Breakdown: Many factors involved in KU's poor pass protection against Nebraska
Welcome back to "Breakdown," where we'll look at some KU plays each week and try to go a little more in-depth into why they did or didn't work.
For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
This week, I've put together four examples of effective Nebraska pass rushes against Kansas from Saturday's game.
Let's go in order, starting with the first play.
KU's players should be able to see that Nebraska is bringing some sort of pressure by the way the Cornhuskers are aligned.
Not only is one of NU's linebackers lined up at defensive line level, but also, NU's nickelback creeps forward at the snap with his inside foot is up slightly closer to the line of scrimmage.
The nickelback's actions should indicate of two things for KU: Either he is covering the slot receiver man-to-man, or he is about to come on a blitz.
Coach admits this is an odd defensive line front, and that might add to the confusion for KU's offensive lineman.
So how does the blitz work?
NU's blitzing linebacker (red) loops around the nose tackle, while the defensive tackle (blue) loops two gaps and goes around both the nose tackle and linebacker.
Meanwhile, the nose tackle shifts to his right to occupy both KU's center and left guard to make it easier for the blitzers to get through.
"That’s pretty exotic right there, but they must have schemed it up and saw something that might work," Coach says. "And really, what makes this blitz is the left defensive end and the nickelback on the blitz up top."
Here, Coach says the defensive end (blue) is taught to either bull rush (rush straight toward KU's right tackle) or slant in toward the left* of KU's right tackle. That allows the blitzing nickelback (red) to run unblocked off the edge.
* — In the first version of this blog, I incorrectly put "right" instead of "left." It's been fixed above. Sorry for any confusion.
When KU running back Angus Quigley steps up to help with inside protection, NU's nickelback makes the sack. The Cornhuskers also get pressure from the middle with their blitz from the bottom of the screen.
KU had six guys to block six NU rushers, so technically, Coach says the Jayhawks should be able to pick this blitz up.
Coach says KU's left tackle should take the right defensive end, the guard, center and guard should take the two inside defensive tackles and the linebacker, the right tackle should take the left defensive end and the running back should take the blitzing nickelback.
"Now, that takes a pretty experienced offensive line, and guys who’ve been coached really well to be having their head and eyes up and definitely looking at what they’re supposed to be looking at," Coach says.
Coach says that KU's center Jeremiah Hatch was one player who didn't recognize the blitz quickly enough, as he sticks with a double-team inside.
"The center hangs onto that defensive tackle a little too long right there," Coach says. "He really should pass him off and realize the left guard is going to block that guy, then he should essentially block the blitzing linebacker."
On the second play, NU disguises its blitz a little more.
NU starts with a basic defensive alignment. The only indication that NU might blitz comes from linebacker Lavonte David, who is in a runner's stance in the middle of the screen.
"When you’re teaching inside linebackers, a lot of times, obviously their feet want to be square," Coach says, "but maybe they want him to have a good get-off right here to make sure and get there."
Coach says this sack is all a result of NU film study.
Once the ball is snapped, KU slide protects to its right. With that protection, left tackle Tanner Hawkinson blocks the outside defensive end, while the rest of KU's linemen slide to their right for pass protection.
NU has the perfect blitz for this type of protection.
The Cornhuskers' top defensive tackles both do a good job of looping up to their left to occupy KU's blockers and to clear a lane down below for the blitzing David.
Meanwhile, NU's right defensive end rushes to the outside, then executes a "peel." He bumps KU running back James Sims out of the backfield, then essentially is the defender who will cover Sims on this play.
His outside rush, combined with the defensive tackles' inside rush, leaves a huge hole in the B gap for David to blitz.
As you can see above, he gets to KU quarterback Quinn Mecham immediately for the sack.
"It’s an easy one to scheme and get a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Coach says. " ... (NU) definitely saw this one in film."
The third and fourth plays are much easier to diagnose: KU's offensive linemen simply get beat even when they have five men to block four rushers.
On the third play, Coach says both defensive ends are being told to keep outside contain, meaning they are to stay on the outside to keep the quarterback in the pocket.
Both defensive tackles have free rein, though, and Jared Crick simply beats KU left guard Sal Capra for the sack.
On the final play, NU's defensive tackles are able to get good pressure.
Coach points out that NU's pass-rushing technique is extremely sound.
"Watch them all right when they get into the offensive linemen. They do a technique I like to call, ‘Shooting their hands,'" Coach says.
"See how they shoot their hands into the chest plate off all KU’s offensive linemen?" Coach says. "That way, they can create separation, and when it’s time to go make the tackle, they can, technically, stiff-arm the offensive linemen off of them."
The four plays above show that KU's offensive line struggles last week were caused by more than a single issue. In different plays, KU 1. had trouble recognizing a blitz; 2. picked up the wrong blitzer; 3. was predictable in its scheme; and 4. couldn't execute a one-on-one block on a rushing lineman.
"It’s probably a combination of two things," Coach says. "Nebraska’s defensive line is pretty darned good, and KU’s offensive line needs some work."