3-3-5 vs Minnesota Part 2

As we did yesterday, we will start where this post is coming from, feel free to post this link to your message boards.

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).

Let’s move on to second quarter action and continue from our blog yesterday (linked below if you haven’t taken a look yet)

Video 1 (3rd and 8 9:21)

We start our part 2 off with how the Gophers really got some good chunk plays against Syracuse. Minnesota was hitting their outside #1 WRs all day on stop routes and out routes. In this play, you can see a trips formation to the top. The nickel is over the #2 WR and at the snap you see the corner bail out, the nickel is responsible for underneath. Athan Kaliakmanis (who is back this year and will be a handful for our secondary) makes a ton of big boy throws against the Syracuse defense.

Kaliakmanis (the QB who made the throw) is back this year after starting 5 games for an injured Tanner Morgan at the end of the season. He ended up with a 54% completion percentage, 900 yards passing, with 3 TDs and 4 INTs on the season. Hardly something to write home about, but you can see he was making the throws necessary to dissect this defense if you don’t put some pressure on him. He left this game with a high ankle sprain in the second quarter.

Can Newsome and whoever starts opposite him stop their WRs? But if it’s this defense it will be up to our nickels like Gifford and others. I think I can live with Minnesota having to throw opposite hash out routes to beat us like this video, but we can’t let it happen all game. Again, take the fight to them.

Video 2 (2nd and 10 8:17)

Speaking of guys that will be back, Minnesota has a top TE returning in Brevyn Spann-Ford. While he only had 2 receptions this game, he had 42 receptions for 497 yards last year and 2 scores. Spann-Ford is a massive human as he goes 6’7″ and 265 pounds. He sat out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery, but he is also a punishing blocker. I look for him to crush some of our smaller edge players playing along the line of scrimmage. Here you see him sneaking behind the LOS for a quick pass reception.

Video 3 (3rd and 12)

So one of the things I really like about this defense (and i’ll get into it in the summary) is how we just try to get up field and create havoc. Beating a dead horse, slicing up field and being aggressive to make the RB make a quick decision rather than waiting for a hole to develop. Here you have the DT up top who is #45 and is 5’11” 266 pounds just trying to shoot a gap and disrupt things in the backfield. In no way should a 266 pound DT be doing this to a Minnesota line who is that much bigger. But here you see what can happen if you get aggressive.

Video 4 (2nd and 10 :50)

So while I sit here and talk about how great it is to be aggressive… Minnesota with the “check with me” offense where the QB can look to the sideline once the defense shows their handhas the ability to counter pretty well. Here you see the 4 man line, with 2 linebackers showing blitz. You see Morgan check to the sideline then audible to a jailbreak screen to #9 (again from last post at the end). This will be the cat and mouse game all day between Nebraska and Minnesota in our first game.

I promise you there will be plays like this throughout the year, and i’ll end up in an argument with someone that says “see that’s why you can’t blitz like we do” and completely neglect when the blitzing works to create punts and turnovers. But i’m ready for that fight.

Video 5 (3rd and 2 11:44)

In this video, you see what we are all probably wanting to see. Our main concern as fans is the B1G is 3 yards and a cloud of dust (slew of rubber pellets since field turf now?), leaving tons of 3rd and shorts. How will the 3-3-5 be able to stop those situations? Here you see a packed line of scrimmage and all of the Orangemen defenders trying to fight across face of the line, forcing a fourth and short. Note up top Spann-Ford completely destroying the defender showing how good of a blocker he is as a TE, but it didn’t matter.

Bonus video here of the same thing later in the 4th to show it’s not just some fluke:


As has been discussed on message boards, at family gatherings, and generally anywhere within Nebraska, the 3-3-5 is going to be a new concept for us to watch on football Saturdays in the fall. But as these videos show, the lining up isn’t all that much different than what we were used to seeing with the 3-4 defenses with Diaco and Chinander. The main change is a philosophical one in that we aren’t going to sit back and wait for a mistake by the offense, we are going to create it.

Even going back to the Bo Pelini days with the “Peso” (which has many similarities to DC White’s 3-3-5), our defense would try to 2-gap and wait for the offense to commit a penalty, incomplete pass, etc., putting them behind the chains and getting them off schedule. You saw it work brilliantly in the Big12 championship game against Texas, where Coach Pelini just let Suh 2 gap and destroy people making it nearly impossible for their offense to do anything. However, when you don’t have a once in a generation talent like that, you typically get what we’ve seen the last decade from us.

It always bothered me that we would go “bend but don’t break” yet be in the bottom half of the FBS for a scoring defense. That seems like “bend until you break” type stuff to me. We would sit back and wait for a mistake to be made, only to not see one happen and Oklahoma score 49 on you, Ohio State score 52 on you, Michigan score 56 on you… ok you get the point. Today’s offenses are too good at “taking what you give them” anymore and bubble screens for 4 yards or running into a favorable box for 4 yards are all too prevalent. Nebraska for far too long has let the fight come to them instead of initiating it.

If any of you followed me at the message board I used to be on, I would tell people i’d rather get gashed trying to create havoc and being aggressive on defense and give up 56, rather than sit there and be papercut to death and give up 49. At least we are trying with the former. This defense is going to do that. Coach White is going to call aggressive blitzes, stunts, twists, and any other variation to try and dictate to the offense what to do. In many of these videos above, you saw penetration into the backfield which made the RB either cut up field early or string it out to the sideline. With our smaller DL we are recruiting, we HAVE to do things like that. Because again, you don’t have a Suh that can sit and just fend 2 or 3 guys off and keep them at bay on the line.

I’m excited for this change, and curious to see where it takes us. Gap fits on runs is going to be a huge factor for this, and that is one of the things that has plagued the Huskers the most. So I do expect a game or two where we come with “that didn’t work” just like what happened with Pelini in 2008 against Missouri. Pelini after the game basically said “I didn’t like our defensive scheme and we got out-coached”. There’s going to be a night or two like that for us in year 1, but the overall change will be a positive one in my opinion. You’ll have to deal with people saying “we shouldn’t have blitzed there” or things like that, but I won’t be mad at a DC trying to create anarchy for offenses when things are skewed so heavily in favor of the team with the ball nowadays.

Thursday we will go over the recent commits of McMorris, Guthrie, Lacy, and Hall (along with a few walk-ons). Most likely Nelson too since we are at 80%.

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