Check The Tape - Nebraska 2021

Aug 31, 2021

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Check The Tape is old enough that when I used to say "dial-up warning" I actually meant dial-up warning. I started doing it in 2011, and at least in my mind, there were still people using dial-up modems at the time. I know that my late father-in-law first got high-speed internet in 2014, so I did once publish a post from his house using dial-up internet.

I haven't been doing it for 11 consecutive seasons, though. I got to the point in 2017 where it was just too hard to complete the post every week. So I dropped it for 2018. I intended to pick it up last fall, but I just couldn't find the time. It takes a lonnng time to assemble these posts.

I switched up my schedule this fall, though, and made it so Mondays are 100% CTT time. I'll still probably use my one-game exemption (I gave myself one game each year - the most painful game, usually - where I wouldn't do a CTT post), but for the other 11 weeks, expect to see a CTT.

What's in a CTT post? Here, I'll show you.

Football Speed

Let's start with a fun one. When Isaiah Williams committed to Illinois, he was a 5-star. He had been ranked a 5-star as a sophomore in high school. Why? Because of his incredible football speed.

Football speed isn't track speed. Football speed, to me, is the ability to move across the turf without really touching the turf. You don't need to labor around a turn - you just naturally turn without losing much speed. Alabama and Clemson and Ohio State (and everyone else) offered Isaiah Williams as an ATH because of his football speed.

A play like this is the best way to show it. This is the Isaiah Williams touchdown after the Deuce Spann catch. First and goal at the one, three tight ends in the game, and one wide receiver: One.

Before the snap, Williams goes in motion:

And when he gets the little bump pass from Art Sitkowski, there's now a one on one matchup. Luke Ford is going to be blocking the OLB, Daniel Barker will block the defensive back from his H-back position, and so the success of the play will depend on one thing: the Nebraska linebacker (arrow) vs. Isaiah Williams (arrow) racing to the same spot.

The Nebraska Linebacker starts out closer to the goal line than Williams. Can he beat him to the spot?

He cannot.

Now let's watch the full play. This is what I mean by "doesn't really touch the turf when he runs":

Go watch it again and only watch the Nebraska 'backer (#28). I like to invent things he might be saying to himself while trying to track down One. "OK, just gotta fill this gap in case he... alright, outside, gotta cut right to get to... oh man he's fast."

The OLB and the DB are supposed to get to the outside (to keep IW from getting to the edge) and force him inside where the rest of the defense can help. But the rest of the defense can't help if they can't get there in time.

Make Your Choice

Sometimes when I'm CTTing I'll see something on a play, pause the tape, make my screencaps, create a gif, and then press play only to watch the broadcast team then go back through the exact same thing and describe when I was screencapping.

That's what happened with this one. And the camera angle from Brock Huard's explanation of the play was much better than the first angle so I went ahead and screencapped that one instead. So if you watched on TV, you've already had Brock Huard Check The Tape for you.

Basically, the Luke Ford touchdown was about a linebacker having to make a choice. Here's the formation:

Ford is on the right side of the line. Here's the movement right after the snap.

Defensive linemen are in "fire off the line on the snap" mode when backed up at the one. So all of the players with two hands in the dirt are full-go once the ball is snapped. That means that these are the key matchups:

The DB (Blue arrow) is locked in on Daniel Barker (other blue arrow) coming out of the backfield. The defensive lineman is full-go in the direction of the orange arrow. That means the linebacker I circled in red is going to have a decision.

If he turns and runs with Luke Ford here, that's then just one DL left to take on any running back (and perhaps even a pulling guard) coming through that hole. So the linebacker has to pay attention to the gap. Of course, he also has to pay attention to the tight end headed into the endzone.

Right there he sees the play-action and instantly knows what's about to happen. He tries to turn and run with Ford...

,,,but he knows he's already toast.

Nobody is going to make up a gap like that within the endzone. He knows it's over.

And I think you can see that in his facial expression in this photo that Holly took:

Best part of that photo: the fact that Art Sitkowski put on Josh Imatorbhebhe's #9 jersey and immediately started levitating.

Pick Plays

Remember that time Nebraska had a receiver wide open in the endzone but Martinez overthrew the guy? He was wide open because of an illegal pick. And I want to talk about it.

