Not your average week in Nebraska. Not quite.
Let’s get back to football though, with our weekly installment of tape study. This week we’re taking a look at how the tide turned for UCLA in the third quarter.
The first thing coach hit on was adjustment, or lack thereof by the Huskers. In his time coaching, he said, “plan B” would have been implemented before the second half started. “We talked about plan A, plan B and plan C,” coach said. “If plan C doesn’t work we’re dead.” It sounds as thought Nebraska never even made it to plan B on Saturday. It was clear UCLA began cleaning up its play – you didn’t see the awful corner technique that lead to Nebraska’s first touchdown much in the second half. Brett Hundley cleaned up too, completing 14 of his last 18 throws.
Unfortunately for Nebraska, they couldn’t capitalize on the few chances in the second half.
1a. 3rd QUARTER – 13:31 – Martinez pass to Long
Nebraska lines up with four wide; Quincy Enunwa, Jamal Turner, Jake Long in trips right and Kenny Bell all alone on top of the formation. Bell is virtually uncovered, even up to the snap. UCLA corner Fabian Moreau recognizes the play late, and is still running horizontally at the snap. He’s No. 10 below (click to enlarge).
Bell, as coach notes, was likely supposed to run a short hitch route. Being the savvy junior that he is, Bell sees the weakness and runs vertically, blowing the receiver off the line. The corner actually missteps and falls (seconds after the screenshot below), taking Kenny Bell from a good matchup to wide open.
Martinez, whose eyes appear to lock on Bell twice during the play, comes back to the middle for a completion to Jake Long. The easy touchdown to Kenny Bell would have put the Husker up 28-10 at that point.
1b. 3rd QUARTER - 7:54 - Martinez sacked
Nebraska lines up in the gun with four wide and Abdullah to the left of Martinez in the backfield. Initial protection looks good for Martinez as the pocket forms, and Abdullah leaks out to the flat. Around the time Abdullah cross the initial line of scrimmage (uncovered) Jake Long is pushed to his knees by Bruins defensive end Keenan Graham. The pocket dissolves as Graham rushes forward past Cotton, dropping Martinez for the first sack NU had given up all year while his check-down option, Abdullah, stood wide open in the flat.
The result was the first of two back-breaking three-and-outs in the pivotal third quarter.
2. 1st QUARTER - 8:58 - Hundley 39-yard pass to Mazzone
UCLA’s version of the pistol on this play puts three receivers wide on the near side. Safety Corey Cooper and linebacker Nate Gerry stayed home to cover hitches as Hundley runs the play action. Nebraska’s respect for Shaq Evans at the top of the formation is evident, as he’s covered by “a man and a half” as coach says with a corner and safety.
Corey Cooper looks confused by the play-fake leaving Nebraska in a 2-on-3 with a gap between the deep routes and the wheel route. “We used to call it “steal” against trips,” coach says. “That backside safety would have taken the post and the corner would have taken the wheel. They’re putting pressure on the right corner, no question about it.”
With Cooper frozen, Mazzone runs free past the flat for a wide open reception that went for 39 yards.
3. 2nd QUARTER - 1:54 - Hundley 13-yard scramble
The turning point of the game and perhaps the season for Nebraska. UCLA coach Jim Mora called it the play of the year for his Bruins. The UCLA defense held Nebraska scoreless on the previous two drives as the momentum began to shift west.
UCLA was 3-of-9 on third down conversions to that point and faced third and 12. Lined up in a spread formation, UCLA split five receivers wide. Hundley couldn’t find any upon the snap, and defensive end Avery Moss blew past the right tackle toward him. Moss managed to get two hands on Hundley, but could bring him down. Randy Gregory beat the left tackle, but appears to overrun the play inside. “You have to wonder if No. 44 wasn’t supposed to maintain contain from the back side,” coach said. If Gregory is outside, Moss chases Hundley right towards him. Instead, Hundley scrambles to the left, then back to the right, avoiding Thad Randle. He gets the edge on Ciante Evans at the second level and makes a run for the sideline and the first down marker.
First down. Three plays later, UCLA scores its first of five unanswered touchdowns.