Throughout the last couple of years, so many of us have been excited about the idea of Nussmeier. You see a gifted arm and a talented playmaker and it’s hard not to think of the possibilities. Sure, there are glaring weaknesses, but we didn’t even really know if he could functionally play the position, especially in such a demanding offense. The thing is, at a certain point the rubber hits the road, and he’s no longer an idea but your starting Quarterback. It gets real eventually. To the joy, and frankly relief of all of us, he passed that test. The thing that, to me, is so encouraging about it is that he passed it by playing the position differently than he ever had. Despite the scattered appearances, the profile going in on Nussmeier was pretty clear as someone possessing tantalizing physical tools and good raw accuracy but had real difficulty figuring out where to go with the ball and playing on time. He’s not somebody we’ve ever seen play all that well in structure, and it seemed like he would need a lot of defined reads and insulation (play-action, heavy protections, RPOs, etc) to keep him afloat and allow his arm to shine through.
As a result, Wisconsin’s game plan was a pretty standard one for a QB who struggles to process: They changed pictures on him over and over, disguising and rotating their coverages to force him to do more mental legwork after the snap, when things are moving fast, instead of letting him ID the coverage pre-snap and predetermine where he wants to go. A reminder that you don’t have a lot of time to make sense of what you’re seeing, and the more you have to sort through, the harder it gets. A lot of times with QBs like Nussmeier was thought to be, it’s too much to handle and they panic. In these cases, you see them hold the ball and take sacks, you see them abandon their progression, and you see them throw it to defenders.
Going in, I expected LSU to revamp their offense a bit to lower the mental burden. I thought we’d see a lot more play-action, a lot more RPO, and less true dropback. LSU didn’t give him any training wheels though. They threw him right into the deep end with no lil arm floaties and he swam. The Garrett Nussmeier we thought we knew is dead, this guy is comfortable, he’s detailed, he’s advanced, and he looks like a future Pro.
Wisconsin didn’t get “raw”.
LSU attacked Wisconsin’s defense the way they’ve attacked most defenses they’ve played, by working the seams. With a deep S in the middle of the field, Wisconsin presents a Cover-3 look before the snap. At the snap, the middle-field safety rotates down into a Cover-2 “hole” look, with the Weak Safety and Field Corner rotating to deep halves.
The QB is often given different reads based on whether the D is in “middle-field open” (Split safety look, Cover-2, Quarters, or Quarter/Quarter/Half) or “middle-field closed” (Single-high, centerfield S, Cover-3 and Cover-1). Changing from middle-field closed pre-snap to middle-field open after is a good way to muddy the QB’s read and make him uncomfortable. With the high-hole player (FS) opening his hips to the strong side, Nussmeier calmly works off him and fires to Taylor who bends into space.
Here Wisconsin does the same thing, but the hole defender does a good job mid-pointing the two seams and the weak Hook/Curl gets a lot of depth, which squeezes the window. Instead of holding it too long and waiting for something to come open or putting the ball in harm’s way, Nussmeier checks it down and lives to play another down. Old Nussmeier is probably picked off here.
Wisconsin shows middle-field closed again, but this time spins to quarters instead of Cover-2. The idea here is to bait him into throwing the seam directly to the S who rotates over to cap it, with the middle-hook defender (Mike LB) widening to take anything in the middle underneath him. He throws the seam anyway, but because he adjusts his timing by truncating his drop, he’s able to fit the ball in before the middle-hook can get enough width. He gets creative with his ball placement as well, pinning it right on Lacy in the window instead of leading him into coverage. If you’re gonna pick tight windows, you need to be creative with your arm and timing to keep the ball away from defenders.
Wisconsin plays Cover-2 straight up here, so Nussmeier knows he wants to work the frontside smash concept which puts a hi-low on the CB. The CB does a good job midpointing the flat and the corner route with good depth, so the deeper route is out. He shoulder-fakes to force the CB to declare a bit deeper, which opens the underneath route more. Details.
Another rotation to Cover-2 from a middle-field open look, but a different configuration than earlier. LSU has a switch wheel to the boundary, with Nussmeier working from seam-bender to wheel. Nussmeier diagnoses the rotation quickly with the hole player eliminating the seam, and works to the wheel on time, fitting it in before the CB playing deep-half has a chance to get over to it.
Again, Wisconsin shows middle-field closed pre-snap before rotating to Cover-2, this time a 2-roll look with the field corner playing deep-half, the FS playing the hole, and the SS playing deep-half. LSU dials up their RB-leak play they started the season with. With an unexpected cloud (covers the flat) corner to the boundary (they showed Cover-3, so you don’t expect the CB to be here), Nussmeier has to adjust on the fly and work back to the shallow, calmly and with no timing disruption. Again, old Nussmeier is probably picked here.
As far as advanced QB things, there’s nothing film people like more than a QB who can work to the backside dig. On so many concepts, a lot of coordinators, especially in the NFL, like to tag an in-breaker to the backside to give the QB somewhere to go/punish the D if they commit too many resources frontside. The rotation to Cover-3 buzz takes away the route from the number 3 receiver to the field, but it vacates the dig window backside. Nussmeier resets in a dirty pocket, and works to the backside dig, pinning it on him before the defender can lay a hit.
It’s hard to be able to snap your eyes off the frontside concept and work backside even for a lot of NFL QBs, and for Nussmeier to have to move away from pressure in a collapsing pocket, find a lane, and rip it before the defender can make a play is incredible. It’s wild to think about, given how much of a project Nussmeier has felt like at times in the past.
It’s still just one game, so I’m not ready to send him to shake Goodell’s hand just yet, you always need to see it sustained, but if the development done during Bowl practices is any indication, Nussmeier will fill Daniels’ massive shoes with pretty big feet of his own.