You have all heard me for years sit and tell people that the 3-4 was fine if we wanted to run it in the B1G since Wisconsin did, tough for me to say it won’t work when the Badgers who got lesser rated recruits than us were a top 10 defense nationally with it. But I do have some concerns about the 3-3-5 holding up against teams like the Gophers, Hawkeyes, and Illinois. While offensively the Badgers and other teams are more spread you out and throw now, Tony White and the 3-3-5 did have success against the Gophers in the 2022 Pinstripe Bowl. This video is the reason for this breakdown and two part series:
So I think what that guy says sums up a lot of what Husker fans have concerns about (even though the spring game may have helped alleviate some of that). “Front 6” instead of a “Front 7” was cut off from his analysis as well, which also can scare some people. While I don’t think we are as small as Syracuse with guys like Robinson, Hutmacher, and Jeudy… it’s clear with us going after guys like Lenhardt, Umanmielen, and Wallin that we may be starting to shift more “quick” instead of “stout and powerful”. Of course we do have heavier guys like Van Poppel, Carroll-Jackson, and Lefotu that committed to us, so maybe i’m worrying for no reason as I tend to do. These posts will be dedicated to how a smaller Syracuse defense running the 3-3-5 stopped the boat rowers in the bowl game.
Nebraska starts off with probably the worst possible opponent to break in this new defense, as PJ Fleck is patient enough to sit and try to wear us down running the ball. He is completely fine with 2-4 yard runs and bubble screens. Remember, this is the team that came to Lincoln in 2020 with only 45 scholarship players and figured out Frost was trying to throw for some reason, so he ran the ball 70% of the time, had 35 minutes time of possession, and ended up beating us on the road with no one available. So this will be a test early for our guys. Not to mention, the bowl game to end the season last year and starting against us has them playing the exact same defense two games in a row (things change from year to year but let me make my point).
We start with analyzing the first quarter of the game…
Video 1 (1st and 10 14:52)
So I lied, the first “video” is actually a screenshot for you. This should look familiar from Syracuse’s defense. Even though we are a 3-3-5, the even front is in play with the 3 guys with their hand in the dirt like Hutmacher, Jeudy, Robinson, etc. we will have, then the other guy on the line of scrimmage standing up will be like Jimari Butler or MJ Sherman. Behind them are the 2 ILBs like Henrich and Reimer (one is shifted out slightly to help over the slot who is the TE up top). Standing next to the ref is the “rover” that guys like Gifford, Stenger, etc. will be playing. These are the guys that will be our “extra man” to get in the box for our 7th player to help stop the run. Then you of course have your corners and safeties.
I just wanted to show this because quite frankly I think this will be our basic defensive formation vs much of the B1G. Minnesota has 2 TEs (one of the split out guys is a TE) and 1 RB in the game, with 2 WRs split out wide.
2nd Video (2nd and 4 13:12)
On this video it will be exactly what I think a lot of our fears are with this defense. Minnesota has a nice 6 yard gain on first down, making it second and short. Syracuse goes with the true 3 man line, but walks one of the ILBs up on the LOS. For a team like Minnesota that is a massively heavy RPO team and an OL that outweighed them like the first video showed, this is run every day of the week. So if Syracuse has a “6 man front” and line up like this on 2nd and short, they are going to get killed.
But as you can see, there’s some movement to get the numbers more favorable. A safety/rover walks down late, a safety is down to the short side of the field, giving them 7 in the box and a numbers advantage. DC White gives a little stunt/twist with the 2 defensive linemen at the bottom and one of them almost makes the play in the backfield. But what happens next is what I think may happen to Nebraska a lot in 2023. Nebraska struggled with gap fitting against the run, you’ll see that #2 at ILB for Syracuse flys to his left trying to get to the outside of the guard. What happens is he gets washed outside of the tackle, and it turns into him and the walked down safety (#23) are both forcing the RB inside which can’t happen. Minnesotas RB takes off inside and gets the first down. If #2 doesn’t get washed, he can probably help keep this at 3rd down.
So a couple things with this… if we have unfavorable numbers in the box on a run down, expect some blitzing and twisting. Secondly, let’s see what happens when we play our first few games and how our run fits look. Syracuse had been running this defense for a few years and still made mistakes, this will be our first year. Can be scary.
