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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.

 DeAngelo Evans
 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.