End-Tackle Stunt where both DEs are crashing to the middle.
If the Guards ride this out, Peters has a rush directly into his face.
They will also do the stunt on a single side.
More often than not, the stunts are mixed with a blitz, and when they blitz they tend to sell out with moving DL.
The Huskers also do a nice job of mixing coverages behind. When they go to man, they will attack 60 protection by bringing the LB with responsibility for the back on the Green Dog Blitz.
Illinois needs to make the Huskers pay for the aggressiveness. The Illini cannot hurt themselves with dumb penalties, playing behind the chains will make the Illini one dimensional. The Illini being one-dimensional leads to bad things for the offense. If Illinois can score early, they have the option of keeping the Huskers honest and attacking vs. reacting to the Huskers pressure.
What does it mean?
Illinois is back home, so Robert jinxing the Illini by mentioning they were on the road should be over. Additionally, the Eastern Michigan team is one that won't beat itself, but really has no game-breaking talent. I expect the Illini to pull away in this one, especially in the second half. The biggest problems against UConn were turnovers, a soft pass defense, and penalties. Lovie should be making a change to his pass defensive scheme, and the Illini were able to generate turnovers as well. I think the Illini will avoid beating themselves with mistakes. A turnover-free game with fewer penalties will be a great sign before Nebraska, especially if the defense can generate turnovers.
For Illinois to Win:
Illinois needs to avoid shooting themselves in the foot. After that, they need to make Nebraska pay for their aggressive defense. If Illinois can break the defense down, and generate an early lead they can win. Nebraska puts the ball on the ground quite often, and when they are in shoot outs, the Huskers take bigger risks. If Illinois can keep it close, they can take advantage of Nebraska errors and pull away.
For Nebraska to Win:
Nebraska needs to get up early. When the Illini run game stops being a viable threat, teams are able to bring the heat against Peters. Peters is a legitimate throwing threat and an improvement over Illini QBs of the past few years. That said, he is less of a threat with his legs and is prone to making poor throws under pressure. Nebraska is going to want to pressure Peters early, and with a lead make Illinois begin to abandon the run game.
After being upset about Illinois in the UConn game, I felt things would be turned around for the EMU game. I was wrong. Nebraska is going to get pointsy in this game. That said, this game has a feel of the South Alabama game to me. I think Nebraska is going to struggle in the first half to separate from the Illini, and then will pull away in the 2nd half. I'll take the Huskers to cover, mainly because I think Illinois will fail to produce the backdoor cover.
YTD Against the Spread: