What did Nebraska’s offense do effectively against Wisconsin?
Throughout the course of Scott Frost’s career at Oregon, UCF, and Nebraska, much of the talk about his offense has revolved around the diverse schemes of the tailback run game and the usage of designed quarterback runs. But another dimension of his offense was operating a full-sail on Saturday night and merits discussion. #RTDB guy might want to stop reading now because we’re going to talk about the very bane of his existence, the passing game.
Staying on brand of things found to be subversive either in football or politics, I’m going to invoke a quote from Leon Trotsky who once said “strategy is, in essence, choosing what not to do.” This quote, along with Sun Tzu’s axiom of not besieging walled cities (like the Wisconsin defensive line), aptly describes the Husker offense’s game plan and output against the Badgers, with head coach Scott Frost and offensive coordinator Troy Walters opting for a pass-heavy game plan that utilized many of the same principles that the New England Patriots have shredded NFL defenses with for nearly two decades. These principles were on full display at Camp Randall, with the Husker play-callers utilizing leverage, space, and match-ups to find wide receiver JD Spielman and tailback Maurice Washington open in coverage. Utilizing leverage, space, and match-ups allowed for Adrian Martinez to go 24-42 for 384 yards with 2 TDs and a completion rate of 57%. Martinez’s ability to extend plays with his feet placed even more strain on Wisconsin’s coverage defenders, but Nebraska’s most impressive passing plays were with Spielman and Washington dusting Scott Nelson and Ryan Connelly in coverage.
Before we delve into the schematics, let’s get a few things understood about Wisconsin’s defense. Wisconsin likes to employ split-field coverages, where each side of the formation operate independently of one-another; with the boundary side typically in Man coverage and the field side typically in some form of Zone or Pattern Matching coverage. By aligning in Empty, Nebraska was able to spread the field to get good one-on-one match-ups to the Man side on 2 man route combos along with getting Trips to the field on 3 man route combos that stretch and stress coverage zones.