Watch #88 here. His job is to accidentally run into Quan Martin. "Whoops - I was simply trying to run across the middle and oopsies we accidentally collided" is the intent here. But you can see him line up Quan and deliver the pick.

I would have been so mad if they had completed the pass. Because the official kept the flag in his pocket.

The official didn't swallow his flag here, however. And I'm guessing it's because Bret Bielema was in his ear after the (uncalled) pick above. Nebraska did complete the pass on this next one later in the game, but it was called back for a pick.

The most obvious "I'm going to run around trying to block the defensive back" pick in the history of college football, I should add. Watch #89 here. He changes directions three times trying to accidentally hit the defensive back:

Line judge threw the flag (and signaled the offensive PI) immediately. Completely blatant attempt to block a defensive back to free a receiver.

Which is what made this next shot so hilarious. Adrian Martinez knows the play call here. He absolutely knows that they called the "Oliver, go block the guy guarding Samori" play from the sideline. And then, when the officials throw the "uh, you just blatantly cheated" flag?

Yo, Adrian. You called the pick play, bro.

Chess Match

I made these screencaps Monday morning. Then I went to the press conference. And during the press conference, Ryan Walters talked about this play. I'm now much better informed on what exactly happened.

According to Walters, they had put a bad read into the gameplan. He said he had the players read the pulling guard on this play after watching Nebraska film last year. If they pulled the guard, it was going to be a running play. So they had taught the defense to read run when seeing this formation and a pulling guard. And Scott Frost anticipated that, pulled the guard, and then threw back to the wheel route.

Here's the play. The plan is the Mikel Leshoure at Michigan in 2010 route. Wheel route for the tailback coming out of the backfield:


Here's what I'm interpreting Walters to be saying about the reads. The receiver goes in motion (blue arrow), so Tony Adams goes in motion (the other blue arrow). The other DB on that side of the field (Quan Martin) has the responsibility of the tight end (these are the two orange arrows). So neither of those guys are responsible for the tailback on the wheel route. That would be (depending on the play call here) either then linebacker on that side (Hansen) or the safety (Brown).

But they've been instructed to read a pulling guard in this formation. The guard starts to pull (the guy I circled) and that's likely what they're focused on. Running play. Head left.

As you can see here, Quan is staying with the tight end but then everyone else is flowing left with the quarterback.

And nobody noticed the guy sneaking out the back. You can just see his foot here.

I think he's a tiny bit open.

Sydney Brown can't catch up with him until the 18 yard line.

Again, that's not Sydney's fault (according to his defensive coordinator). They put in a "if that guard pulls in that formation, it's going to be a running play and you can sell out to it" call. And that call cost them 26 yards.

Ryan Walters noted that an offense can only do that once. He wiped out their "in this formation, read the pulling guard" call after that, so if Nebraska tried to go back to that play, the defense would have been ready.

Split Second

Walters dialed up a corner blitz in the first half (I think it was in the second quarter). Illini Twitter lit up with "an actual corner blitz!". The corner got to the QB and blew up the play. There was much rejoicing.

In the third quarter, he dialed up another corner blitz. It led to a 75-yard Nebraska touchdown. There wasn't much rejoicing.

This is not to say that we should play safe and never send a suicide corner and it's not to say that we should be the riskiest defense in the country. I can already tell I'm not setting this up well. Let me go one level down.

Lovie Smith would rarely, if ever, take a risk like this. I have friends who were driven insane by this. Sitting back in the same safe defense play after play accomplished nothing (and, most likely, got Lovie fired).

On the other side of the coin, the play you're about to see was maybe a 15-yard gain turned into a 75-yard touchdown because of an ill-timed corner blitz. This is not to say that every corner blitz, if the corner doesn't get there, will result in a free touchdown. I'm simply saying that you open yourself up to something like this when you do it. (You also open yourself up to offensive coordinators having a field day when you stay in the same basic defense game after game. Even if a pitcher has a great fastball, you have to mix in a curve because after a few pitches everyone has timed-up the fastball.)

