Throughout the first quarter, the primary coverage for Wisconsin was a Cover 4. This, in theory, is a very good run defense, as it puts quasi-9 in the box. However, it also forces safeties to be aggressive downhill players and tackle while firing down. Against a RB like Abdullah, and the way Nebraska was running the ball, this isn’t necessarily an easy proposition for a DB. In this article, we’re going to look at how Nebraska started off attacking with read option with an arch block and attacking with the zone stretch scheme. Then, we’ll look at how Wisconsin adjusted, both their coverage and how they played their front, and eventually stopped the Cornhuskers potent run offense.
Zone Stretch vs Cover 4
This may be Cover 3 or even Cover 1 (seeing the CB leverage makes me not believe it’s Cover 1) that Wisconsin is inverting late, but I believe this is a Cover 4 with the front side safety crashing down.
Here we are immediately after the snap, where it is immediately clear that Nebraska is running Outside Zone and the safety starts crashing down. This will lead to the safety toward the bottom of the screen to rotate off the screen as he looks to cover for the TE leaking past the crashing safety.
But a few things quickly become obvious as far as issues for the Wisconsin front. First, look above and try to identify the DT of the 2-4 front for Wisconsin. Then note the backside OLB and how much ground he is forced to cover. Also note how there are two Cornhusker OL releasing cleaning downfield without any impediment. You also see that backside DT win playside and get penetration and almost blow up this play, but not get home. You also see the safety get to LB level.
Now, here we are at the point of the attempted tackle from the safety. In theory here, you’re getting exactly what you want at the point of attack from the Cover 4: the safety is an extra man in the box that the offense can’t account for in their zone scheme. But it’s difficult to tackle a really good RB in space (especially when your head is down and you essentially leave your feet). And in case you can’t see it, I circled the backside ILB and where he is now.
This leads to a seven yard gain for Nebraska, but with what they are seeing, it will become clear why they made the adjustment to the run game they did.
Veer Power Read vs Cover 1
Wisconsin changes to Cover 1 in the next set up, but the issues brought up above still remain. Nebraska goes to jet motion look and runs the Power read with an arch block (this is Power O blocking, the read is the FB kick, and the RB has the inside run while the QB has the outside threat with the addition of an arch block; so not your standard Power Read, but more like a Veer Power Read). The jet motion brings the safety straight down to handle the potential end around, while the CB drops to deep center.
You see right after the snap that the defense is a bit held by the jet motion and the ILBs are a little delayed in their reaction (contrast that to where the pulling OG already is). You also see the DL pretty much sealed.
Not realizing this is a read rather than a kick block, you see the OLB try to fight inside across the H-back, but all that does is more easily define the QB’s read, as the H-back doesn’t kick block, but rather, arch blocks to the frontside ILB. The DL by now is washed completely inside.
And now you see a hat on a hat with the OLB taking himself out of the play and Armstrong with room to run. This is Nebraska moving the DL and forcing the OLB to define himself to cover either the QB or the RB (he smartly takes Abdullah, as he is the bigger threat; he’d do the same in similar circumstance later in the game on a Inside Zone Read).
And that’s 7 more yards for Nebraska.
Outside Zone Read vs Cover 1
We’re a little more than 5 minutes into the 2nd quarter, and Wisconsin is now running straight Cover 1 but having the same issues on the backside. We now see Nebraska focusing around those issues.
Here’s at the mesh point and it isn’t looking good for Wisconsin. The Nebraska front is immediately getting movement up front and from the frontside ILB. Outside zone is all about manufacturing movement from the defense to find a crease, and this amount of movement gives an easy read for the RB. Note how much room the OLB that is being read has to cover: he can’t let Armstrong outside of him but also wants to squeeze any cutback. And he needs to squeeze any cutback because Nebraska’s LT has gotten a clean release to the backside ILB. That’s going to be an issue.
And here’s Abdullah cutting back across the defense and attacking straight vertically inside of the read defender. He can’t possibly defend both Abdullah and Armstrong, and the backside ILB has just been blown up by the LT.
That’s 7 more yards on the ground for Nebraska’s run game.
Outside Zone Read vs Cover 1 (With backside staying)
Here’s the set up. This is the same offensive and defensive play call as the previous look. But keep your eye on the backside DT.
Immediately at the snap, Wisconsin has a slant to the field. That puts the OLB as the read defender, but it also prevents the DE from chashing the zone, and prevents a free release to the 2nd level for the LT. You can already see the Nebraska RB working to get vertical because of what he expects to see, but not what he will see.
But of course, the front side is winning playside, and the Nebraska RB cuts vertical. But because the backside DE hasn’t over pursued, he now can crash under control from a good position and make a play on the ball carrier (note also that the backside ILB is also only 3 yards off the LOS now rather than 5+ because the OL didn’t get free release).
This leads to a tackle and a strip and the first Cornhusker turnover of the night.
That was pretty much the end of the Nebraska run game. Wisconsin would bring down Caputo to the field in either a Cover 1 sky adjustment or a tight Cover 3 (think more the former), this allowed the Badgers to play 8 in the box without having to charge downhill from a deep position. They would continue to win on the front side, but now the backside was taken care of so that Nebraska couldn’t attack it. Once the Cornhusker’s run game was mitigated, the offense sputtered, and the Wisconsin defense remained stringent the remainder of the game.