Friday, September 25, 1998
Huskies can't prepare enough for Huskers' option
By Mike Gottfried Special to ESPN.com
From playing Washington last year, the Nebraska Cornhuskers know
Washington really well. They know Washington uses an eight-man front on defense. Eight-man front teams were designed to play the option, but Nebraska has ripped eight-man fronts.
What Nebraska will do is come out and establish one of its five or six
options and its blocking schemes according to what Washington tries to
do. The Huskies are going to show a lot of movement and change up the
responsibilities on the option. In other words, either the defensive
tackle or defensive end will have the fullback, maybe the linebacker
will take the quarterback, and the safety will take the pitchman. Then
they'll exchange assignments. The Huskies will get as many different
combinations of who will take the dive, who will the quarterback and who
will take the pitch and try to confuse Bobby Newcombe a little bit.
The return of DeAngelo Evans gives Nebraska another potent weapon in the backfield.
But option teams like Nebraska make the best adjustments in the second
half because they understand what you're trying to do to them. It's like
the passing game in reverse. Option teams figure out how a defense is
trying to take away the option and adjust accordingly. I look for
Nebraska to use some load schemes, which means whoever the defense puts
on the quarterback, the Huskers will load with a fullback and block
them. Now all of the sudden the person the defense has assigned to the
quarterback is going to get blocked. So everything changes
The other thing that's really important for Washington is to get its
secondary involved, but not too fast. The Huskies need to make sure
they're always in some kind of three-deep coverage. For instance, last
week LSU ran the option enough to bait Auburn into the safety rolling
up there to get the pitchman, and the Tigers then threw the post behind
him. The post route and the play-action passing game behind the option
is strong. Washington can not give up a big play off that. So you'll
see a lot of movement on Washington's front, a lot of exchanges in the
option responsibility, and someone in center field all the time.
One thing Nebraska does that's different from other option teams is the
Huskers try to establish the fullback -- in their case, Joel Makovicka. They
always work inside out. A lot of option teams work outside in. They
establish the fullback as well as anyone does in the country. So I think
they'll establish Makovicka. Newcombe being back at quarterback really
helps them because he's very talented.
It's a chess game when you play an option football team. Something
Washington has worked on this week is people blocking the ankles of their
defensive players. An option team will use a lot of cut blocking, a lot
more than when you face a power team or a dropback passing team. You see
more chopping of the linebackers and the secondary. That's going to be
important for the Huskies, especially since they've played passing teams
in their first two games, and passing teams like to block high. Nebraska
is a reverse animal for them now.
There are a lot of drills a team can do to prepare for an option team
that blocks at the ankles. One is placing three blockers against one
defender. You put the blockers in an I formation and place the defensive
player five yards away. After the coach whistles, the first guy tries to
block your ankles and you skate down the line of scrimmage. The second
guy comes right after you and then the third guy comes right after you.
As a matter of fact, Colorado State used that drill at the start of
practice as the Rams prepared for Air Force last week.
The toughest part, though, is you can't simulate an option offense in practice. No matter how hard you practice, your guys aren't used to running the option. Washington's scout team isn't used to running the option. You ask the scout team for a good look at the option, but they can't give it to them. So it's really important early in the game that
the Huskies find game speed.
The secondary is the most experienced unit on Washington's defense, and
that's a big plus for the Huskies. Those defensive backs can not give up
the big play. That's the key to this ballgame. The secondary has to
cover the pitch, but the Huskies always have to have somebody in center
field to help defend against the play-action passing.
On the other side of the ball, the Washington offense has looked at a
lot of film of Nebraska's season opener against pass-happy Louisiana
Tech. Two pro scouts told me last week they consider Brock Huard to
be the top quarterback in the country. That impressed me. He's been in
Washington's system for three years, and he fits the pro-style game more
than players like Tim Couch, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown.
Against Louisiana Tech, Nebraska's secondary and linebackers looked out
of place. Louisiana Tech was able to hit some post patterns early in the
game. And Washington knows Nebraska's defensive scheme. The Huskers give
you a lot of looks with their linebackers. They come up to the line of
scrimmage and play what I call a "hug" technique -- they try to blitz and
free other players up.
Washington likes to run a lot of short routes against Nebraska's
defense, but the Huskies saw some other areas to exploit from the
Louisiana Tech game. They'll try some posts and different flood patterns
that were successful for Louisiana Tech. It's going to be an interesting
match on that side of the ball in how well Washington can protect Huard.
I'm sure the Huskers are going to blitz, mix up coverages and get after
Huard like they did last year in Seattle when they knocked him out of
the game early.
Against Louisiana Tech, Nebraska didn't look as fast as Nebraska teams
in the past, and the Huskies have a receiver with sprinter speed in
Ja'Warren Hooker. But, again, the key for Washington is shutting down
the option the best it can but without giving up the long run or long
pass. If the Huskies can make Nebraska work and turn the ball over, they
have a shot.