Every week, our Ian McCafferty will go back and critically review one or more plays from the past Saturday's game. These are the plays that, more than any others, were crucial in determining the outcome of the game. He'll check the film, and breakdown the how and why of those decisive few seconds.
So...about this being a weekly column. It turns out even during senior year you can still get destroyed by schoolwork. ANYWAY, we’re back after a couple weeks “off” and in the meantime, Northwestern is good now! Well, good at winning games in overtime anyway. After winning a slugfest against Iowa and upsetting a very good Michigan St. team, the Wildcats went into Lincoln and won a third straight OT game. There are a few plays from this game that we could have looked at, but we’re going to focus on one of the most fun — Jeremy Larkin’s 24-yard TD in the second quarter.
(All video via BTN)
There are only three more regular season games in Justin Jackson’s career.
It might not be fun to think about, especially in the middle of an incredible four-game winning streak, but we’re reaching the end of the Jackson era at Northwestern. It’s not over yet, but it’s close enough that we’ve started considering what exactly will happen after.
That’s where Jeremy Larkin comes in.
One of the most encouraging signs from this season has been the play of young players all over the roster. Some of the most notable examples are Paddy Fisher, JR Pace and the Miller brothers on defense, and Jeremy Larkin and Riley Lees on offense.
Larkin has provided a spark in a backup role, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns in his work spelling Jackson. On Sunday against Nebraska he had the best game of his career with 10 rushes for 69 yards and a touchdown.
It wasn’t your everyday touchdown either.
It’s an incredible combination of speed and vision from Larkin. Let’s take a closer look.
Here are our pre-snap alignments:
Just a basic three wide receiver set from Northwestern with Thorson and Larkin in the shotgun. This is a setup we’ve seen Northwestern run out of time and time again. Nebraska is playing a base 4-3 with the safety committed to picking up the slot receiver if it’s a pass.
Both teams are in roughly base sets here, so there’s not a ton that would say “this will be a touchdown” from before the play.
If you’ve ever watched any Northwestern football you’ve seen this play before. It’s an off-tackle stretch run to the right, where they pull the center and the left guard to block. It honestly what makes the actual result from this play so astonishing; with the exception of Blake Hance, the entire left side of Northwestern’s line has been pulled to lead block for Larkin, yet he is still able to cut it back.
Also, that is a really, really good block from Garrett Dickerson. He blows Alex Davis (22) right off the line — Davis is 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds by the way — and creates that hole himself.
Anyway, a couple seconds in the play is developing beautifully for Northwestern. Dickerson created a hole, there are receivers blocking downfield and Larkin has a giant lead blocker. Also keep your eye on linebacker Marcus Newby (3), aka the guy who’s supposed to keep contain, right near the tip of purple arrow graphic.
Unfortunately for Northwestern, the play quickly falls apart as Rashawn Slater can’t hold his block and gets muscled into the hole. This costs Larkin his lead blocker and closes his running lane. Another hole opens up right where Slater just was, but the large arms of Mick Stoltenberg (44) are going to grab Larkin right away if he hits that one. Still, most running backs would take that 2 or 3 yard gain and live to see another play.
Meanwhile, Newby continues to calmly jog towards the play, already inside the tackle box at this point.
Stoltenberg absolutely thinks that Larkin is going to hit that hole up the middle and crashes hard, which allows Tommy Doles to use his momentum to push him down and for Larkin to jump cut out of the way.
Here’s where things get fun.
Our friend Newby has now wandered all the down towards the play and at first glance appears to be ready to make the play. The only problem is that he has come too far inside. He’s trapped himself inside the tackle box and on the wrong side of Blake Hance.
Larkin simply cuts it outside of Hance and Newby has no shot at keeping contain. Still, Ben Stille (95) is in a decent position and has an angle on Larkin now that he’s disengaged with Hance.
The only problem?
Larkin, 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds, is way faster than the 6-foot-5, 255 pound linebacker.
Larkin is smart in that he doesn’t cut upfield too early, instead outrunning Stille to the sideline until he has an angle to turn the corner and cut upfield.
Stille makes a valiant effort, but Larkin simply outmaneuvered him.
Now if this play had been run from further away from the goal line, Nebraska safety Lamar Jackson probably runs down Larkin.
But luckily they’re only 25 yards away and Larkin coasts into the endzone basically untouched.
Jeremy Larkin is very good.
No but seriously, while the speed is impressive here, the shiftiness and the vision he displays are Jackson-esque. He waited patiently for the play to develop and then simply ran to where the defense wasn’t.
Is running away from your blockers always the smartest decision? Not really, but if you have the skills to make it work, then by all means try it.
It is incredibly unfair to both sides to try and sit here and compare Jackson and Larkin in any way. Jackson is possibly the greatest running back in Northwestern history and Larkin still has a LONG way to go. But at the very least, when next year rolls around, it looks like the Northwestern ground attack will still be in good hands.