Cracking the Code

It's no secret that Nebraska's defenses have been bad against teams with dual-threat quarterbacks. If they were equally bad against pocket passers, Bo Pelini might not still have his job as head coach. The deadly dual-threat guys have been few and far between enough though that the Huskers have won 9-10 games a year and won their division a couple of times. Still, the hopes of the Husker Nation for 2012 and beyond rest on NU cracking the code of how to stop offenses with running quarterbacks.


As Simple as Safeties?

One of the reasons that Pelini's defenses have been so effective against traditional pro-style offenses over the years is that he usually keeps his safeties deep. He doesn't give up many big pass plays to pocket passers and forces offenses to patiently put together multi-play drives. It only takes one or two mistakes by the offense or one or two good plays by the defense to put the offense behind schedule and once an offense is staring at third and long, the odds get pretty poor of keeping a drive alive. Running quarterbacks really change that math.

Stopping the run with seven guys is much harder to do when there's an extra player (the quarterback) to account for. You might think a deep safety would improve the odds of preventing a big play, but some of the shiftier players (like Braxton Miller) might actually get more dangerous when they've got extra room to maneuver. Even less-shifty but speedy guys (like Taylor Martinez) get harder to stop when they've got an extra step or two to get to full speed. Deep safeties can get deceived into bad angles. It's a rough deal.

Football fans have heard the term "put 8 or 9 in the box" for years to describe defenses that bring their safeties close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. In the absence of a credible passing threat, this can work very well. Of course, it creates favorable matchups for receivers which is why it can be unappealing. You sort of trade pass efficiency defense for run defense.  It's also more difficult to justify against spread teams (like Northwestern) because there's bound to be a receiver left wide open for a big play.


What About the Tackling?

Safety position might explain some of NU's struggles, but there are too many examples that Husker fans can think of where a player has been in position to make a tackle yet failed to do so. Some of this may come down to practice habits. Whether it's the "green jersey" for the quarterback, or other safety measures, if players aren't asked to tackle their man to the ground in practice, they're probably less likely to do so in games. The tradeoff is injuries. You lose more players to injury with full-speed/full-contact/play-to-the-echo-of-the-whistle practices. But maybe in weeks leading up to these dual-threat games it's a necessary evil.


All In Your Head?

NU is hardly the only team that can be challenged by dual-threat quarterbacks. It's not like anybody's been able to completely stuff Braxton Miller or Denard Robinson. But has there been a snowball effect where struggles against the running quarterback one week translate to the same kind of struggles the next? Hard to answer with any certainty, but like a lot of things in sports a precondition to success is a belief that you can succeed. Hopefully, this angry team that Bo Pelini says he has will show a determination not to let the past color the future.

One thing is clear. If Pelini ever does find a recipe for consistently stopping dual-threat quarterbacks, we may see a whole new Nebraska team. The kind not seen since the great Charlie McBride walked the sidelines.

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Comments 20 comments so far

Nebraska invented the dual-threat quarterback!
Tommy Fraiser
Scott Frost
Monte Christo
Eric Crouch

This is simply a matter of position and tackling fundamentals.  Also about playing 60 minutes of football and not 50 minutes.
Come on D-Fense let’s pull it together.  Having the B1G reporters, of all people, trying to explain the difficulties of tackling dual threat quarterbacks to Cornhuskers is like you explaining the side effects of your over-the-counter medication to the pharmaceutical company that made it.

If they made it, they tested it.  If they tested it, they should know it!

Want a recipe for defending the dual threat…watch Michigan State play.  We’ve had the tape for two years on how to stop these guys and it comes down to….constant…pressure!  Want to stop a dual threat from running down the field?  Have him running for his life first.  We were able to do that when we had Suh and could get blitz type pressure in our base scheme.  We also had better tackling defensive backs.  I think that helps MSU too…but the idea remains the same.  You have to make the QB uncomfortable.  Case in point, look at Robinson and Martinez when they have people in their face consistently…it equates to turnovers.  We simply have to find a way to get more pressure, more guys into the backfield to disrupt the play before it can develop.  It just seems ridiculous to me that we can’t scheme for this when we practice against it all off-season with our offense.

Both comments (Johnny and Mase) are spot on.

Look at Oregon as well.

Speed to the edge caught up to Nebraska at the turn of the century. Now with the spread you need to be fast to the edge and cover but most of all tackle in space which is the HARDEST things to do.

No need for a “new formula”. FUNDAMENTALS win games. One word, Alabama. Ball security and sure tackling. Is that anything new?

Pressure bust pipes can Pelini handle the pressure so he hasn’t

The above comments are all correct, and add lane discipline to the list.  Huskers overrun plays consistently thus are out of position when the ball carrier cuts back.  OCs use our speed against us.

