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You thought the play was going that way?
In a first, two laid-off journalists, Brandon Vogel and Erin Sorensen, start a newsletter. This one is about Nebraska.
Tom Osborne-era Nebraska will forever be known for the option, but the Huskers’ counter sweep was just as devastating, maybe more devastating. In 1982, according to play breakdowns you can find in Nebraska playbooks of that era, the Huskers ran 41/49 counter sweep 40 times, averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. Nebraska also ran 21/29 counter sweep, which had the wingback carry the ball, 26 times and averaged 10.2 yards per carry.
Nebraska has only averaged more than 8.5 yards per pass once since joining the Big Ten in 2011. In 1982, Nebraska could gain more than that by handing off to an I-back who, after taking a step counter to the actual direction of the play, would fall in behind 650-ish pounds of pulling offensive linemen. Just look at this diagram, from Frank Solich’s 1983 playbook. It’s deception and demolition simultaneously.
Nobody in football truly invents anything, but Joe Gibbs became Washington’s head coach in the NFL in 1981. His teams would win the Super Bowl in 1983, 1988 and 1992 while using counter to great effect. It was a play Gibbs has always said he picked up while watching film of Nebraska.
Four decades and one spread revolution on from the early 1980s, counter hasn’t gone anywhere. In 2014, Ohio State ran counter “more than 25 times,” per Osborne’s count, while rushing for 296 yards in a 41-20 win over Oregon in the College Football Playoff championship game. Lincoln Riley coaches quarterbacks to Heisman Trophies, but his teams run the ball leaning heavily on counter. Run it from the shotgun and give the quarterback the option to keep or give and you’ve got the counter read.
Counter, in all of its forms, is a play that’s part of the football canon, and Nebraska played more than a minor role in helping it get there.
Seemed like a good enough namesake for this new publication for that reason alone, but it’s also something of a mission statement.
Welcome to the Counter Read, a joint venture between us, Brandon Vogel and Erin Sorensen. We worked together for more than a decade on Hail Varsity and were planning on another exciting year doing the thing we love until it came to a sudden end. It’s a familiar tale in a media landscape where nothing has gotten easier for anyone.
This new newsletter focused on Nebraska sports stories is our attempt to run counter to that trend. We’re far from the first to try it, but there’s a reason so many writers are finding this approach more appealing than the traditional path. The traditional path used to offer security. A journalist could get a job, work hard at it and keep the job for a long time. That’s an offer at fewer and fewer places each day. On the day we learned we were without jobs, the New York Times reassigned its sports staff.
Going out on your own doesn’t offer security either, but there’s a fundamental honesty to this route. Over a decade-plus covering Nebraska athletics, we built relationships based on how we treated people and reputations from the work we produced. We write stories and here we’re hoping to sell those stories directly to the people who want them. It’s no different than any craft in that way, and maybe that’s what has been lost during the post-internet media upheaval––the view that writing is a craft. In our mind, it’s no different than making beautiful canoes by hand or trying to raise heritage cattle on a small bit of grass. We always treated our job as storytellers with the same respect and resolve those perhaps more romantic pursuits call to mind.
We owed it to ourselves, the work and all the people who helped us along the way to find out if those things could be considered remotely the same. We’re going to keep things simple. Paid subscribers to the Counter Read get two exclusive newsletters each week. That’s what we’re selling. We’ve dreamed of other things we can add in the future, and we undoubtedly will as this grows with your help and, especially, your feedback. But the basic proposition will never change––two things you’ll want to read a week. We have monthly and annual subscriptions available. If you’re already a believer in what this can be, we have a founding subscription option as well.
Not quite ready to jump all the way in yet? Fair enough. Sign up for our free newsletters to see what Counter Read will be.
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The longer we spend in media, and the harder we try to make sense of its future, the more scarcity seems like a viable counterpoint to the ceaseless pressure to get information out quickly. The promise of the internet was limitless information. We basically got it, but it was so much information that the internet, in practice, has become a handful of well-worn paths to success. There’s a way to succeed on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc. It’s why so many things feel the same. There’s not a lot of risks being taken. Serving an audience often feels secondary to serving the algorithm.
We’re trying to run counter to all of that, too. We will write stories that are entertaining, informative and thoughtful. You’ll find out about the latest depth chart changes or transfer news wherever you already find that information. Our goal is to add to your fandom by continuing to perfect the craft we’ve chosen.
We don’t just want to do this, we need to do it. It’s thrilling and terrifying, like most worthwhile things are.
Nebraska athletics has a huge week ahead, and we aren’t launching now by accident. The volleyball team will take aim at a world record for attendance at a women’s athletic event with its match at Memorial Stadium on Wednesday. Nearly 24 hours later, the Matt Rhule era kicks off at Minnesota. We’re at the beginning of the best time of year to be a sports fan.
To celebrate such a one-of-a-kind beginning, we’re making all of our posts free this week. Tomorrow we’ll have a story from a one-on-one interview with Athletic Director Trev Alberts about the future of the ground under Nebraska football’s feet. On Wednesday, we’ll preview the Minnesota game by asking the only question anyone wants answered–how do the Huskers win? On Thursday we’ll have all of your football game day information as well as our picks for what to watch during college football’s true opening weekend, and Friday will bring “Line Items,” a weekly look at what the odds are telling us about the Big Ten and beyond.
Thanks for reading.