Here's the play. This is the 75-yard Adrian Martinez touchdown right after we took a 30-9 lead. And even with the mistake, Sydney Brown was a split second away from reading the play and (likely) making the stop.

First and ten Nebraska from the 25 right after the touchback. Tony Adams is gonna leave the receiver and blitz.

When that happens, obviously, the rest of the defense has to shade to that side of the field. The corner just joined the defensive line, so someone is going to have to fill in the gap behind him. And with Nebraska's play call here, three receivers are headed to that side of the field. So instead of four defensive players over there, there's now only three to cover three. There's also just two to cover two down at the bottom of the photo, so Sydney Brown (safety in the center of the field) is going to have to choose.

With Martinez looking right, all of the defensive backs flow to the right.

This is the moment it becomes a touchdown. Sydney Brown (orange arrow) stops watching the QB and turns to run with Samori Toure (#3) at the exact moment when Adrian Martinez (red arrow) takes off.

And I mean the exact moment. These things happened within .03 seconds of each other. Syd joins Quan in chasing Toure, leaving the entire left side of the field wide open.

There was only one defender left who could do anything about it: Devon Witherspoon (orange arrow).

He leaves his feet and tries to grab another foot (just like, you know, the Wisconsin game in 2019).

But he misses.

Here's the angle they showed on the replay. Just as Syd (orange arrow) turns to run, Martinez heads out into the great wide open. If Martinez tucks and runs a split second earlier, Syd still has his eyes on him and chases him to a spot maybe 15 yards down the field. Instead, he turns and goes, leaving Martinez nothing but turf between him and the endzone.

Here's a gif of the play. First, watch Adams blitz which will draw the rest of the defensive backs to that side of the field.

Then watch Syd turn and go at the exact same moment as Martinez tucks and runs.

Spoon almost got there, too.

First Game Jitters

It's tough, I know. You're out there a week earlier than everyone else. It's the first game. You're gonna make mistakes. Gotta shake off the rust.

But still, no reason an official should make an error like this.

This is the third down play where Casey Washington was first ruled short of the line to gain. To the officials credit, they eventually got it right after the booth buzzed down. But that's not the error I'm talking about. I'm talking about mechanics.

Here is the play. The line I drew shows where the ball was eventually marked. It was half a yard short, we sent the punt team on, the booth buzzed down, and they got it right. But.... well, let's just go through it.

Washington caught the ball here (you're looking at the backside of the play, so he's on a comeback route trying to get beyond the yard marker there. Again, black line is where the ball was eventually spotted:

Even if they were to say that he didn't fully have control until this point, he's still beyond the 47. Again, ball marked at the black line.

This is the part that drove me nuts. The line judge runs to the hashmark where he was spotting the ball, puts his foot there, and begins walking in. First down. Got to the 47.

But then he ends up walking at an angle and spots the ball at the 46.5 yard line. Where he's standing right there shows the spot where replay eventually spotted the ball (first down Illinois). But he walked at an angle, put his foot somewhere short of the down marker, didn't spot a ball right there. The umpired looked at where his foot was placed and approximated the same spot on the near hash, spotting the ball between the hashes.

I mean, look at his foot. First down Illinois, THEN he walks to the black line.

I get the mechanics here. The linesmen are looking at each other across the field and maybe the other guy thought he was well short so this guy split the difference before putting his foot on the spot to mark it. And they've adopted this whole "keep the game moving by just using the hashes for first down plays" so that they don't have to measure - either the official thinks they got to the hash or they didn't. You don't need the chains if every first down is marked right on a hash.

But still, this was just bad all around. Clearly past the line to gain, official originally marked it correctly and then walked at an angle, a quick, approximated spot instead of a "place the ball right here and we can measure" on a third down play using this whole "just use the hash marks" thing - bad bad bad.

That line judge has one job. He clearly just needs to decide whether he had possession across the 47 yardline. And he originally got it right. Because the spot where he put his foot is the spot where the ball was placed after review:

Had it right, walked at an angle, spotted it wrong, replay put it back where he originally had it. Bad bad bad.

Love Love

For me, the most eye-opening performance of the day was from Reggie Love III. I'm already hovering over the "will he be the leading rusher in Illini history?" button. I'm not ready to push it yet, but if Bret Bielema goes the Barry Alvarez "bellcow" route the next four years, Reggie Love might be our Brent Moss.

