Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Coaching Points: Nebraska vs MSU, 2014

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
MSU O: Mostly 11 and 12 personnel, mostly zone blocked runs, moved pocket a lot.
Nebraska D: Mix of Cover 1 and Cover 4

Nebraska O: Mostly 11 personnel with a lot of H-back looks.
MSU D: Standard Cover 4 from 4-3 Over with 3-3-5 on passing downs.

Cook Looked Unsettled
To me it looks like the game was moving fast for Cook. A lot of his throws seemed rushed and uncomfortable, as if he saw something late and wanted to quickly make a throw into a tight spot. MSU did a lot to move the pocket as they didn't seem to trust their protection vs Nebraska's front; I thought this lead to some unsettled feet for Cook. Unsettled feet lead to bad decisions and bad throws. Really reverted to the QB we saw against ND last year, his feet were all over the place and really affected his accuracy. You saw a different QB when he was able to set and then throw.

For example though, it was a very poor decision by Cook on his first INT. MSU ran a standard mesh concept but both receivers got bumped as well, so they got caught in the wash inside. Cook then stepped up in the pocket, making the space worse and the congestion more, and the ball got tipped in the air for a Gregory INT when he tried to make a last ditch play on the move that was very ill-advised..

MSU Rush Scheme
MSU seems to be sticking with more of a zone based scheme this year, making it so the OGs don't have to do so much pulling. They still go to man blocked schemes on occasion, but it's more of a change-up than anything. MSU didn't have a ton of success with the zone runs, but the change-up to man schemes was quite effective, often able to catch the Nebraska DTs a bit off guard with the angles of the blocks and opening gaps. This doesn't necessarily mean that MSU should run more man blocked schemes - they've struggled when they've relied on it - but it does mean they are using it as an effective change-up.

FWIW, most of MSU's run success has been to the weak side. Seeing something in Neb alignment to attack weak. Weakside runs are a common Cover 1 weakness. Nebraska big Cover 1 team, though lots of Cover 4 tonight as well.

Nebraska DTs
I'm still fully on board the Collins hype train, but I thought there was a huge improvement from Nebraska DT Valentine in this game.Collins is more of a pure NT type, holds up great to doubles and doesn't get moved, great against zone blocked schemes in his direction. Valentine can get moved some times, but against MSU's mostly zone scheme, Valentine was able to get a lot of penetration in this game and be very disruptive in the run game. Valentine also forced the fumble by scrapping down the line and getting into Langford (Cook proceeded to watch the fumble fall in front of him while backing away from the ball; this was confusing to me that he didn't even make an effort to recover a ball he very well could have recovered).

Collins did get whooped on the fake jet sweep trap play that lead to a TD. Collins didn't look as comfortable against some man blocked schemes where he had to recognize where the puller or extra body was coming from. He's better at taking on guys directly in front of him. That's an experience thing. 3-tech is one of the most difficult positions to play on the field because you can be blocked by either OG, the Center, the playside OT, the playside TE, or an H-back or FB, often times with combo blocks. So it's an experience thing right now. He's solid in his technique when he understands what's in front of him, but some of the man schemes seemed to get him in poor initial position and therefore you saw some struggles.

Lippett continues to look good, strong hands, works back to the ball well. Thought the MSU WRs really bailed out Cook a few times with some really nice catches and nice routes to work back to the football. They continue to be a consistent group that looks like they want the football. This is the exact opposite of where they were two-years ago, which is quite amazing.

The Nebraska CBs were a little inconsistent still in coverage, a little inconsistent with eye discipline and body position. That lead to the out and up TD for Lippett and a few other issues that still need to be worked out, more so in Cover 4 in my opinion.

MSU TEs vs Nebraska LBs and Safeties
Nebraska LBs have struggled to wall off in coverage. Nebraska LB tried jumping underneath and Price could run post past the LB for a nice gain. I was a bit surprised that MSU seemed to go away from this. Very few RBs in space in the pass game (not screens, but actual routes) and I believe an under utilization of the TEs.

