The Nebraska rush offense received a lot of attention for being an “option” attack but the truth is option football was only a part of a well thought out and balanced rush attack. A related and important part of the option attack was the complementary trap style of run play. These trapping type of plays often did not gain as many yards as the option versions or other outside perimeter plays but these runs still played an integral role in the rush offense.
Football has always been a balance of both power and deception. Nebraska exhibited this principle in their rush attack by having plays that looked alike yet were different. Specifically as Milt Tenopir noted in different articles and clinics they ran a lot of complimentary plays that looked similar to the defense initially in terms of backfield action and blocking scheme but then attacked a different gap in actuality.
One good example of this concept is the Nebraska running play numbered 32-38 (32 to the right, 38 to the left). This play exhibited the same blocking scheme essentially as the belly option play that went by the same number.
The backfield set is not included in this diagram but the blocking action up front is identical in concept to the belly option play (32-38 Option) in the Nebraska Playbook. For the option version of the play the fullback received a dive fake hand off and either plugged the hole created by the pulling play side guard or continued on with his run to influence the linebackers. Meanwhile the QB and the running back would continue on to run the option to the outside keeping or pitching the ball off the designated pitch key. Eventually after seeing this play a few times the defense would get accustomed to the blocking action and the backfield motion and start to cheat or anticipate the play to the outside.
When this happened Nebraska would eventually come back with the fullback trap version of the play. Or conversely of course they might use the fullback trap play to set up the complimentary option variant. Either way works. Here is a diagram of the fullback trap play versus different sample fronts.
The darkened circle is the ball carrier in the diagram. Compare this to this diagram where the same initial backfield action is exhibited but the ball instead stays with the QB or the I Back on the belly option play (see below). The result is a defender in conflict. Cheating or anticipating the play to one gap or the other by the defense could lead to disastrous consequences in the event of an error.
In this way Nebraska kept the defense guessing throughout the game on what play was actually developing. Even after the snap and initial movement of the backfield etc. you could not be sure until the ball was handed off. Factor in pulling linemen and a QB reversing out from under center, etc. and this was no small task to read properly. Here are about 12 minutes of Nebraska run plays plays 32-38 Trap involving this concept.
Here are the Trap Option or Belly Option Complimentary Plays
This was one of the better examples of a complimentary play I could find with text, diagrams, and video but it was not the only play to exhibit this concept in the Nebraska running game. Nor was this the only trapping type of play either. Another common fullback trap was Nebraska play 34-36 while I will show below. This trap play was more of a quick hitting fullback trap play where the back side guard pulled instead of the onside guard. Here is an example in diagram form.
These plays were often run of course from the I Formation. This middle fullback trap was the most common of the Nebraska trap plays according to Tenopir and popular with the offensive linemen as they could often get the play up into the secondary without any help from other offensive players. It was also an effective play to run versus quick penetrating defensive schemes. The backfield action here was similar to the Wall Option (a version of play 11-19 option) click here for example.
Nebraska run several other trap plays in addition to the main two outlined above. One was a tackle trap play which utilized the following type of trapping action utilizing the tackle instead of the guards. Often it was run with the QB in shotgun formation.
These trap plays did not generate as much publicity in the media as the option plays but they still played a huge roll in setting up the option plays for success. Conversely the options plays helped set up the success of the trap plays as well in complementary fashion. Here below is a short video with two famous run plays by Nebraska fullback Cory Schlesinger versus Miami in the Orange Bowl. You can see the plays from overhead and then behind. Both plays went for touchdowns. One involves the 32-38 Trap style of blocking and the other is the shorter quick trap play 34-36 versus Miami’s 4-3 over front (1 tech, 5 tech, 3 tech, 9 tech).