Yesterday, we began breaking down the top five formations that should be found in the Cornhuskers’ playbooks come the fall. First came the Ace. Today, we examine Nebraska’s take on the Shotgun.
Base Personnel: Quarterback
Additional Personnel: Variations of wide receivers, tight end, and running backs (up to five players)
Suggested Players: Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Kyler Reed, Rex Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah
Regardless of down and distance, the Shotgun formation is a pass-first set. Often set back about five yards behind center, the quarterback is the nucleus of the formation. Beyond the quarterback and offensive line, the formation allows for a mix of five wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.
A common set in the Shotgun, as pictured below, is three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back. In 2011, Nebraska utilized the Shotgun in a variety of ways: five wide receivers, three wide receivers, two running backs, etc.
The notion that the Shotgun is pass-first has served the Huskers well in their use of zone read, reverses and Martinez’s runs in general. Take a look at the photo above. Despite being a first down, both safeties are ten yards back with one almost fifteen yards from the line of scrimmage.
This is a perfect opportunity for Nebraska to deal severe damage from the Shotgun.
With their backfield speed, the Huskers have and will continue to spread the defense to exploit open running lanes. Using different personnel, they can work from the Shotgun in a variety of situations rather than just in downs with long distances.
Utilizing Nebraska’s Shotgun
Nebraska is no different than any other team in terms of selection of plays: The goal is obviously to get the best match ups. In the first set we’ll examine, the Huskers do just that by getting their top receivers and backs on the field in a formation that favors passing, but provides an excellent opportunity for running.
Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, and Jamal Turner would be split out at wide receiver with Burkhead and Abdullah in the backfield.
From this formation, zone read is just as easy to run as any pass play. The formation can be used in most downs with a variety of distances. The flexibility, both in play calling and personnel, is what makes the Shotgun formation so appealing.
Beyond the formation’s traditional plays, Nebraska has already shown the ability to use their play makers in this set in new ways.
Down 21 points to Michigan, the Huskers were three and a half yards from a touchdown on second and goal. Tim Beck showed a flash of brilliance that left Brady Hoke cross-armed, ESPN commentator Urban Meyer laughing and Huskers grinning from ear to ear. What appeared as a simple zone read play became a new triple option of sorts.
Pictured above, Martinez first reads the defensive end. Upon making that read, Martinez hands off to Burkhead. It’s a play Nebraska fans have seen time and time again. On this occasion, the formation allowed for a second set of options: Burkhead could keep or pitch to Abdullah.
Confronted with the strong safety, Burkhead makes the pitch and Abdullah coasts into the end zone. This play is just one example of the formation’s dynamic.
The second set we look at features a familiar look with five wide receivers. The first three receivers in this formation would likely be the same as the first set with Enunwa, Bell, and Turner, but the Huskers have a number of options for their fourth and fifth players.
Tim Marlowe and Taariq Allen are likely selections, but incoming freshman Jordan Westerkamp provides a unique target if he doesn’t redshirt. Nebraska has both physicality and speed at the wide receiver position, meaning Beck can dial up a number of routes.
With five receivers, the immediate thought is the offense is looking for large gains through longer passes. However, The Huskers have used this set for bubble screens, reverses and a number of other plays that may begin with small gains or even a loss, but can be sprung for huge chunks of yardage, if not touchdowns.
With such flexibility, the offense exploits the fact that the defense has to account for the attempt of a long play against them. Since Nebraska’s opponent is in deeper pass protection, the coverage underneath is “softer” and allows for smaller gains, sometimes repeatedly.
As long as time isn’t a factor, an offense can nickel and dime their way downfield with this set.
With the set maxed out on receivers, Martinez has a littany of passing options. A strong mix of short to long routes combined with each receiver’s unique abilities and Martinez’s running talents means potential for consistent gains from this use of the Shotgun formation.
Much like the Ace, it’s a standard formation and many teams do use it, but it worked well for Beck, even in a four-loss campaign. That’s why the Shotgun needs to stay.