Gregory vs Calhoun
Gregory is going to make some 3-4 NFL coach very excited next summer. He is a very aggressive and fast player, and I think NFL teams will want to move him around quite a bit at the next level and utilize his burst in more ways. In college, I like him as a true DE on non-passing downs. He went up mostly against Conklin, a very good LT, and still was able to make an impact and put a feel on the game. Most of the runs were away from him, and he still racked up some tackles. Not a lot on the stat sheet in terms of sacks, but MSU certainly felt pressure from him.

Calhoun did a great job of playing the read option keep and the IZ run both. Squeezed down the LOS as close to the OT (releasing playside) as possible and then would crash down the line and make a hit on Abdullah after the give. Hard to change how the QB makes a read in game. Calhoun has continued to improve his run defense from last year, really looks like a complete player this year. Disengages from blocks well and really uses his hands well in the run game. Violent hands. Continued to try to option Calhoun rather than Rush though. Rush has always been a very disciplined player, but Calhoun was disciplined and more athletic in this game, thought they should have switched sides and limit their read option looks a little.

As for who is better? I think they are different players. I'd like to see Calhoun continue to grow and be a true 4-3 DE. I see Gregory as more of a 3-4 OLB. I think Gregory has a bit better burst and a bit more speed in open areas, making him a more pure pass rusher, but Calhoun has gone from good to great against the run, and his long wingspan makes him a pain to deal with. I'd need mroe evaluation to come away with who will ultimately be a better player at the next level.

Gotta Call Out Rush As Well
I think Rush is a guy that never stands out to opposing fans. He's not physically great, he doesn't make plays that make Sports Center. When you see through the lens of a coach though, you see a guy you need to have on the field. Just an example:

Nebraska attacked Rush with a designed QB counter trey. Rush did an absolutely amazing job, with perfect technique, of feeling unblocked, recognizing the puller trying to kick him, dipping his shoulder and initiating contact while giving a small body area to block (got sideways), anchored, and then made play with his free outside arm. Absolutely textbook DE play. That's just what he does, time and time again. He doesn't over-power people, he doesn't make Sports Center, he just does his job almost perfectly every single time.

Thought MSU DTs were solid, but not spectacular. Showed some flashes of quickness and get off, but for the most part just did their job and kept the LBs clean. I thought it was the LBs quick reaction that forced the Nebraska OL to start coming off their blocks earlier than they wanted to, and that disrupted a lot of the run game.

Nebraska OL vs Box
MSU SAM really shooting the C-gap and preventing the OL from getting to the 2nd level. Allowing rest of LB group to flow hard and fast and safety to fill alley. The DTs were solid, they did there job and showed some flashes of great plays, but they weren't consistently impactful in my opinion. The LBs were.

Looks like early plan for MSU is to have OLBs shoot C gap and meet OG before he can release. Safety takes alley and MIKE flows to ball. Playing LB is about understanding gaps and leverage. Bullough there shot down, leveraged OG, kept gap arm free and made tackle. I've always been really high on Riley Bullough as a SAM. He's strong and works well at the point of attack, but I also think he's the best pure athlete of the Bullough, particularly with his straight line speed. I never understood him at RB last year, but that's beside the point.

Bullough and Jones were great against the run all night, and Davis I thought was a real match-up problem with the Nebraska OTs in the pass rush. MSU has had a lot of success with the speed rush vs the Nebraska RT. Sterup really struggling with his kick-slide getting good depth in this game.

On the inside, Cotton got confused by the double A twist by MSU. Ended up blocking no one on that play. T. Jones was allowed to scrape right into Armstrong. Davis did a great job on this play timing his blitz and shooting directly off the butt of the pulling OG so he could have made a play on Abdullah if Armstrong gave as well. MSU does this as well as anyone in the country.

Lastly, TEX (Tackle before End, Cross) stunt from MSU really messed with the Nebraska OL. DT maintained 3 blockers and gots Rush in completely clean. MSU base defense handled Nebraska in the run game by attacking C-gaps with the OLBs. Once it was a pass down, MSU was able to play games with speed rush and twists/stunts that really confused Nebraska's OL.