I mean, watch these three runs (back to back to back in the fourth quarter).

Hit at the 26. Gets to the 29:

The vision. My goodness the vision:

Picks his way for seven more:

Obviously, Chase Brown was "limited" and there are other solid options like Epstein, Norwood, and Hayden. But I gave Love the most "wow" responses under my breath. I think I even slipped in an Owen Wilson "woowwww" at one point.

Two More

We'll close with two more images I have in the folder.

First, uh, Art, this turf has a bunch of black pellets. So you gotta remember to wipe off your face at times:

Last one. Anyone do a good Chris Berman "WHOOOP" sound? Get it ready to go. Isaiah Williams is going to provide a lot of WHOOOP sounds.

Got it ready? Here we go. Make the sound in three... two... one...


BCstealn on August 31, 2021 @ 03:32 PM

God I forgot how much I missed these posts. I also think Love III is going to be one to remember...

reykjavik2020 on August 31, 2021 @ 03:36 PM

Great to have CTT back, Robert. When I first saw that close-up of Art's face live during the game, my first fleeting thought was, "Huh, didn't know Sitkowski had dark freckles."

Illiniboat on August 31, 2021 @ 03:49 PM

My dad and uncle were on the stat crew for several years and I worked a handful of games with them. Spotting the ball incorrectly is a regular occurrence. Sometimes by as much as a yard or two.

Sean on August 31, 2021 @ 04:26 PM

I still don't understand how the Deuce catch was not a TD. I'm also completely confused by what the pylons mean. I thought it meant TD, but no?

CraigG on August 31, 2021 @ 06:05 PM

As I saw it. The official on the sideline was trying to see if he was inbounds and still made the catch. The two things happened simultaneously, and he stepped at the one to see if the Back Judge was going to help him out. No one else made a signal, so he punted to replay and put the ball at the one expecting it to be overturned. Except, the angles didn't show either way on it being a full completion while being inbounds, so the official basically made a call he knew was wrong expecting to be overturned one way or the other, and ended up with that hot mess. And the guy who messed it up was the back judge, because he is supposed to be watching for when he established possession.

ktal on August 31, 2021 @ 06:28 PM

The conclusion I reached is that the rule is different in college than the pros, so instead of the end zone line being an "infinite plane", the side boundaries on college fields are invisible out of bounds walls.

That's the only way to explain that the pylon is out of play, and also ruling BP out of bounds when he dove (and made!!!) the first down last year but was ruled out at the point he crossed the boundary, as opposed to where he touched the ground first.

If anybody knows otherwise, I'd love to hear it. on August 31, 2021 @ 07:56 PM

+1 on the confusion on August 31, 2021 @ 09:50 PM

So. I looked it up. In college, pylon is out of bounds. Once you touch it, you freeze everything. Ball placed where it is when body touches pylon. Similar thing happened in Miznoz/Bama. Good write up with rules here:

ktcesw on August 31, 2021 @ 04:37 PM

Excellent analysis!!

Efremwinters84 on August 31, 2021 @ 04:59 PM

Good stuff. First home game I've attended in quite awhile, and it nice seeing a breakdown of all these key plays I saw live/in-person. (I had no idea the "pick play" was on full display by Nebby either.)

Top notch!!

Tolkien73 on August 31, 2021 @ 05:48 PM

Love these, Robert. Please keep them up.

BamaIllini on August 31, 2021 @ 05:57 PM

Duece's catch was a touchdown, no question. Pretty darn close to indisputable.

The overturn on Norwood was likely wrong as well. May not have been a touchdown but I think it was hard to overturn the call on the field. It was not indisputable.

ILLINI88ME on August 31, 2021 @ 06:01 PM

Great stuff. Glad to see two of the "busted" plays analyzed to understand weren't bad plays by Brown (or other DBs), but more on coaching/play calls. Have confidence this staff can get players in right position, so glad to see they were doing what coaches expected rather than just blowing assignments (which is what it looked like in person).

