Each week throughout the season we’ll break down the key plays from the Huskers’ most recent game with the help of a former Division I football coach. Here’s a closer look at three key plays from Nebraska’s 56-13 win over Southern Miss.
The highlights from the game are embedded below, but you can also click the time, where available, to take you directly to the play being described.
1. 3rd QUARTER – 11:43 – Bradely 41-yard touchdown pass from Bridgford
Nebraska went almost four minutes into the third quarter without giving up a touchdown to Southern Miss, holding a 35-6 lead. The touchdown pass by Bridgford exposed some of the flaws in Stanley Jean Baptiste’s game that come with being a non-traditional corner in size. Baptiste has the speed, Coach said, but he doesn’t have the quickness Josh Mitchell has to correct his own mistakes in technique on the fly.
The touchdown was easy for the Eagles once Baptiste made his initial error. Since he was playing man coverage with an inside press, he shouldn’t have let the receiver inside unabated. Once Rickey got inside, Baptiste didn’t have the closing speed to make up for the lapse in technique.
2. 2nd QUARTER – 8:51 – Martinez overthrows Carter
Though it appears to simply be an overthrow, there’s more to this play that reveals some workings of the Nebraska offense. The Huskers start in a split back formation with Ameer Abdullah to Taylor Martinez’s right and C.J. Zimmerer to the left. Nebraska hasn’t traditionally been a split back team, but we’ve seen the formation in past two games a handful of times.
We see the value of the formation with play action, when the handoff (or lack thereof) causes the flaw in the Southern Miss defense – the safety having to make two judgments and decisions. In this formation, it’s his job to read and react to the tailback, and also to cover the inside receiver (Cethan Carter). The safety bites on the fake and over pursues, leaving his man Carter wide open. Martinez unfortunately, overthrows Carter and misses out on the easy touchdown.
“That’s the safety all the way,” Coach said. “They’re asking him to do two things…if he had a good sense of humor when coach calls him he’d say ‘look, I don’t cover the decoys.’”
3. 2nd QUARTER – 3:11 – Martinez touchdown pass to Bell
This final touchdown drive of the second half by the Huskers seemingly summed up Nebraska’s offense – the Huskers drove 75 yards in less than three minutes with outside running chunks by Abdullah, Quincy Enunwa fighting through tackles for a first down, Jamal Turner juking for extra yards and finally Martinez’s touchdown to Bell.
It was clear Nebraska had control of the game, already leading 28-6 before the final drive of the half. The final play call seems to indicate the coaches’ attitude of “touchdown or bust.” From the 21-yard line, Nebraska lined up with three wide. “I guess this is a jump ball,” Coach said of the play, noting third and 10 with 18 seconds left on the clock. “The defender was even underneath him. The defenders really had a better chance to catch the ball than the receiver did.”
The risky throw by Martinez caught a break with the deflection, despite the corner being in perfect position with safety help on the way. The jump ball turned to a tip drill, and Bell caught his own deflection for the touchdown to give Nebraska a 35-6 leading going into the locker room.
–Coach said he’s noticed more D-line stunts and blitzes this year from Nebraska than last year. Using stunts in a game helps the young defenders learn and understand the defense, he said. Coach said the night and day difference in athleticism on this year’s defense opens up more doors in blitzing.
–With a relatively one-sided pass rush, Coach likes the Husker defense lining up Randy Gregory wherever the weakside is, and rushing him from a two-point stance that allows him to adjust and disguise rushes.
–Although the Eagles are riding a 14-game losing streak, Coach said the Southern Miss defense looks better and more athletic than last year’s unit.
–Coach had high praise for true freshmen linebackers Josh Banderas and Nate Gerry, saying the two lined up Saturday “like they’d played for years.” The first thing he noticed was their stance, a small problem that hurt David Santos in week one.
“They looked like a Wisconsin linebacker,” he said.
–Coach noted that Nebraska had been one of the last holdouts in switching to the three-man shield in punt protection, but the Huskers finally made the switch. The shield alters the downfield blocking after the punt is caught, but all other things equal, he said, it makes the punt virtually impossible to block.
–As for the Rugby punts, Coach said Nebraska needs to put two returners deep or the opponents will place the ball almost wherever they want.