I found it interesting that when Nebraska checked after MSU tipped their blitz, MSU always checked back into their base defense, which left Nebraska checking into some non-optimal play calls.

Patience in the Pass Game
I felt like if Nebraska wanted to be better on O they need to be willing to be patient. They started to in the 2nd half to much better success. Armstrong lack of accuracy on some of those throws really hurt them, but still, they moved the ball more successfully. Short passes to outside are open, but they lacked patience and wanted to attack deep, tempted by MSU's 1 on 1 coverage. MSU was daring them to work underneath and outside zones. MSU will take runs and long shots all game.

But what did you see in the 2nd half? The slot can be dangerous against MSU because of all the safety responsibilities in both run and pass game. Outward breaking routes from the slot are very difficult for the safeties to cover because receivers have leverage and if ball is thrown on time they should have separation. Westercamp really found a matchup against Drummond that they really liked. Threatened with some corner and out routes, then was able to attack the center of the field once Drummond started playing more straight up. I was a bit surprise it was Drummond picked on more than the true FR Nicholson, but Drummond I believe played the field, so it makes a bit of sense. It's a tough assignment for Drummond. Safety has cutback at LB level or alley fill responsibility, but also TE on pop pass or slot #2 in coverage.

I also thing the way to bubble screen MSU is to throw to the #3 WR rather than the #2. With the way MSU presses the #1, it allows very little separation on the outside and makes it very hard to get to the sideline for the screen receiver. Pin the CB outside from his press position and release into the safety with the #2 and throw to the #3. Nebraska saw success when they did that. That also set up the slip screen that was similar to what Oregon ran against MSU. MSU screwed up on eye discipline and post-snap adjustment to the zoom motion. Similar to what happened against Oregon with the slip on the bubble look. That has bit MSU a few times this year and is one of the most difficult aspects of playing Cover 4 as MSU does. It's what made MSU a truly great defense last year, because their eye discipline was so consistent.

Trey Waynes
INT by Waynes is all about body position and getting in-phase. Gets in-phase, controls Bell with body, and can find ball and make easy INT. Textbook, watch it if you want to know how to perfectly play man coverage for a CB.

Also thought it was a bad call on the PI. Not catchable and the WR initiated contact. As a CB though, you must always be aware of where your hands are, especially when going to the ground, because you grab on to things in that case, or even look like your grabbing. That was likely what the ref saw there, but still a bad call IMO.

Almost Pick 6
Drummond baited Armstrong on the almost pick 6, but I still don't like it. Every thing is perfect in a standard situation, but in this case, what if Nebraska ran an out and up four vert? What if they ran a wheel route. Drummond committed to the underneath route so hard that he was three yards in front of the receiver with only open field on the otherside. It's an aggressive play that isn't warrented given the situation. Perfect technique and all that, and we're singing praises if he makes the INT, but must be smarter there given the situation. Sometimes even the great play isn't the right play.

Sadler: Great 1st Half, Awful 2nd Half
Sadler had a great first half, awful 2nd half. Line drive kicks, kick return out kicked coverage, a few guys get out of their lane trying to squeeze the sideline and there is a cutback and it's a TD. Less time focused on cats, more time taking your skills through an entire game. ST almost blew this game for MSU.


  • Cook looked unsettled with his feet and it lead to accuracy issues; MSU moved him a lot to relieve pressure, but it didn't help him.
  • Most of MSU's run game was a zone scheme, but most of their success came from man-blocked runs as a change-up, particularly to the weak side
  • Collins struggled a little with man-blocked schemes, Valentine disrupted a lot of the run game from his DT position for Nebraska
  • Gregory is a great pass rusher and improved run stopper, was run away from most of the game; Calhoun has turned into a great all around player, like him more as a true DE
  • Rush continues to be a textbook example of how to play DE
  • Nebraska OL struggled releasing to the 2nd level because of aggressive MSU OLBs. Struggled in pass pro as well when behind the chains and lacking a run threat.
  • Thought Nebraska had more success when they showed more patience in their attack and utilized the slot better
  • Trey Waynes is a good player
  • Sadler had a great first half, awful 2nd half.

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