Joe Edge on August 31, 2021 @ 06:17 PM

It's obviously a lot of hard work, Robert... But these CTT's are worth it IMHO...

ktal on August 31, 2021 @ 06:29 PM

Great stuff Robert. It feels so good to watch a CTT after win! Thanks!

Brave Illini on August 31, 2021 @ 06:35 PM

On that 2d run by Love, take another look at Kramer's blocks, especially the second one - impressive.

Axllini on August 31, 2021 @ 06:51 PM

I absolutely crave CTT after a win. This one went down like a pint of Graeters, satisfying all my needs.

I waited all game to see fullbacks used on the field and....nothing. Now Hohenstein is off the team. I guess that was one of the surprises they held back, especially after mentioning rosenthal and hohenstein so many times in pressers.

ohioillini77 on August 31, 2021 @ 07:55 PM

Great analysis. It seemed that Nebby ran about half a dozen pick plays.

Norcal Illini on August 31, 2021 @ 08:01 PM

All three of those Love runs went left, and you can see the line going left from the snap and pushing the DLs and LBs that direction, which gave Love gaps to cut back. That's good line coaching. And all five of the OLs did their jobs.

escot on August 31, 2021 @ 08:25 PM

I thought all contact within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage was legal, so you can basically run a pick play in that area. Maybe that's why the first one wasn't flagged? I'm I correct on that?

Robert on August 31, 2021 @ 09:43 PM

I looked it up and yes, you're correct. Contact within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage cannot be a pick. So with Quan in press coverage there, yes, the official probably made the right call. I thought it was the LOS, but apparently there is one yard beyond the LOS where you can still legally pick.

EastSide105 on August 31, 2021 @ 08:32 PM

On that first play with Juice scoring, doesn't it look like the linebacker was actually confused for a split second about who had the ball? I thought I caught a glimpse of him watching the QB fake hand-off.

neale stoner on August 31, 2021 @ 09:16 PM

Excellent. Your labor is much appreciated, as is Craig’s in the scout.

IBFan on August 31, 2021 @ 09:38 PM

Thank you sir

allansellers89 on August 31, 2021 @ 10:23 PM

Love this post, thank you!

purcy51 on September 1, 2021 @ 01:19 AM

I used to avoid these b/c I didn't want to relive our losses. However, I am now an avid reader of CTT, and it has totally changed how I watch football. Thank you Robert!

Brave Illini on September 1, 2021 @ 01:50 AM

I can't fathom how long it must have taken to produce this - great work. The screen captures with overlay markings, and the videos, wonderfully illustrate and bring to life your written incite and analysis. And I echo purcy51's sentiment that it is much more enjoyable to watch and read a post like this when we are not having to relive a loss. I join the others in thanking you and hope you can produce more of them.

Brave Illini on September 1, 2021 @ 12:01 PM

Sorry, insight.

Sweetchuck13 on September 1, 2021 @ 12:49 PM

CTT is back! Thanks so much Robert for bringing it back - I learn a lot from these nuanced breakdowns. Here's to several more "celebratory" CTT sessions this year!

Scott on September 1, 2021 @ 03:52 PM

On the 75 yard broken play, everyone keeps looking at the break downs in the secondary. Next time you watch the video, watch Gay. He totally blows his assignment, killing the blitz. His job is to engage the RT. Hart has the running back. Instead he decides to float in no man's land hoping he can get a heroic pass tip. This leaves the RT free to pick up the blitz. I'm sure the coaches will be in his ear during film. Martinez still may have escaped, but this might have made all the difference.

pbillini70 on September 2, 2021 @ 03:56 PM

You are exactly correct. The blitz might have worked had the RT been handled.

Robert on September 3, 2021 @ 03:48 PM

Hmmm... as an outside 'backer I'm not sure if his assignment there isn't to sit and spy. If he was a defensive end in a 4-3, you're probably correct. In this defense (I'll need to see more over the next few weeks to be sure), his assignment there might be "Tony is blitzing so you drop back into a short zone to take away any play call that goes to the tailback or tight end in the flat".

22 on September 1, 2021 @ 06:32 PM

Great stuff. Man that pass by BP18 to Washington for the eventual 1st down was an absolutely perfectly timed dime. And great reaction and hands by Casey or he eats that ball. If he can just get consistent....

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