Young: How Illini can slow down the Huskers offense

Illini Inquirer football analyst Micheal Young breaks down how to slow down the Nebraska offense, which ranks second in the Big Ten in total offense and third in scoring offense

A couple of firsts that take place this Saturday afternoon when Illinois opens up Big Ten conference play against Nebraska.

It will be the first time the Cornhuskers visit Champaign as a member of the Big Ten. Also, Wes Lunt will play his first game against Nebraska since he missed last year's game in Lincoln due to a fractured fibula.

However, this won't be the first time this season the Illini defense will face a dual threat quarterback, an explosive wide receiver and a bevy of different running backs. 

Nebraska has many similarities with North Carolina, which defeated the Illini 48-14 in Chapel Hill, led by quarterback Marquise Williams, wide receiver Ryan Switzer and running back Elijah Hood.

Illinois co-defensive coordinators Tim Banks and Mike Phair will get another opportunity to face another dynamic trio led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (the co-offensive B1G Player of the Week), wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and a bevy of different running backs who each bring a unique style to the Cornhuskers rushing attack. 

All coaches, including new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley, like to revisit the plays that gave the opposing team issues in previous games. So look for Nebraska to take a page out of North Carolina's playbook when it comes to the read option. UNC's Williams gave the Illini defense a lot of trouble two weeks ago.

Read-option

For example, head coach Larry Fedora wanted to take advantage of the Illini front four and the Illini's one-gap scheme, which is used to get up field and cause disruption. 

A read option play designates a defender to leave unblocked and in this case. In the play below, it was defensive end Dawaune Smoot.

Smoot saw tight end Brandon Fitts running right at him for a kick-out block. Smoot was in position to get underneath and spill the ball toward the sideline. But Fitts avoided Smoot and arc blocked linebacker Lakeith Walls, pinning him inside and creating a running lane for Williams. Also, keep in mind that this play was run into the boundary or the short side of the field. 

Nebraska has a similar play in their playbook.

This read option play was also run into the boundary. Nebraska leaves DE Dylan Bradley unblocked while using tight end Sam Cotton to arc block and pin in the first defender he sees, LB Brian Anderson. This sets up a big run by Armstrong Jr.

Play-action

Riley will scheme some perimeter play-action passes out of the zone-stretch concept to get Armstrong Jr. on the move. During these plays, Riley gives Armstrong Jr. the option to run or pass the ball. Armstrong Jr. can make throws from the pocket but he's at his best on the move.

Nebraska takes an early lead over Southern Miss with a bootleg pass play. Wide receiver Brandon Riley went in motion into the boundary, signaling a potential run alert for the Golden Eagles. The Cornhusker offensive line run action looks the same whether it's run or pass because they all step in unison, forcing the Golden Eagles linebacker to come downhill toward the line of scrimmage.

Also, Armstrong Jr. was able to come back to the wide side of the field because Bradley lost contain.  The result was a touchdown to his favorite receiver, Westerkamp. 

Keys to slowing Huskers

Eye discipline will be the key for the Illini to slow down the Cornhuskers offense. Riley will continue to add in some misdirection plays offensively to get the defense out of position from the front seven to the secondary.

Nebraska had a lot of success versus the Illini in respect to the run game. The Illini rush defense gave up 458 yards last year in Lincoln, so look for the Cornhuskers to come out and try to establish the run early. I expect the Illini front four to win the battle up front, causing negative plays in the run game.

In passing situations, the front four and blitzers need to build a wall in front of Armstrong Jr. to take away any open seam if he takes off and run. The linebackers and secondary need to stay disciplined when Armstrong Jr. starts to scramble, because he needs to cross the line of scrimmage before the defense pursues him. If they pursue too early, the Huskers receivers will be left open down the field. So the Illini must add pressure on Armstrong Jr. facing the pass.

Illinois must limit the explosive plays in the running game (10+yards) and passing game (20+yards) in order to slow down the Nebraska offense and have the chance to pull off another first -- the Illini's first victory over Nebraska since 1924.


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Nebraska has a similar play in their playbook.

\n

This read option play was also run into the boundary. Nebraska leaves DE Dylan Bradley unblocked while using tight end Sam Cotton to arc block and pin in the first defender he sees, LB Brian Anderson. This sets up a big run by Armstrong Jr.

\n

\n

Play-action

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Riley will scheme some perimeter play-action passes out of the zone-stretch concept to get Armstrong Jr. on the move. During these plays, Riley gives Armstrong Jr. the option to run or pass the ball. Armstrong Jr. can make throws from the pocket but he's at his best on the move.

\n

Nebraska takes an early lead over Southern Miss with a bootleg pass play. Wide receiver Brandon Riley went in motion into the boundary, signaling a potential run alert for the Golden Eagles. The Cornhusker offensive line run action looks the same whether it's run or pass because they all step in unison, forcing the Golden Eagles linebacker to come downhill toward the line of scrimmage.

