The time Buddy Ryan conjured up a defense that nearly beat mighty Nebraska

BY Bruce Feldman • November 15, 2016

Football lost one of its most innovative minds in the history of the game when Buddy Ryan passed away Tuesday at the age of 82.

Ryan was the architect behind the Chicago Bears vaunted '46' defense that will go down as the most dominant in NFL history. Many probably don’t know, however, about that time back in 1998 — a few years after Ryan left the sidelines — that he conjured up a scheme that would shut down the mighty Nebraska offense when the Huskers were the defending national champs.

Brian Yauger — a disciple of Buddy’s son, Rob, who I wrote about in April as the former football coach who became the most connected man in the Washington marijuana industry — had an amazing story about Buddy.

Once during spring football when Yauger and Rob were still at Oklahoma State, Buddy was visiting while they were game-planning about how to slow down Nebraska’s option attack in the fall. The year before, the Huskers led the nation in scoring and beat its four ranked opponents by an average of four touchdowns apiece.

Buddy: “Why don’t you run 'Jet'?”

Rob: "What the (bleep) is 'Jet'?"

Buddy: “It’s what TCU used to beat Oklahoma with in the 40s.”


The elder Ryan popped up from his chair and went to the board to draw it up. The two defensive tackles were lined up so wide that all three linebackers were set inside of them.

"We all looked at each other cross-eyed," Yauger said. "It was like this old man has flipped his lid. It was so unconventional. It didn’t look like anything anybody else was doing."

The next day, the Cowboys ran the scheme during practice just as Buddy has drawn it up.

"I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this actually might work,'" Yauger said.

Rob Ryan eventually tweaked it some, so the SAM and WIL linebackers were hugged up on the tackles' heels in the B-gaps and the MIK linebacker was moved back to seven yards deep (they were normally at four yards deep). The OSU coaches also had their defensive tackles adjust their footwork a bit, so they took one step towards the offensive tackles before they pinched inside.

When OSU finally faced Nebraska in that season, the Huskers were No. 2 in the nation. Jet gave mighty Nebraska fits. The Huskers managed just 215 total yards with only 73 on the ground — the team’s lowest regular-season output in 23 years. Nebraska only scored one field goal in the first half. This was just a week after Nebraska ran for 434 yards against the No. 9 team in the country, defeating the Washington Huskies, 55-7.

"It looked like there was this giant hole, but what screwed everybody up was the two outside linebackers were keying off the fullback and we were ending up with five guys in four gaps and one of those guys always came free," Yauger explained. "It changed the timing of the way everybody flowed.

"When I think about it, this was really just the 46 flipped upside down because in the 46 you have three D-linemen lined up over the center and the two guards."

You can see the defense in action here:

Nebraska kept trying to block the MIK, which enabled somebody else to always come free. Oklahoma State ran Jet about 30-35 percent of the game against Nebraska, Yauger estimated.

"If anybody really figured it out, I guess they would've quarterback sneaked it against us," Yauger said. "They would've gotten three, four, five yards probably every time and then we would've had to get out of it."

Despite the success of Jet, the game was tied at 17-17 in the fourth quarter when Nebraska scored on a 73-yard punt return to win the game.

"Damn punt return," Yauger says shaking his head.

He said they ran the scheme the rest of the season at Oklahoma State and that Rob Ryan told him he still broke it out in the NFL from time to time back when he was the Raiders defensive coordinator when they were trying to stop LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers because it also was really a good scheme against '12' personnel and offenses that used one running back and two-tight end formations.

"It really was the beauty of what Buddy did defensively," Yauger said. "He always had more guys than you could block."

share story