Video 3 (1st and 10 7:14)
So one of the things you can do when teams are getting penetration like Syracuse was doing (even though they weren’t quite making the plays) is just block down on those guys and wash them where they are heading. Here, the Gophers use a split zone play (line all blocks down and H-Back/TE comes across to kick out last remaining guy) to wash down any penetrating defenders and the TE kicks out the edge defender. What ends up happening is a massive hole and a first down.
With multiple 2 TE sets against Syracuse, I expect the Gophers to deploy a lot of these types of plays against Nebraska. Especially with their massive run blocking TE back again in 2023. With that said, this was Minnesota’s longest rush of the day, so Syracuse did a good job isolating the runs and mitigating the damage.
4th Video (3rd and 4 5:25)
This 3rd and 4 is immediately following a play where Syracuse just straight up put too many players at the line of scrimmage for Minnesota to block which got them in a 3rd and medium where they may throw or may run. What DC White does here, and what you will see him do a lot with us, is blitz to try and force the issue in a quick manner. On this play, you see the 4 players across the LOS, but the inside linebackers do what’s called a Double A Blitz where they criss-cross trying to confuse the OL. With the TE up top going out for a pass, the Gophers still had plenty of guys to pick up all of the Orangmen rushing the passer. However, it causes confusion, as the RB helps up to his left but needed to stay to his right, as one of the players breaks free. You also see one of the DL with his hand on the ground rush until he touches the OL in front of him, then bail out back to catch any late screens. This makes it so the lineman for the Gophers couldn’t help double team the rushers and stayed one on one.
As i’ve talked about so many times, I am all for a defense that will force the issue and bring the fight to the offense rather than sit back and wait for mistakes to happen. With RPOs and all of the rules in favor of the offense, QBs/WRs/Offenses are just too good anymore.
5th Video (1st and 10 3:12)
On this 5th video, you’ll see Minnesota now puts both of their TEs on the same side (bottom). Our Rover is up into the box to help make sure that the Gophers can’t just run it down the throat. The problem then becomes that not only our Rover but our ILBs get sucked up on the play fake, and #9 Daniel Jackson (more on him later) is able to run a Dig route behind the second level for a first down. This will be the cat and mouse game that White will have to outsmart Fleck on.
6th Video (3rd and 4 1:16)
So we just talked about the cat and mouse game for Fleck vs White. And if you remember in the 4th video, DC White ran a Double A Blitz with a stunt that created a sack and fourth down due to the RB getting confused where to help. In this play, Syracuse does something similar where they stack the box (even though it’s not in the A gaps this time) and blitz people to create a quick throw. This time, Minnesota swings their RB out instead of helping with blitz pickup where the safety who is 12 yards deep is responsible for covering him. This results in an easy first down. I am really hoping we have a LB faster than 45 in this play.
For what it’s worth, part of me thinks #45 was supposed to rush through the RB and if he leaked that was his guy, but i’m speculating there and he was in a losing position anyway. Reimer is a much better athlete and may be able to handle that. Think about a guy like Fields (2023 commit) chasing that RB, he isn’t getting away from him like he did to the Syracuse guy.
End of 1st Quarter – Bonus Analysis
While Syracuse did a good job neutralizing Minnesota’s rushing attack, they didn’t do too bad against the pass either. Earlier we mentioned Daniel Jackson who is back for the Gophers and playing us in 2023, but he had 2 receiving touchdowns against Syracuse in this bowl game. Here is one of them:
If that’s our coverage and guys are making those kind of plays, we have to tip our cap to him. Here’s the problem… this is Jackson working against our best corner last year:
Now that’s a double move where that corner needs help from his safety, but the overall point i’m making is that guy is good and our corners are going to need to win some of those one on one matchups against him to come home with a ‘W’ from Minneapolis.
Wrap It Up
That was first quarter plays to kind of show how we can have some good and be in some trouble with this defense. It showed you what Minnesota did to counter what DC White was throwing at them. You can bet both guys have watched this film over a dozen times, trying to figure out how they will counter each other. But the overwhelming sentiment from me is I love that we are going to be aggressive and try and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Part 2 for the rest of the game will be up on tomorrow. We will then have a post with our thoughts on some new commits on Thursday, as well as just what is going on with our recruiting and some opinions there.
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