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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: Nebraska's Offense Checks All the Boxes

August 10, 2018
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Here's some homework for you. You'll have until Monday because the assigned reading is long, but it might be the best thing you'll read on Nebraska's offense this offseason.

That's because it's really about offense in general. Successful offense. The story, by Football Study Hall contributor Redmond Longhorn, is titled "The five elements of the optimal college football offense." Read each individual "element" and then ask yourself: Will Nebraska's new offense under Scott Frost do this? (Or does it, based on what you've seen from two years of UCF film?)

That, of course, assumes you buy the argument being made, that these are the five elements, but let's just say it's a pretty compelling case. We could go through all of those elements, but there are two things from this piece I specifically wanted to highlight.

The first element is "Quarterback as Run Threat." Just look around college football to see if this one merits inclusion. Minus a handful of pro-style stalwarts in the college game, the rest of the sport has felt the need to incorporate some quarterback run game, and that's not because running quarterbacks suddenly grow like weeds. It's because the threat matters as much as the actual ability.

From the Football Study Hall story:

Establishing the QB as a running threat forces the defense to account for the QB in the running game, whether he keeps the ball or not. That shifts the defense’s advantage from two unblocked men to one. The QB doesn’t have to take on the rushing workload that Tim Tebow did, and he doesn’t have to be the open-field threat that Lamar Jackson was to significantly influence the defense.

Simply demonstrating a willingness to have the QB carry the ball and establishing that those carries can result in large enough gains to maintain efficiency (four or five yards per carry would comfortably do it) ought to force the defense to account for the QB as a runner on every play. If it doesn’t, the offense can run the QB often until the defense adjusts (and the QB can slide, as necessary, to avoid taking a beating).

That should sound familiar to Nebraska fans. Frost effectively said as much in March: "In our offense you don't need to be 4.4 as a quarterback, you just need to be an effective runner. When a defense dictates that you should pull it and run it, you need to be able to get some yards. That doesn't mean you need to be Johnny Rodgers or Mike Rozier, but being able to pull it and run it and get 6 or 7 and get down."

The second element discussion that jumped out to me had to do with "Space," but more than Frost's offense, which certainly incorporates that, one line in there actually sent me back to a discussion last month of Tom Osborne.

Again, from Football Study Hall (emphasis mine):

The idea of stretching the defense horizontally and vertically is foundational to offensive scheme design and as old as the hills. Eleven defenders can only cover so much ground, after all. And there have always been only three ways to bypass defenders with the ball: go around, over or through them. But the evolution of football tactics has made the “spread” offenses of yesteryear, like the flexbone, seem extremely compact by today’s standards.

At the risk of triggering old-school football purists, there is ample evidence, both logical and statistical, that the more spread out horizontally the defense is pre-snap, the more efficient the offense is likely to be. What might be surprising, is that this is more due to the impact of horizontal space on the running game than the passing game.

The "spread offenses of yesteryear?" If you recall that discussion from July, Rob Zatechka certainly includes Osborne's 90s-era offense in that group. "Now you’ve got all these so-called gurus running the spread option that Osborne pioneered a decade and a half ago, and at the time everybody said he was ‘archaic,'" Zatechka said in Anatomy of an Era, a Nebraska football oral history. "Back then they were calling this stuff obsolete and archaic, and he was literally 20 years ahead of his time."

No need to reheat the whole case for Osborne as a spread innovator, but it is what I immediately thought of upon seeing that mention of the flexbone as a spread forerunner. Comparing that, or some of Nebraska's one-back sets from late-period Osborne, does seem a little quaint compared to the aggressive stretching of, say, early 2010s Baylor or Mike Leach-era Texas Tech but the founding principle was the same: open things up for the run game. More specifically, open up the box.

Redmond Longhorn's write up does a good job illustrating how that actually works with a nifty math problem, but I'm sure you'll get to it.

It is required reading this weekend.

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