Inside The (Not At All) West Coast Offense: Nebraska Cornhuskers

You'll hear lots of stories about Bill Callahan and his West Coast offense this week, but after combing the Nebraska drive charts, I'm convinced that it's a misnomer.  Nebraska's not running anything resembling an offense like the ones that typically earn that moniker.

The West Coast offense is a general philosophy popularized by Bill Walsh, who thought that the traditional offensive game plan (rush first to open up the pass) was backwards. He sought to keep the rush defense honest by completing short- and mid-range passes early in the down count and in games in order to open up the running game.

As such, the term West Coast offense isn't used to describe a particular offensive set, per se, but rather an offensive philosophy.

Which Bill Callahan's 2006 Nebraska Cornhuskers most assuredly aren't built around.

To illustrate this, let's take a look at Nebraska's play calling in their two games versus teams with good defenses - USC and Kansas State.

Let's start with USC. Texas fans would have crucified Greg Davis for a game plan this conservative. Each of the lines below a drive represent a series of plays prior to achieving a first down or change of possession.

Nebraska Offensive Possessions vs USC, 1st Half

Drive 1
Rush / Rush / Incomplete / Punt

Drive 2
Rush / Rush / Short Pass / Fake Punt
Rush / Pass / Incomplete / Punt

Drive 3
Rush / Incomplete / Incomplete / FG

Drive 4
Rush / Rush / Pass for 1st Down
Rush / Pass 1st Down
Rush / Rush / Rush 1st Down
Rush / Sack / Incomplete / Punt

Drive 5
Rush / Rush / Rush 1st
Rush / Halftime (14-3 USC)

So, let's recap the first half. Five drives, five rushes on first down. Ten first down plays, 10 rushes. Seven second down plays, five rushes. On five of Nebraska's ten first half, first down possessions, they ran the ball on both first and second down. That, my friends, is not a West Coast offense.

Nebraska Offensive Possessions vs USC, 2nd Half

Drive 1
Sack (fumble, turnover)

Drive 2 (now down 21-3)
Rush / Rush / Pass for 1st down
Rush / Rush for 1st
Rush / Rush / Rush / Incomplete (turnover on downs)

Drive 3
Rush / Rush / Rush / Punt

Drive 4
Scramble / Incomplete / Pass for 1st
Pass for 1st
Pass for 1st
Rush / Rush / Rush TD (21-10)

Drive 5 (Down 28-10)
Rush / Incomplete / Incomplete / Punt

And you thought Greg Davis was conservative? My goodness! The second half wasn't any more of a West Coast attack than the first half was. And Nebraska was playing from behind.

The Kansas State game wasn't much different. In the first half, they rushed the ball 9 times out of 13 first downs. They ran on first and second down on 6 of 13 opportunities. The second half was even more extreme, with 10 of 12 first down plays being rushing plays.

For the season, 62% of Nebraska's plays have been rushing plays.

Why, then, is this offense described as a West Coast offense? It shouldn't be. Whatever Bill Callahan's philosophy in the NFL, or his first seasons at Nebraska, this season is a rush first, pass second attack. The Huskers play a ball control, smash-mouth football, aiming for low-risk, clock-management victories. They do run many of the short- and mid-range, quick-strike pass plays when they do pass, but the philosophy is most certainly to pass off the established run, and not vice versa.

What should Texas expect on Saturday? Husker fans had better hope for a more aggressive game plan than the one employed against Southern Cal. Texas is stout as can be against the run, but there's been room to throw the football at times. Will Callahan adjust his gameplan to account for this? The evidence points the opposite way, really. Callahan has faced two solid defenses this season, and in both cases, he pounded the run over and over on first down.

Whatever Callahan does Saturday - what he's done so far is a traditional, and not a West Coast, offense.

--PB--

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