Nebraska got the attention of the college football world during its upset bid of the Oklahoma Sooners last Saturday. The Huskers ultimately lost, but showed good fight and had a chance to win or tie the game on their final drive.
You remember the highlights—there were many from the Blackshirts—like Adrian Martinez’s 21-yard strike to Omar Manning for a touchdown and Ben Stille’s tackle on the Sooners’ third-down shovel pass that gave the offense at least a shot at making some magic in the final minute. But what about the plays that flew under the radar, the ones you may have missed on your first, and for some, only viewing of the game? Here are five of those standout plays.
Deontre Thomas’ hustle leads to tackle
Thomas, an Oklahoma native, had a very strong day in his home state Saturday. The Mustang High School graduate finished with four tackles and three of those were solo stops. While he may be a bit undersized for your average Big Ten lineman at 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, Thomas is quicker than most at his position, and he showed why he’s valuable against an offense like Oklahoma’s.
Watch how Thomas, who’s lined up at the 2i position on the inside shoulder of the right guard, works on a stunt with teammate Damion Daniels. Thomas gets off the block of the center with a swim move and runs down running back Eric Gray before he could get to the first-down marker. That’s great hustle from Thomas, who never stopped on the play. Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti had to like what he saw from Thomas, who made more than one of these kinds of plays in the game.
JoJo Domann’s fight in the trenches
Saturday was a perfect example of why Domann is so valuable to the Husker defense. At 6-1, 230 pounds, the hybrid safety/linebacker excels at both stopping the run and covering slot receivers in space.
On this play, Domann lines up on the line of scrimmage, head-up on Oklahoma’s H-back/tight end Jeremiah Hall. Oklahoma wants to run a play it’s become famous for under head coach Lincoln Riley, the counter trey run. Hall’s job is to seal off the backside defender, Domann, while the left tackle and guard pull to the boundary, or playside.
Domann defeats Hall’s block, though, and destroys the play. Domann’s strength shows here as he grabs Gray with his left arm while fending off Hall with his right. Domann finished with a team-high 12 tackles in the game.
This was a strong play all around from the defense, though. Watch Caleb Tannor at outside linebacker to the boundary. He throws his shoulder into Oklahoma’s left guard, the 6-5, 324-pound Marquis Hayes. The 6-3, 225-pound Tannor sets the edge and stops Hayes in his tracks, leading to the logjam in the backfield.
Luke Reimer’s one-handed take down
This was the play that, when it happened, you probably turned to your buddy and asked, “So how many tackles is Reimer gonna end up with today, 20?”
While Reimer didn’t record 20 tackles, he ended up with seven and was all over the field again, playing sideline to sideline. The third-year sophomore is having an excellent season so far, and this one-handed tackle of Gray was excellent as well.
The Sooners try a power run to the boundary and pull the right guard while Spencer Rattler fakes a screen to the field in hopes of attracting attention away from where the ball is actually going. The play is well blocked, and linebacker Nick Henrich can’t reach Gray. But Reimer somehow manages to disengage the block from tight end Austin Stogner and whip Gray down to the grass with his right arm after grabbing his jersey. That’s a serious display of strength from Reimer.
Well-blocked front-side power
While the offensive line has a ton to work on, it did have a few nice moments on Saturday, and this is an example of one.
The Huskers come out in 12 personnel—one back, two tight ends—and try a front-side power run to the short side of the field, or boundary. Right tackle Bryce Benhart and tight end Travis Vokolek do a great job of double-teaming outside linebacker Nik Bonitto, effectively taking him out of the play. Austin Allen does his job, too, blocking linebacker Shane Whitter. Center Cam Jurgens shows his athletic ability by pulling for the kick-out block of corner D.J. Graham. Those blocks create a clean lane for Gabe Ervin Jr., who makes a man miss along the way to a 7-yard run.
Now that Vokolek is back from his injury, Nebraska fans should see more effective 12 personnel sets from the Husker offense.
Rahmir Johnson’s finish
Here’s another example of Nebraska’s front-side power run out of 12 personnel. But instead of Ervin, the running back is Rahmir Johnson.
While the blocking probably isn’t the best on this play—no one climbs to the second level to block Whitter (13), who ends up getting a free run at Johnson, and Allen doesn’t keep his block on Key Lawrence (12)—Johnson ran hard and finished his run very well, gaining a couple extra yards. He finished with 42 yards on 11 carries.
Without knowing the extent of Ervin’s injury—he was seen leaving the field after the game on crutches—Johnson could see a larger role in the backfield going forward. The hand-off run game needs to be better, and for that to happen, the o-line has to have improvement, both physically and mentally.