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Illinois Defense: Multiple coverage, quite a bit of man, mostly 4-2-5 nickel
Nebraska Offense: Mostly 11 personnel, mixed more 12 personnel near GL.
Nebraska Defense: 4-2-5 nickel and "Dollar" personnel (4 DL and 7 DBs). More Cover 4 than Cover 1.
Nebraska's OL vs Illinois Box
Picked up right where they left off. The interior guys are really firing out into the 2nd level and getting onto defenders well. They latch on and they maintain blocks very well throughout the play.
On the otherside, Illinois really, really struggled. The DL did a fairly poor job getting helmets across helmets and anchoring against the OZ, where Nebraska had most of its run game success. Their interior guys got scooped, hooked, and sealed inside, the outside guys consistently got washed out of the play, and huge gaps were opening.
At the LB position, Illinois's LBs continue to jump down quickly and try to shoot gaps without properly reading the play. This takes them out of position and out of gaps and makes them easier to block. On the other end of the spectrum, as they started to try to make more reads, they mostly just chopped their feet and then caught blockers. There is no movement with their feet to fight around blocks, there is no recognition of where the block is coming from, then they never initiate contact when blockers engage. They catch the block under their pads, get too high, and then can't get off of blocks. Nebraska's OL is getting out on you quick and the issue is snowballing because of poor LB play.
To top it off, Illinois's DBs are still struggling taking good angles and coming down under control as well, allowing a back like Abdullah to make people miss.
Abdullah vs Anyone Trying to Tackle Him the First Time
Abdullah never gets tackled by the first defender. It just doesn't happen. Whether it's his footwork and ability to threaten vertically with strength or horizontally with speed, he just does not allow the first defender to make good contact, if contact at all. He looks a lot like former Michigan RB Mike Hart if Hart was a little bigger and a little faster, that's how tough he is to bring down behind the LOS.
So if Nebraska's OL misses at the first level because they move so quickly to the 2nd level, it doesn't make much difference, at that point Abdullah isn't getting touched for another 7 yards, at which point he can turn 7 into 20 with his combination of size, vision, and speed. I want to see him catch more passes, not because he can't, he's shown he can, but just so he can go into the draft as an all-around back he deserves to be. He's not as fast and doesn't have the pure burst of Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, but he has other areas where he's better. This upcoming NFL draft has four RBs that could go in the first round in Gurly, Yeldon, Abdullah, and Gordon. And guys like Langford and Cobb (Hyde-lite) could potentially be drafted later, as could guys like potentially Tevin Coleman and Ferguson (probably more as a hybrid player that can play ST, more likely an UFA). B1G is loaded at RB, and Abdullah is right there at the top and in the Heisman running, as he should be. If he gets yards against MSU, look for his name to be in constant discussion for it.
As for Cross, he is a very nice back-up RB. He almost always takes what the OL gives him, which is a huge compliment for a RB, as not all RBs do that. In this case, that means a consistent case of 7 yard gains. He doesn't make a lot of people miss, but he does a good job of getting through the hole and letting his blockers do the work.
I thought a lot of Illinois's coverages confused Armstrong a bit. It wasn't until Illinois really started moving up the box players and leaving the three deep or man coverage in open spaces that Armstrong found success. He didn't look as comfortable and seemed to be forcing some throws, as if he wanted to make some plays himself to match the run game success.
But then when he finally did complete a downfield pass it was a fairly strong armed, perfectly paced and on target skinny post. So yeah, that's inconsistent QB play for you that shows its upside. Armstrong is never going to be a QB that gives you perfect touch throw after throw and into multiple levels. He's going to lean back and fire. But he does have a strong arm and Nebraska's OC Tim Beck loves himself a vertical passing attack, so he'll take it.
But Armstrong will have to be better against MSU. MSU has been taking advantage of poor decisions this year and getting TOs, they will if Armstrong makes those same mistakes. Nebraska needs to get the run game going to get the MSU safeties coming down and allow Armstrong to throw into bigger windows with less of a threat of defenders coming from areas he doesn't see.
