Being a Husker fan this century has been a dizzying task…
I remember back to when Pelini was here, and you heard such things as “we need to run a 3-4, we can never get enough elite DL to get us over the hump!” Don’t believe that? I know you heard “how good would Randy Gregory or Avery Moss be in a 3-4 as OLBS!?!” Remember when people started talking about how many 4 star LBs we had and we needed to get them on the field? Or how about “Vincent Valentine is a prototypical NG” and then diving into the 3-4 being what we should do.
You then fast-forward to now, and people are clamoring for the 4-3. “How can you stop the run with only 3 linemen” and quoting the conference we play in. Completely neglecting that year in and year out Wisconsin is a top 10 defense running a 3-4 in this conference and recruiting the same players we are. You basically have to come to the realization that the whole reason everyone thinks we need to run a different defense now is because what we are doing just isn’t working currently (in terms of wins/losses, I love Chin and the 3-4 and they have our best unit on the team). Just like when Bo was here and people were claiming we needed to change it up because we couldn’t win a conference title (though i’d take that success now).
I completely understand what people are talking about with the 4-3 and wanting to stop the run better. But I’m a 3-4 guy for a couple different reasons that i’ll go into, the first and foremost is because in a 3-4 your OLBs can set your edge and get things turned up field. Call me crazy, but I still have nightmares of us trying to set the edge in a 4-3 with our safety from 10 yards deep:
Compare that to an all-conference OLB from Lincoln Southeast with outside leverage that is able to send everything back inside to where his help is:
I’m aware that wasn’t a jet sweep, but you get the idea. So that’s one reason i’m ok with the 3-4. But you also have people talking about how difficult it is to recruit to the 3-4 and claiming NG or OLB is just impossible to find the right guys (again, DejaVu from we couldn’t recruit the guys for the 4-3). Let’s tackle NG first. Damion Daniels is a great 3-4 NG, Nash Hutmacher we battled Wisconsin for and won, it doesn’t get any better than Darrion Daniels at NG, Bryson Williams is playing NG for the top 10 defense up in Madison and went to Lincoln Southeast (I know, the previous staff didn’t offer and Frost was too late). Between the portal and what i’ve just laid out, NG isn’t an issue. Now the fact that Chinander runs a nickel package that may not even need a traditional 3-4 NG in many situations (that I went over in the previous post ‘Chinanders Chess Move’), and finding one that can do everything for you isn’t really needed.
So then we take a look at the OLB in the 3-4. I get that besides JoJo we have a ton of guys that are just trying to find a niche or are role specific and not all-encompassing. But Luke Gifford grew up 10 minutes from Memorial Stadium and was an All-Conference linebacker in the 3-4 for us. JoJo Domann has been one of the best defenders on our team the last season or two. What about all the guys like Randy Gregory and Avery Moss that we were able to recruit before when we weren’t even running a 3-4 but said we needed to run it? The argument that OLB is tough to recruit to is because people think they need to stop the run as well as rush the passer… i’ll give that to them. Unless you are Bama, Clemson, Ohio State you aren’t getting those guys (but i’d again point to Jean-Baptiste that if not for a snow day was signing with us and not Ohio State).
I also love the thing people would throw out of “well this guy was recruited to play 3 technique in a 4-3” (you heard that about the Davis twins) or “he’s more of a fit for a 4-3”. Well, the Davis twins were both drafted by teams who run a 3-4 and are currently still on those rosters. Is the NFL just dumb and doesn’t understand they are 4-3 guys? Or what about Aaron Donald? People said he was a 4-3 guy out of Pitt and not a 3-4 guy at all:
Best fit for Donald?
The question NFL teams need to answer is where Donald would fit within their defensive scheme, and would he even fit their scheme?
The answer isn’t as simple as some might think, mainly due to the fact that his athleticism and pass-rushing ability would make him attractive to teams that might generally want a little more beef along the defensive line.
Donald’s best fit is a 3-tech defensive tackle in a 4/3 defense. He could use his quickness and explosiveness to attack the backfield on every snap, but all schemes aren’t created equal.
Anchoring against the run isn’t Donald’s game. There won’t be any 3/4 defenses drafting Donald to play 5-tech and harnessing his quickness to anchor against the run.
That’s like buying a Ferrari and never taking it on the highway.
Crazy to think that someone that’s such a bad fit for a 3-4 won the NFL MVP in 2017 when the Rams switched to a 3-4 from a 4-3 under Wade Philips….
My point? It’s all excuses with little merit and trying to rationalize why we haven’t been as dominant this century. We can get who we want/need to run whatever defense the DC at Nebraska wants to run. It’s not harder to get certain players here. It may be more difficult to get the five star guy, but Randy Gregory was a 2 star, Luke Gifford was the lowest 3 star, and on down the list. The two leaders for the NCAA in sacks last year were 2 stars that went to Tulane and San Jose State. The top P5 guy was Will McDonald IV from Iowa State who only had offers from them and New Mexico. We can get guys who get to the QB here.
Lastly, I believe the 3-4 affords you the ability to match up better with the multiple formations you are going to see from offenses. 4 LBs and 4 DBs give you 8 guys who can potentially cover as opposed to 7. I think that’s a big deal with college football nowadays. And pretty self-explanatory so won’t go too deep into it.
So you heard me reference the fact that OLBs and what fans are thinking we need to get can be a bit skewed based on your philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, i’ll take Randy Gregory and Avery Moss and Luke Gifford all day that can do everything. But i’m going to give you a quote from the Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator:
“I’ll take cover corners all day long over finding edge rushers. I can scheme ways to get to the quarterback.”
I like using Martindale and the Ravens as an example because they have the “hybrid 3-4/4-3 depending who you are playing” like what Chinander and Nebraska does. If you remember some of the things I said in the post “Chinanders Chess Move”, I showed a video of Will Honas getting home because Chinander schemed something up. Again, not trying to tell people I don’t want all-encompassing OLBs, but I think we can get situations where a pass-rushing OLB isn’t absolutely needed. Cam Taylor-Britt has overtaken Domann as our best defensive player in my opinion, and we have options at the other corner like Newsome, Johnson, Clark, Buford, etc. Travis Fisher has created a deep room in the defensive backfield, which allows us to have the Ravens and Martindale’s philosophy. When you have guys in the secondary playing like they are, it allows you the ability to get different blitz packages home to the QB like this one:
Now, I understand it was a shortened season. I understand we had no out of conference gimme games to boost our sack totals, but Will Honas led our team in sacks last year. I can see the argument both ways on if that’s good or bad, but my glass is half full response there is our DC used the same philosophy that the Ravens DC did in that he used our strength (DBs) to help us get pressure in certain situations. Now it would help to have the Davis twins back getting 12 sacks from the DE spot, but i’ll again point out that Chinander used what we had to get the most out of us.