\n

Also, Armstrong Jr. was able to come back to the wide side of the field because Bradley lost contain.  The result was a touchdown to his favorite receiver, Westerkamp. 

\n

\n

Keys to slowing Huskers

\n

Eye discipline will be the key for the Illini to slow down the Cornhuskers offense. Riley will continue to add in some misdirection plays offensively to get the defense out of position from the front seven to the secondary.

\n

Nebraska had a lot of success versus the Illini in respect to the run game. The Illini rush defense gave up 458 yards last year in Lincoln, so look for the Cornhuskers to come out and try to establish the run early. I expect the Illini front four to win the battle up front, causing negative plays in the run game.

\n

In passing situations, the front four and blitzers need to build a wall in front of Armstrong Jr. to take away any open seam if he takes off and run. The linebackers and secondary need to stay disciplined when Armstrong Jr. starts to scramble, because he needs to cross the line of scrimmage before the defense pursues him. If they pursue too early, the Huskers receivers will be left open down the field. So the Illini must add pressure on Armstrong Jr. facing the pass.

\n

Illinois must limit the explosive plays in the running game (10+yards) and passing game (20+yards) in order to slow down the Nebraska offense and have the chance to pull off another first -- the Illini's first victory over Nebraska since 1924.

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A couple of firsts that take place this Saturday afternoon when Illinois opens up Big Ten conference play against Nebraska.

It will be the first time the Cornhuskers visit Champaign as a member of the Big Ten. Also, Wes Lunt will play his first game against Nebraska since he missed last year's game in Lincoln due to a fractured fibula.

However, this won't be the first time this season the Illini defense will face a dual threat quarterback, an explosive wide receiver and a bevy of different running backs.

Nebraska has many similarities with North Carolina, which defeated the Illini 48-14 in Chapel Hill, led by quarterback Marquise Williams, wide receiver Ryan Switzer and running back Elijah Hood.

Illinois co-defensive coordinators Tim Banks and Mike Phair will get another opportunity to face another dynamic trio led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (the co-offensive B1G Player of the Week), wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and a bevy of different running backs who each bring a unique style to the Cornhuskers rushing attack.

All coaches, including new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley, like to revisit the plays that gave the opposing team issues in previous games. So look for Nebraska to take a page out of North Carolina's playbook when it comes to the read option. UNC's Williams gave the Illini defense a lot of trouble two weeks ago.

Read-option

For example, head coach Larry Fedora wanted to take advantage of the Illini front four and the Illini's one-gap scheme, which is used to get up field and cause disruption.

A read option play designates a defender to leave unblocked and in this case. In the play below, it was defensive end Dawaune Smoot.

Smoot saw tight end Brandon Fitts running right at him for a kick-out block. Smoot was in position to get underneath and spill the ball toward the sideline. But Fitts avoided Smoot and arc blocked linebacker Lakeith Walls, pinning him inside and creating a running lane for Williams. Also, keep in mind that this play was run into the boundary or the short side of the field.

Nebraska has a similar play in their playbook.

This read option play was also run into the boundary. Nebraska leaves DE Dylan Bradley unblocked while using tight end Sam Cotton to arc block and pin in the first defender he sees, LB Brian Anderson. This sets up a big run by Armstrong Jr.

Play-action

Riley will scheme some perimeter play-action passes out of the zone-stretch concept to get Armstrong Jr. on the move. During these plays, Riley gives Armstrong Jr. the option to run or pass the ball. Armstrong Jr. can make throws from the pocket but he's at his best on the move.

Nebraska takes an early lead over Southern Miss with a bootleg pass play. Wide receiver Brandon Riley went in motion into the boundary, signaling a potential run alert for the Golden Eagles. The Cornhusker offensive line run action looks the same whether it's run or pass because they all step in unison, forcing the Golden Eagles linebacker to come downhill toward the line of scrimmage.

Also, Armstrong Jr. was able to come back to the wide side of the field because Bradley lost contain. The result was a touchdown to his favorite receiver, Westerkamp.

Keys to slowing Huskers

Eye discipline will be the key for the Illini to slow down the Cornhuskers offense. Riley will continue to add in some misdirection plays offensively to get the defense out of position from the front seven to the secondary.

Nebraska had a lot of success versus the Illini in respect to the run game. The Illini rush defense gave up 458 yards last year in Lincoln, so look for the Cornhuskers to come out and try to establish the run early. I expect the Illini front four to win the battle up front, causing negative plays in the run game.

In passing situations, the front four and blitzers need to build a wall in front of Armstrong Jr. to take away any open seam if he takes off and run. The linebackers and secondary need to stay disciplined when Armstrong Jr. starts to scramble, because he needs to cross the line of scrimmage before the defense pursues him. If they pursue too early, the Huskers receivers will be left open down the field. So the Illini must add pressure on Armstrong Jr. facing the pass.

Illinois must limit the explosive plays in the running game (10+yards) and passing game (20+yards) in order to slow down the Nebraska offense and have the chance to pull off another first -- the Illini's first victory over Nebraska since 1924.

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