Do people still use word clouds for anything? You know, those collections of keywords with type size reflecting how frequently each word appeared in, say, a blog? They feel very much like a relic of that era, but if you were to create one of every preseason story written on Nebraska football in 2017, I have to think that “transition to the 3-4” would get the heaviest weight based on frequency. Maybe “Tanner Lee” is slightly larger, but Nebraska’s scheme switch on defense couldn’t possibly be far behind. We’ve all spent a lot of time talking about that and when we have talked about it, we’ve talked about it as a 3-4.
But Bob Diaco wants you to know it’s not just a 3-4. Interviews with Diaco are sort of an adventure, and not the classic boy-pulls-edged-weapon-from-rock sort of adventures, but often something a little more surreal. That seems to be because Diaco isn’t fond of giving much away, so every question becomes a potential magic trick, a question of how to give the illusion of answering without giving away how it’s done.
And that’s fine. Diaco’s job performance is based on how well his defenses defend, not how well he explains it. But it does occasionally lead to some interesting moments.
Here he is responding to a question about installation that used the term “3-4” (near the 50-second mark):
“To answer that, I got to cosign the install of the 3-4. I don’t necessarily know what you might mean by that, or anyone might mean by that. We run our own system based on the staffs that we’ve been on. We’ve built it. And 3-4 is a component, a building block and a piece. And like all strong foundations, there are other pieces.
“We are about players and players playing the plays and not necessarily the plays. So if we can care for each other and be fundamentally sound as a position, as a player and ultimately as a defense with our principles, then we believe we can defend.”
Diaco is not cosigning.
And here’s a similar answer on BTN to a question about depth on the defensive line in the new scheme from analyst Gerry Dinardo (2:20 in, if you’re curious):
“We have our own defensive system that we’ve built. At the end of a thousand plays, half of them will be four down [linemen] and half of them will be three-down, and that’s on even-situation downs. That’s on 50-50 downs, it’s not just on critical-situation downs. So we’re in and out of both.”
I guess our Husker preseason word cloud is horribly flawed. It has 3-4 right there in big letters, but the type should only be as big as 4-3 and probably even 3-3-5. And “defend” should probably be biggest of all.
But this is an instance of when the magic worked. This is a real answer from Diaco — the 3-4 is only part of what we do, to paraphrase — it’s just not the expected answer to the questions posed. And it’s a better answer for these reasons.
So did we have it wrong all offseason by talking about “the 3-4?” I don’t think so. Labels exist to easily classify something and, for that reason, they’re often not comprehensive. Anyone could describe in great detail everything in their “junk drawer,” and it wouldn’t just be Junk Piece 1, Junk Piece 2, etc. The term “pro-style offense” tells us virtually nothing about an offense. Such is the plight of labels.
Diaco is making an important point here, however. Not that his defense has been potentially mislabeled, but that the label matters less than the results. I think he’s also saying, and has been saying since he showed up, that the idea of “defending,” literally protecting the goal line, the mindset required, might have more to do with any success his defenses have had in the past than how they lined up.
And you sort of have to take his word on that.
The Grab Bag
- ICYMI: Former Husker setter Lauren Cook breaks down the rules of serving. Also, Nebraska volleyball was picked second in the Big Ten coaches poll.
- Nebraska is projected to finish fourth (well, technically tied for third) in the West in this Big Ten football preview from Sports on Earth.
- Good read on Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen and how he went from struggling to land a scholarship to draft darling.
- Based on this sampling of FBS football coaches, they’re not real high on legalized marijuana.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.