Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Coaching Points: Nebraska vs Northwestern, 2014

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Northwestern D: 4-2 Nickel Over Cover 4
Nebraska O: 11 and 10 personnel.

Nebraska D: Mostly Cover 4 and Cover 1, 4-2 Nickel
Northwestern O: 11 and 10 personnel, mostly outside zone

Nebraska DL vs Northwestern OL
There are three really, really good DLs in the B1G, and I'm comfortable saying that Nebraska is one of that group. I don't think they are quite up to OSU's level, but they are probably the 2nd best overall until or just about even with MSU.

Gregory is pretty self-explanatory. He continues to do well with his bull rush off the edge and is violent with his hands. He is extremely athletic from a stand-up position off the LOS on obvious passing downs. He also does a great job leveraging the outside and forcing the play back inside without getting washed out.

Then the DTs did a fantastic job again this game. Valentine showed some great flashes of getting penetration into the backfield and didn't really allow the rest of the OL to pull or take over blocks, allowing the Nebraska LBs to flow freely. Collins was consistently winning his assignments. Both DTs consistently won playside on the outside zone schemes, thus preventing any cutback lanes when the RB was forced to cut it back up the field.

On the Collins sack: Gregory got a nice bull rush and gets the OT off balance a bit with his shoulders not square to his target. Collins did a great job on the RG though, attacking him head up and waiting for the RG to try to attack before swatting down his hands with the inside arm and swimming over the top to get a free run at the QB.

Northwestern was smart going to an outside zone scheme. They aren't great between the tackles, and Nebraska's DL is very stout. Northwestern was able to pop some things outside when they could pick on the LBs or safeties a bit, which we'll get to in a bit, but the DL won consistently up front.

One thing that I was surprised with is that Northwestern didn't return to more man schemes. They are very much a zone based team, but the Nebraska DL was working so hard to win playside on the zone, that they would have been able to easily seal them to the backside in some man schemes. Collins, a guy that has struggled a bit when hit with man schemes in games such as the MSU game, again got confused by man scheme. Northwestern went with Counter trey, Collins tried to win hat across hat but got pinned inside. But they rarely returned to it as a change-up.

Northwestern Run Game vs Nebraska Box
Nebraska ran a lot of Cover 4 in this game, bringing the safeties into the run game and the screen game a bit. For the purpose of this section, we'll talk as if the screens are a part of the run game. The DL withstanding, the rest of the defense had some struggles.

I hate to pick on one player, but Roach had a bad game. He was quick with his reads and shot some gaps decently, but missed probably a half dozen tackles, and had issues of all kinds. He brought his eyes down instead of keeping them on his target. He lunged far too often instead of moving his feet. He didn't get his helmet in front of the ball carrier. He didn't wrap up. He took poor angles. This was a guy that was in position to make plays again and again and again and just repeatedly struggled to bring down the ball carrier, giving up free yards in the process. In the process he was also benched for Banderas near the end of the 2nd half. It's not a coincidence that is when the Nebraska defense started stopping Northwestern.

Banderas isn't quite the same athlete, and didn't quite shoot gaps as well, but he made tackles consistently, and that's all Nebraska needed in this game from that position.

The problems weren't only with Roach though. If you're going to attack the blocker in an effort to set the edge, you better actually set the edge. If you are not wide enough or can't get the depth to force the cutback, you need to keep working laterally. Cooper attacked the TE but never got the depth or the width. Anderson went inside of him, trusting him to set the edge, and when edge wasn't taken away the RB was able to rip one off.

Anderson wasn't free though either, as Northwestern attacked him a bit, particularly in the screen game. Anderson was late reading and diagnosing the fake bubble to tunnel screen, despite looking directly at the play. This leaves him 7 yards downfield and still inside the box, which lets the OL get out to him. Need to read and react quicker to prevent OL from getting out on you. If Anderson attacks, Valentine retraces and makes a tackle. The safeties were slow to react as well. It's all about reading the keys.

Northwestern Passing Attack vs Nebraska Coverage
We'll start where Nebraska has struggled this year, and got picked on a bit in the first half: the coverage from the inside defenders.

They were able to isolate Anderson on the RB and get a big pick up. They hit some posts and seams with the inside receivers against the LBs and safeties a little bit. Overall, the middle of the field was not properly covered early. This lead to some technique issues that started opening up some outward breaking routes, particularly ones that threatened inside first, like on pivot routes.

Davie did not do well with his eyes on flare screen play. His man went on what looks like a slant, as does #2WR inside of him, eyes should immediately go to back field to look for quick pass or RB running flare screen. RB identified as leaking, you pass off your man. Same should be done inside of this. In Cover 4, must make the offense commit vertically before locking. Because they don't they get pinned inside.

But Northwestern did some nice things on the outside as well. Vitale did a great job working back to the football. He knows he's short of the sticks, so he works back against flow and momentum, makes the catch and made Mitchell miss who is taking a poor angle to him. Nebraska had a miscommunication in Cover 4 and both took the vertical, then Prater came in on a slant and has easy underneath catch for 9 yards.

