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. We typically try to offer a mix of successes and failures but with so many questions surrounding the Blackshirts after week one, we kept things focused on the defensive side of the ball in week one.
Here’s a closer look at three of Wyoming’s biggest gains on the night and what happened to allow them (time stamps for corresponding play in the highlight video below are included in parentheses when available):
1) 1st QUARTER - 9:40 - Wick 37-yard run (0:31)
Wyoming decided early and often that it would prey on defensive back Mo Seisay of Nebraska, and Wick’s 37-yard zone read to set up the game’s first touchdown left Seisay as the culprit. The Cowboys line up with four wideouts and NU counters with a dime defense; David Santos is Nebraska’s only linebacker on the field. On the snap, the Wyoming center and right guard double team big Vincent Valentine while the tackles block Jason Ankrah on the right and Randy Gregory on the left, as is expected. The defense broke down, coach says, when Seisay committed to Brett Smith too soon. After Smith makes the read and hands off to Wick, the Wyoming nose guard disengages from the double team on Valentine for a perfect chip on David Santos, who can only fill one gap. Seisay, who had pursued Smith in the backfield too soon, couldn’t fill the gap. Although Seisay made it to the backfield unblocked, he should have been patient and waited for the QB read before pursuing, thus able to fill the 2-gap. What should have been a 5-yard yard run stopped by Seisay ended up a 37-yard dash leading to Wyoming’s first score two plays later.
“As we used to say, ‘in the zone read, the quarterback in a great blocker, because you’ve got to account for him,’” coach said.
2) 2nd QUARTER - 13:04 - Smith 47-yard run
Nebraska took a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. Wyoming lined up again with four wideouts, but the next step proved to be key in breaking down Nebraska’s defense. BTN’s Damon Benning pointed out during the broadcast that Wyoming’s motion from the tailback softened Nebraska’s defense in the middle, and this play was the perfect illustration. With four wide, the back motioned out of the backfield and was followed by Santos. Nebraska’s downfall came in the middle of the line when noseguard Kevin Maurice lunged at the center early, falling down and effectively removing himself from the play. Despite Seisay coming unblocked off the edge, Smith saw him and cut back to the right into the wide open gap that Maurice should have occupied.
“The noseguard may as well be getting a drink of water, because he did absolutely nothing,” coach said.
Coach also pointed out Wyoming’s willingness to allow the dime blitz to come unblocked nearly all game. The speed with which Smith got rid of the ball eliminated the dime backer’s rush for most of the first half, before Nebraska began getting pressure later in the game.
3) 4th QUARTER - 6:09 - Claiborne 29-yard TD catch (2:45)
Nebraska had both a 16-point lead and the ball in Wyoming territory with less than six minutes on the game clock. A miscommunication left Taylor Martinez’s pass a shade late of Sam Burtch, leading to a Wyoming interception that teed up the Cowboys’ first of two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter.
The play fake didn’t fool Nebraska’s defense, but it did allow Wyoming a free blocker to assist with Avery Moss, who was the closest Husker to breaking the Cowboys’ offensive front. The mistake – albeit a small nuance mistake, came from veteran defensive back Ciante Evans, who appears to have bracketed Claiborne underneath. Evans appears to be in position as the ball left Smith’s hand, leaving him with a judgement call – break on the ball for a break up or interception, or close in for a tackle. In a perfect situation, Evans would have closed in and tried to break up the pass with his left arm, leaving his right arm free to make the tackle if he couldn’t make the play on the ball. Instead of 1st and goal and needing to chew more clock, the Cowboys ended the drive with a touchdown with just two plays in 26 seconds.