You’ve probably seen the score. You’ve most likely heard about the runs, too.
Yes, Nebraska’s next opponent, the Buffalo Bulls of the Mid-American Conference, had a heck of a season debut last Thursday, beating FCS-member Wagner 69-7. The Bulls’ offense racked up 569 total yards and was efficient while doing so—rushing for 312 yards and seven touchdowns while passing for 257 and two scores. The defense was equally impressive, holding Wagner to 97 total yards and the one touchdown.
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said Buffalo looked like world beaters during his Monday press conference. While the Bulls thoroughly outplayed the Seahawks, one thing is clear: no one knows how good Buffalo is after one game against a team that looks like it will struggle the rest of the season.
What is known, however, is that first-year Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist knows his offense’s identity. It’s going to run the football. It’s going to set up the pass off the run. It’s what current Kansas head coach Lance Leopold did when he was coaching the Bulls, and it’s what Linguist is going to do, too. He even talked about it at his press conference earlier this week.
“A lot of our identity is grounded in our ability to move the ball through the ground,” he said, “and we feel strong about the weapons on the outside to be able to take the shots when we needed to take the shots on the outside.”
What should Nebraska’s defense expect to see on Saturday? A lot of inside zone and counter runs from 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) and some 12 (one back, two tight ends). The Bulls’ offensive line won’t be going up against a Wagner d-line that it out-sized by an average of 6-foot-4, 293 pounds to 6-3, 257. Nebraska’s defensive front is bigger and meaner than Wagner’s. Watch the line of scrimmage on Saturday—there will be fun collisions.
So what will Buffalo try to do against the Huskers? Let’s start with the inside zone run. The play below is an example of what you might see a lot of Saturday. This example comes on Wagner’s 6-yard line:
The o-line will try to get double teams on the d-line and move it up the field, and that’s what happens on this play. Watch the left guard and the center block the d-lineman who’s head-up on the center. The right guard and the right tackle take care of the three-technique that’s in the B gap. Buffalo gets a nice push here and Ron Cook Jr. barrels into the end zone for the touchdown.
Want another example of inside zone? The play below is from earlier in the game when the Bulls faced a first-and-10 on Wagner’s 18. Buffalo is in 11 personnel again:
This is blocked very well. After helping out his center at first, the right guard climbs to the second level to block the linebacker. On the left side of the line, the guard handles his assignment, which allows the tackle to climb to the other ‘backer. The result? A first down run for Cook, who finished with 94 yards on 14 carries—that’s 6.7 yards per carry.
But what about counter? It’s a blocking concept designed to typically get two blockers on the move, which could create angle and number advantages in the box. It was used pretty often, too. The play below is an example out of 11 personnel from the Bulls’ 14-yard line:
On this specific play, the center pulls to block the end man on the line of scrimmage while the tight end follows and leads up the B gap. That B gap is wide open thanks to a double team from the left tackle and guard. Cook took it all the way to the Buffalo 46-yard line.
The play below is another example of Buffalo running counter out of 11 personnel. But this time it’s the right guard that pulls instead of the center. The tight end leads up an open B gap thanks to the double team from the left tackle and guard. Pretty blocking and strong running from Dylan McDuffie, who had 27 yards and two touchdowns on four carries. Buffalo shared the rock in the win—four running backs had 50 or more rushing yards and all averaged at least five yards per carry.
One key to keep in mind with Buffalo’s run game is the play-action that will come from it. Bulls’ quarterback Kyle Vantrease is a fifth-year senior who has played a lot of football in a Buffalo jersey, and he showed nice accuracy in the win over Wagner.
The play below is a good example of how Buffalo’s offense can hurt overzealous defenses that start to creep toward the line of scrimmage after getting hammered with those inside zone and counter runs. This example is a play-action off inside zone from 11 personnel:
Watch that safety to the boundary, or short side of the field. He thinks it’s a run—watch the o-line and tight end, it looks exactly like those inside zones—and takes three steps toward the line of scrimmage. Once that safety sneaks up, game’s over. That safety leaves his corner out on an island against Buffalo’s top receiver, Quian Williams, a transfer from Eastern Michigan who caught a team-high five catches for 96 yards.
Buffalo showed plenty of inside zone and counter in its thrashing of Wagner. Nebraska will surely see plenty of both, too.