First Half TD Throw vs MSU
The first half TD pass from Armstrong was a classic PA 2-man concept with a skinny post clearing out for a deep cross. This is a good Cover 4 beater as well, particularly if Armstrong can threaten with his legs on the scramble.
Nebraska ran it the standard way, which is the skinny post to the boot side and the cross going in the same direction as the boot. That makes for a shorter throw and works better with the QB's natural momentum with his movement.
But I'd like to see the routes flipped against MSU because this is how MSU would defend it as is.
But Armstrong has a strong enough arm and with a 8 man protection he can be protected long enough to roll and then stay and throw to the far side. That skinny post better attacks the run action side safety, who is trying to come down hard and fast in run support against Abdullah. It also makes it a bit harder to pick up the crossing route, as it will be the roll side safety trying to follow him instead of catch him as he sees him cross the field (who will follow and who will come down to protect the backside between the FS and the CB will depend on the WR's release, here, it's vertical, so the CB follows). It's a difference of running away from defenders rather than running into their zones and how they are affected by PA. Just a thought.
O'Toole not an Upgrade of Lunt
O'Toole made some pretty decent throws, but he didn't impress. O'Toole was very careless with the ball. His first INT was very late and a poor decision. He missed an open bench route by looking to the wrong side and then pulling his eyes to the pass rush which was getting through the interior (they went back to the concept the next drive and he threw the bench route but the RT didn't keep the DE's hands down and the ball was knocked down), then he had an open receiver on a post-corner route but lofted it way too high and way too inside for an easy INT instead of a long completion.
FWIW, Nebraska ran some Cover 4 and was more sound in that, most of their busts, I believe, both in long runs and long passes, were in Cover 1.
Dolla, Dolla Bill Ya'll
You give me an opportunity to reference Wu-Tang and I'm going to do it.
Anyway, Nebraska ran what they called a dollar defense , which is 4 DL and 7 DBs on the field (5 DBs = Nickel; 6 DBs = Dime, 7 DBs = Doller). I think that allows for some cool things as far as blitzes, stunts, and twists, but it's a very straight-line defense. That's because the DBs aren't as good at angles in close areas, they struggled against some of the miss-direction (jet sweep) and screens where they have to recognize things quicker and diagnose them closer. Teams that have a run threat at QB or a good jet sweep package can cause issues, as can teams with good misdirection screen games (Indiana for instance). It does require a certain amount of confusion from the OL to succeed because defenders will tend to struggle to get off of blocks.
But it is better at being faster to an area than their counterpart blockers, forcing the OL to recognize the blitzes quickly and get to their spots and understand eye discipline. It also allows for some exotic drops and confusing coverages because anyone on the field can essentially match up in man coverage or reach any zone. I also liked that they went to a 3 down DL and moved Gregory around, allowing him to utilize his strength and speed combination and a running start at OL to really cause havoc, and that got him some free runs, which is scary.
I don't see the application against MSU outside of obvious passing situations, where they will likely pull it out. It was an adjustment to 00 personnel and possibly 10 personnel and 01 personnel against Illinois, which MSU will not run often. MSU will almost always maintain a run threat or a screen threat to a RB.
As for Illinois, the OL was woefully able to pick up these blitzes. They were confused, they got leveraged by the down guys and the blitzers, and they were pretty much exactly what you want from an OL when running this package. This is one of those things that it works a couple times and your problems only get worse, because your OL starts thinking about it and overthinking and playing slower. And that seemed to be the case.
Last time I raved about Maliek Collins, this time I'll just settle for praise. I thought he still played really well, though didn't make the impact he did last game because of Illinois scheme. Held his own for the most part and was run away from more often than not. Beat a lot of single teams from an over matched OL, but also got pushed back a time or two on some extended runs when trying to fight back to the ball (not on first contact though).
The Nebraska helmets made me think everyone was wearing neck roll. I prefer the normal ones. That is all.