Northwestern utilized PA from a trips set. Attack vertically with #3 on a deep cross/post. This puts Anderson (LB) in coverage taking a vertical receiver in his Cover 4/1. Allows #3 to get vertical. Either SS doesn't gain depth in Cover 4 or FS is late with middle field help in Cover 1.

Northwestern also ran a great switch play from a twins bunch that I'll review this week. Twins dictates the banjo leverage underneath in Nebraska's Cover 4. Vitale can pin the CB outside as the #1 runs the seam and then breaks on a dig, clearing out the safety and the LB. Need a better understanding by outside CB there that his help is being run off and needs to gain leverage inside post-snap. Tough play to do. Later, Northwestern went back to this switch play and again uses the leverage from the switch. This time Nebraska didn't switch it and Northwestern threw the post for a completion.

However, Siemian never was able to get into a rhythm. And eventually he forced a throw.
Siemian pre-determined his throw on the INT. Went for homerun and threw into three defenders. Was never open, was always bracketed, poor decision. FWIW, Cooper did a good job with inside leverage, getting in phase, and using his body to box out receiver while looking for ball. That allowed the INT.

Nebraska Run Game vs Northwestern Defense
Northwestern also went mostly Cover 4 to bring their safeties into the run game. They ran an over front in their nickel and an under front in their 4-3. They really shot to motion and had the safety come down in run support to clean up the cut back. This left a CB on island against Bell, which he could win. Inside guys could get over the top as well at times, but it was rarely attacked.

But Northwestern bringing down the safety late on zone read made read and cutback for Abdullah wrong. It comes down late so it can react to either, but box is flowing fast to the initial direction. Nebraska countered with more man/gap schemes than they have this year. On the inverted veer, Abdullah over-stressed the bounce at times. But the H-counter keep for Armstrong was successful. Nebraska goes to a Counter H to take advantage of how Northwestern is playing defense with the safety coming up. The pulling H-back comes across and can then lead block to the safety which gives Armstrong a a nice run.

Speed option didn't have much success because of the fast flow from the Northwestern LBs.

Abdullah bounced outside when he had great blocks for himself inside. Need to trust your blocks and get back vertical on inverted veer play. Northwestern went to a one-high defense at times, but regardless did a great job stringing out speed option. Both LBs read quick and get outside. TE doesn't come off DE quick enough to seal MIKE inside. Inverted veer wasn't as successful, but had some success as a change-up to zone based schemes.

At the end of the day though, the Nebraska OL just struggled. A lot of it wasn't necessarily what Northwestern did. The Northwestern LBs/DL did get off blocks, but the Nebraska OL took some poor angles and didn't get their hands inside consistently to control the defenders. This allowed them to get some penetration or get off blocks and scrape and really plug the playside. They really struggled more in man schemes. Northwestern DTs able to be disruptive in the backfield. Nebraska took some poor angles getting to the 2nd level. A couple times should have had big plays but fail to seal the defense inside.

Nebraska went to more stretch in the second half, but it wasn't until the third quarter when they finally aligned a slot WR toward the RB alignment. This allowed the receiver to block the safety filling down, either in the alley when stretch was run toward that direction (such as Abdullah's first big run) or block the safety trying to handle the cutback.

Nebraska Pass attack vs Northwestern Coverage
Northwestern goes Cover 1 on passing down. Armstrong came off his receiver reads way too quickly. Had the slant underneath from the #2 running a rub underneath a #3 vertical dig (Crash concept). Pocket was solid but rushed his decision, Northwestern flowed to the football well to not let Abdullah escape.

Now, Nebraska isn't your standard drop back team. But Northwestern was able to get some pressure on Armstrong to rush some of the reads anyway. Northwestern's Washington got off the edge quickly. Nebraska's LT Lewis got caught leaning with poor balance; didn't have his chest vertical, but instead is leaning his upper body and bending at the waist to try to block Washington. Washington used a club on the outside to knock down Lewis's arms and gets by him clean, all because of poor balance. But nice play by Washington to get off the edge, forced quick throw underneath when the TE portion of the Crash Concept would have been open for a first down (end of 1st Q).

This was a common theme for Nebraska's OL. A lot of Nebraska OL really leaning in pass protection. Not getting good center of gravity. This leads to a loss in leverage once out of position and lead to more QB pressure.

On the outside, Bell was able to be isolated several times and get open. He had position to have a few more catches but either the ball wasn't accurate enough or for some other reasons, but Nebraska went quite often to some quick attack plays, even attacking the middle of the field, because Bell was isolated often. Another area where Nebraska had success just before half was in the slot. Northwestern LB did nothing to reroute the slot and lets him run a post vs 2-deep and that turns into a big play.


  • Nebraska DL is a great group and is the best unit on their defense
  • Roach had some issues finishing plays; Banderas was an improvement. Other LBs/Safeties struggled a bit on the edge in the screen game, but improved in 2nd half.
  • Northwestern played some nice games in the 1st half with stack and bunch sets to leverage Nebraska. Nebraska struggled with some technique issues in leverage and allowed some easier catches.
  • Northwestern was fast flowing with their front and bringing safeties down in run support, specificially on the cutback to handle the zone read.
  • Nebraska finally broke a long run when they ran to a slot receiver to the RB alignment.
  • Bell was isolated a bit on the outside, but Nebraska also struggled with some protection issues.

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