MASE you are correct sir!
What I just don’t understand is how, if Pelini is indeed a top notch defensive coach with a brilliant defensive mind, why can’t he figure this out? It’s been a consistent problem for us. We get absolutely burned by these dual threat QB’s on a VERY consistent basis. Or is it that we just don’t have the horses up front to put the constant pressure on the QB? Isn’t it interesting that many of our largest woes have at least something to do with either the defensive or offensive lines. Why is that so hard to realize for this program and coaches? “Games are won or lost in the trenches” has been an adage for how long? And then there’s the old “games are won by the teams that want it the most.” That’s an old one too. How about “defense wins championships.” This is so basic! Football is a blocking and tackling game! Look at the film…we created this! Old Nebraska teams were masters of !
My biggest gripe is this team, as talented as it is, does not play well with any consistency, or play with discipline…bad tackling, guys out of position, tons of needless penalties, loosing turnover margins, and on and on. They don’t seem prepared frankly. The funny thing to me is the best blue print ever created about how to play college football correctly was the one created by our own Tom Osborne…not to compare, but it’s all right there for these coaches to look at and even talk to the creator…he’s right down the hall fellas…and we still have these problems! Unbelievable.
I do think though we come out todayand play well…simply because on urgency. Can you imagine what would happen if we loose this game? It might be the nail in the coffin for Coach Pelini. That would be sad. We’ve all seen what he can do when he has the talent.

I think u r right this game may b the last chance for bo and so far it looks pretty ugly. To many bone head plays

Time to offer Brett Belema 3 million to leave Wisconsin and see if he will come to Nebraska or Pat Fitzgerald

I thought Tim Beck was supposed to be the “brain” behind the Kansas Scoring machine???  We cant even get a 4 and 3… Reed blocks our RT and RT blocks no one.

Cant wait for next week!

John…either one of those guys would be a FAR better coach than Pelini. Is it me or does Martinez seem a little tentative with his running?
God this team stinks….absolutly horrible play. They don’t deserve to win. Oh how the mightly have fallen! Wow. Unbelievable. Thanks Bo!

I was wrong. These guys are worse than even I thought…

OK…Bo owes Taylor one hell of a thick steak! Good come back.

Not sure what that was that i just watched, but it was painful.

On his gesture to fans chanting his name after the game…
“I just really wanted to say thank you. I appreciated the fans’ effort and what they did. What I really like about the fans was that they were in this, the was hope at the end of the game.” -Pelini

Thank you, Coach, staff and all the players, for your stalwart efforts!

What you just watched was Taylor saving Bo’s job for a few more weeks.

All this talk about saving Bo’s job…blah blah blah is a bunch of trolling crap. How soon we forget that even Dr. Tom had only 1, 10 win season in his frist six seasons…....and didn’t win a National Championship for over 20!!! You can’t rebuild a team over night, people need to remember that…..remember that 5 win season in 2004…...I for one will take a few 9 win seasons in the mean time and give Bo a chance to rebuild a program.

Your right, I forgot about Osborne’s first six seasons where his players could not hold on to a punt or where four or more turn overs is the norm.  Who could forget how they would come out for one half of a game and blow away the other team, then roll over for the second half.  Or how about all the problems Osborne had teaching those first team to tackle…you are right, Bo is exactly like Osborne and we should all give him as much time as he needs.

I take back what I said about offering Pat Fitzgerald the Nebraska coaching job the fact that Kane colter did not take every snap at QB when Nebraska has shown they cannot contain a mobile QB is baffling

Mase you hit the nail on the head…it looks to me like we are not truly attacking the ball to pressure the QB, RB or intended receivers as we have in the past. When Nebraska is in the Top 5, you can rest assured our giveaway/takeaway ratio will also be in the Top 5. Since Bo has taken over, Nebraska is +11 in that category (+5 after his first year). I coach another team sport and have for nearly 25 years…we always coach our players to intercept passes whenever possible, which is usually made possible through constant pressure on the ball. The issue with dealing with a dual threat QB does come down to scheme. BTN’s preseason tour of each campus revealed that Nebraska’s roster is as talented athletically as any other B1G team…Bo needs to let his guys fly around and get after it!

On a side note, Johnny, Oklahoma tortured Osborne’s early teams with dual threat QBs during the 70s, late 80s and early 90s…they truly educated us…Osborne needed two plus decades to actually solve the problem, but when he did…oh my! We had the best D in the country!

BK 2012,

Sometimes I feel as if I have to write these words for younger audiences.  So I only go back 20 years or so.  However, Osborne was the offensive coordinator for the 1969 team when he was implementing his new offensive philosophy.

Granted Switzer was an awesome coach, but he more known for wishbone than for the option.  He barrowed our option and did what he could with it.  He did a lot with it.  But to say he “tortured?” Osborne’s early teams, is a bit of a overstatement.
Yes, he had trouble beating Switzer, but Switzer was using the wishbone and power running not the option with a dual threat qb.  Steve Davis had nothing on Vince Ferragamo!

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