Bo Pelini and Nebraska wrapped up the 2011 spring preparations with a very vanilla, bland, much ado about nothing type of offensive performance that left many wanting more. Nebraska fans were hoping for a showcase of the type of offense to expect come the Cornhusker's inaugural season as a Big 10 member. It wasn't to be.
Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck have an advantage and they are going to play this poker game to the very end, to the last turn of the river card with Big 10 defensive coordinators. No need to put on tape or show your cards, five to six months before the Cornhuskers first step foot in the Big 10.
Though we know very little about Pelini and Beck's intentions, maybe something can be learned by checking the history of the Big 10, Pelini and Beck.
Here we go on a little ride through Big 10 history and tradition.
The Big 10 is the oldest of the major athletic conferences. It's a conference deep in football tradition, in the way it views itself and in the way and manner that Big 10 football is played. Big 10 football is blood and guts, bloody nose, broken face-mask, physical, man on man football. It's the way the game was played in its very first days and those roots run deep in the Big 10. Those are the staples of football in the Big 10. With those very basic and fundamental core values comes the game-plan for the way the game is played on the field in the Big 10.
Woody Hayes made famous the "three yards and a cloud of dust" phrase, paying homage to the physical run game and bruising running style of Big 10 offenses. To Woody and even well before Woody, this is how real men play football. In Woody's day,and even before, to line up with three wide receivers on the field would be blasphemy. To some degree, although not completely, this still holds very true. No one knows this better than current Nebraska coach and Ohio State alumni Bo Pelini.
What does this mean?
In this old blueprint that Big 10 offenses have traditionally followed is a scheme for defending them. That "three yards and cloud of dust offense" is best defended by large, physical, defensive lineman, who stand up to behemoth offensive lineman, over-sized linebackers meeting the running back in the hole and hard-tackling physical safeties providing extra run support.
There is no need to rehash the recent struggles of Big 10 teams outside the conference, especially during bowl season against teams from the south. It has often appeared that Big 10 defenses are out of sorts when defending smaller, speedy athletic offensive playmakers in open space. Using three or more wide receiver sets against Big 10 defenses seems to be the rule, because it forces over-sized linebackers and safeties to do something that they generally aren't doing in the Big 10–covering smaller, faster athletic players in open space.
Getting the running back involved in the pass game usually gets them matched up with a larger, slower, far less athletic linebacker in open space. Wheel routes, flare passes and inside pass routes to running backs also usually find them matched up on a slower less agile linebacker.
With long held tradition, i.e. physical football defended with large players, comes a possible stubbornness to resist change, an unwillingness to make tactical changes and adjustments that might help Big 10 defenses defend speedier players.
The 2011 Nebraska offense will be the first true Pelini offense. It appears that with players like running backs Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and wide receivers Jamal Turner, Kyler Reed, Tim Marlowe, Kenny Bell that speed, even if a bit undersized, will be the calling card of this Nebraska offense. Ty Kildow and his 4.3 speed in that small package may even find himself a niche in this offense.
How this speed is used by Pelini and Beck remains to be seen.