Nebraska Running Game - Part 8 (Power & Shovel)

Here are the final two plays from the Nebraska rushing game for which I have some video. This post will end the eight part look at the Nebraska rushing offense of the 1980’s and 90’s. I may take apart an entire sample game time allowing later in the Spring or Summer. Unfortunately I was not able to locate video for every run in the playbook but the past several posts cover the important 80-90% of the attack. A few other plays such as QB counters, draw plays, and a couple other special items are in the playbook if you visit Coach Teed’s playbook site or track down a copy another way.

In this post I’ll briefly post two final plays the “power run play” and the “shovel pass” both of which were used effectively by Nebraska in different situations. The power play was a standard all down and short yardage play for Nebraska. The shovel pass was used in different situations versus penetrating linemen or on 3rd down and long, etc. in lieu of a pass or draw play. When defenses made a mistake either play could result in big yardage.

The Nebraska version of the power play is a fairly standard “kick out” and “lead up” play utilizing a pulling backside guard and a fullback. Here is a page from the playbook versus some common fronts.

The following video clip has some narration regarding the play by former offensive line coach Milt Tenopir.

Other blocking assignments for 42 Power Play are shown here on this page.

The second interesting play I want to finish up with in this post is the shovel pass. I don’t know what year Nebraska started running this play. Most of the plays I have outlined in previous posts were in Nebraska playbooks going back to the early 1980’s. This one appears in the 1995 playbook but I could not find it in the 1983 playbook copy I have. I suspect it was added somewhere in the middle of those years.

In his book The Assembly Line Coach Tenopir notes that Nebraska had three versions of the play but all were run off of some form inside zone blocking. Some as shown below utilized a pulling guard as well. Often this play was run from a spread formation with 3 WR’s and one running back. The big difference in blocking on the play compared to the inside zone blocks are which LB’s get sealed off on the play.

The shovel play becomes an option play for the quarterback. If the defensive end comes up the field to stop the QB the quarterback shovels the ball forward to the tailback or other player depending upon motion and formation, etc. Nebraska often used motion with the play and the shovel pass was directed to a wingback. In either case if the defensive end closes down to stop the inside run then the QB will bounce around him outside and run the ball himself.

Tenopir notes that “because we run the inside zone running plays several times and game, and execute the naked bootleg off the inside zone run this shovel pass gives us an additional way to put the defensive end in a bind on the play.” In this way most every Nebraska running play has a base type of run action, a counter type of run action, and in addition a play action pass as well of the some action. There was no way for a defense to consistently guess what was going to happen either by backfield motion or formation. The result was eventually a mistake by the defense and a big gain for the Nebraska offense.

Here is a sample blocking scheme for the shovel pass play from the Nebraska playbook.

Instead of utilizing a wingback player this example uses the single back formation. I have a short video example of the play as well with some further commentary by Coach Tenopir.

Nebraska is certainly not the only team to run any of these plays. Nor did they claim to invent them. What impressed me however in Nebraska’s case was the overall breadth and depth of the rushing offense as well as the relative simplicity of the blocking schemes. It was a complex offense to teach and drill but the coaches had perfected their techniques during the 1980s and 1990’s. It is a shame that the staff had to eventually retire.

As former college football coach and general football historian Homer Smith once wrote, “Tom Osborne understood what made option plays (and other run plays) work and what had stopped them. So, he ran them — he ran almost all of them — but only when they would work. He checked to them versus vulnerable defenses. His smash mouth runs, run action passes, and QB runs kept defenses from mirroring properly against his options. The result was staggering totals of rushing yards. No matter how successful the options, etc. had been in their individual heydays, they were never better than when Coach Osborne “played a medley of tunes”. What would stop it? The only thing that could stop Bill Walsh’s passing attack, which was retirement of the man who made it work”.

I’ll be curious to see what the running game looks like for the Cornhuskers over the next couple of seasons. It would be nice to see some more option plays and counters to these plays put back into the attack.

I have some video of the Urban Meyer 2003 Utah attack. It is conveniently organized into six parts so as time allows I will post those video clips and look at the plays in more detail. Some of the Utah plays have some distinct similarities to the Nebraska attack. I have not heard Meyer directly refer to the Nebraska rushing game but I think he and many coaches were influenced by it either directly or indirectly. Imitation is the highest form of flattery?

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