Wunderkind Wan'Dale Wows Wildcats with his Explosiveness
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Wunderkind Wan’Dale Wows Wildcats with his Explosiveness

October 06, 2019

Saturday was far from a banner day for Scott Frost’s offense as the Huskers managed to score just 13 points against a salty Northwestern defense. The Huskers totaled just 319 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per play against the Wildcats.

Nebraska tried to get a lot of different skill players involved — nine of them recorded at least one touch — but only one of them emerged as a game-changer: freshman Wan’Dale Robinson.

“Explosive athlete,” Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher said to describe Robinson. “Nebraska used him in multiple formations and multiple situations. Going into the game, we only had a little bit of knowledge on him, game-plan wise, and the rest was just adjustments. What we saw on the film and feedback from the players, very talented explosive player that’s going to have a great future.”

The dynamic Duck-R from Kentucky accounted for more than half of Nebraska’s total yardage with 167 yards (44 on the ground, 123 trough the air) on 14 touches. However, 147 of those yards came on four plays as Robinson was responsible for four of Nebraska six chunk plays.

How did he do it? Let’s break it down.

Robinson’s first big play was Nebraska’s first and only touchdown, and it came on the ground. On third and 8 from the Northwestern 42, Adrian Martinez lined up with Robinson alongside him in the backfield and with two receivers to each side.

Martinez motioned JD Spielman from left to right, then snapped the ball. It was a read play, and as Martinez saw the left defensive end crashing from the right side, he handed the ball off to Robinson coming from right to left.

Robinson planted his foot and cut back to his left, navigating around left tackle Brenden Jaimes who was driving the other defensive end to the inside. Robinson bounced it outside then cut it up inside the numbers as left tackle Matt Farniok pulled all the way over to the left side. Farniok blocked a linebacker to the ground for the pancake then jumped on top of him for good measure to finish the block.

From there it was a foot race, and Robinson showed off his speed by splitting the corner and safety, running past both of them and into the end zone untouched to get the Huskers on the board first.

Robinson didn’t have much success taking handoffs the rest of the night, gaining just two yards on his other six carries, but that one big run proved to be enough.

Robinson’s first big pass play made use of his speed, but it was more scheme than anything else. On first and 10 from the Nebraska 25-yard line, the Huskers lined up with Dedrick Mills (left) and Robinson (right) flanking Martinez in the backfield. Mike Williams is the receiver to the right.

On the snap, Williams ran a deep route, drawing in both the cornerback and the inside linebacker on that side of the field. Robinson took off, and because of the way Northwestern defended the play he was left one-on-one with an outside linebacker. Advantage Nebraska.

Martinez recognized the outside ‘backer couldn’t stick with Robinson and the inside ‘backer had no chance to get over in time to make a play on the ball, so he took his shot. 

Martinez dropped the ball right over the top of the defense and Robinson made the catch. With three defenders around him almost instantly, he didn’t have much of a chance to shake loose, but he did dart forward for a few more yards after the catch.

Still, the play went for a gain of 24 yards because of a smart play call and quality execution.

Robinson’s biggest gain of the afternoon was technically classified as a pass, but Robinson did all his work on the ground.

On second and 10 with 11 personnel out on the field featuring two receivers to the left, Robinson to the right and Dedrick Mills next to Martinez in the backfield, the quarterback motioned Robinson as if to come on a jet motion. The receiver slowed before crossing the formation, however, and center Cam Jurgens snapped the ball to Martinez.

Martinez showed the hand-off to Mills but as the defensive end flew upfield untouched, Martinez pulled the ball out and flipped it forward to Robinson coming around. Jaimes jumped to the second level to pick off the inside linebacker and right guard Boe Wilson pulled around to do the same. Wide receiver Kanawai Noa got inside of the SAM linebacker and pushed him out towards the sideline, opening up a massive hole for Robinson to run through.

The safety tried flying forward to make the play, but Robinson made him look silly, showing off the elusiveness that makes him so special. This time he wasn’t able to out-run the rest of the defenders, however, as cornerback Cameron Ruiz got him to the ground after a gain of 49 yards.

“I didn’t think he was going to shovel it because of how the mesh point was, so whenever he gave it to me I was like ‘I gotta go,’” Robinson said. “Then that guy came down, and I made him miss. I just got to work on my top-end speed a little bit.”

Unfortunately, the play did not lead to any points as the drive stalled out and Lane McCallum doinked the short field goal off the right upright. McCallum made up for it later, though.

I covered Robinson’s final chunk play in Play(s) of the Game, but it’s worth another look.

That’s a great throw by back-up quarterback Noah Vedral, but it’s far from an easy catch for Robinson. He did a great job of attacking the ball in the air and coming down with it.

“It was kind of a switch route, so me and whoever the outside receiver was just switched places,” Robinson said. “The corner overlapped, so I was just hoping Noah could give me a shot to let me make a play. Obviously, he did … Anytime there is a game on the line, I want the ball. I want to be able to make the play. I want to be able to give our team confidence. I want to be able to get our team going.”

When little else was working, Nebraska turned to the diminutive freshman from the Bluegrass State and boy did he deliver.

“He's not afraid of much,” Frost said. “He wants the ball in these situations. I said the same thing after the Illinois game. He's going to be a weapon for us around here for a long time. But, we need some other guys to step up and be weapons. It really shows itself when JD [Spielman] is not out there, and we need guys to step up and keep being in the right place and making plays. Wan’Dale has proven himself to be a guy that we can rely on when we need him.”

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