Another morning with coach yielded a disappointing realization that “gap integrity” still plagues the Husker defense and hasn’t shown many signs of improvement against opponents who commit to the ground game or even have a quality offensive line. Perhaps more frightening was how Nebraska’s inexperience was exposed in the play-action game from Minnesota; the Husker secondary struggled with its eyes and discipline on the back end against the Gophers.
We’ll start with Minnesota’s fourth down touchdown in the second quarter.
SECOND QUARTER – 6:25 – Nelson 33-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Engel (YT 00:45)
The Huskers built a 10-7 lead in the first quarter but followed up on the next two drives with back-to-back punts. Minnesota drove to the Nebraska 33 before getting caught in fourth-and-10, opting not to kick a 50-yarder. The Gophers line up in a pistol set, and even on fourth and long, Harvey Jackson seemingly freezes momentarily. Whether that’s from a run threat, coach can’t tell, but doesn’t matter in this case. Engel runs from the slot where the weakside linebacker (Nate Gerry) releases from his backpedal a split second too late, which give Engel a step on him. Without adequate help over the top from an out of position Jackson, Engel has an easy window for Nelson’s ball, resulting in the long touchdown.
FIRST QUARTER – 8:34 – Nelson 20-yard pass to Mike Henry (YT 00:30)
The Gophers feasted on Nebraska’s linebackers with bootleg plays, and coach selected this play as the best (or worst?) example. Echoing Ross Els’ sentiment from practice a couple weeks ago, coach pointed out that cycling linebackers in and out makes it hard to maintain discipline and pick up on play-action plays like this.
Bo Pelini spoke after the game about his players’ eyes going to the wrong spots, and the play-action on bootleg plays is a perfect illustration. In this instance, freshman Jared Afalava is responsible for the fullback flat from his BUCK (strong side) linebacker spot. Afalava shuffles much too far inside on the play-fake as coach points out, leaving the flat wide open for the fullback after Nelson rolls out to the left.
“When you’re playing against an I-formation team or a power team, bootlegs are the most favorite play they’re ever gonna run,” coach said.
THIRD QUARTER – 11:21 – Nelson 21-yard pass to Drew Goodger (YT 1:17)
As far as communication errors on defense go, this play can be classified as a microcosm of Nebraska’s whole season. The shift (which unfortunately can’t be seen on the video) splits a tackle out wide and puts the tight end Goodger at the left tackle spot. Nebraska commits two errors almost unanimously when Avery Moss seemingly fails to recognize that Goodger is an eligible receiver, and Harvey Jackson fails to communicate when he notices a 300-pounder split out wide*
“You sprinkle that in every week,” coach said in regards to defending tricky formations like this. “When you get hurt by trick plays, you don’t have to run them every day, but you mix them in every week, and the kid have fun with it after a while.”
At first glance David Santos seems to be at fault for not picking up the tight end. Coach points out however that it’s not his job to recognize tight ends in the left tackle spot, that error falls on Moss and Jackson for failing to recognize and communicate. Santos recovers too late and Goodger winds up with a 21-yard reception and a first down, leading to a touchdown to give the Gophers a 24-13 lead.
*Coach’s tape gives more angles, which allowed us to see the whole field before the play. Jackson points out the tackle lined up wide, but either he doesn’t vocalize it or no one hears him, as no player shows any acknowledgment.