ANN ARBOR, Mich. –– Wyatt Miller, a redshirt senior right tackle for Central Florida, and Chase Winovich, a fifth-year senior defensive lineman for Michigan, are close. Winovich calls Miller one of his best friends.
So, in 2016, when the Knights traveled to Ann Arbor for a date with the Wolverines and their coach, Scott Frost, said UCF outhit Michigan despite losing 51-14, Miller made sure to let Winovich hear about it.
"It's hard to say when the score is what it is, but we came in here and outhit those guys today," Frost said then. "Standing on the sideline, there was no doubt who was hitting harder. Our guys came in hungry and wanting to do that. It's rare you can come into Michigan and rush for 300 yards on them. They had to run a fly sweep in the fourth quarter to get to 100.”
Frost might have changed teams and the logo on the helmet might have been different Saturday, but when No. 19 Michigan (3-1) put the finishing touches on a 56-10 beatdown of Nebraska (0-3) in The Big House, Michigan talked about just how much that one comment meant to them.
“Everyone knows about Coach Frost’s comments and how they outhit us last time even though they lost by like 50 points,” Winovich said. (It wasn’t 50, but whatever. That shows how much the defense was bothered.) “We were motivated. There was plenty of fuel for us.
“I think we outhit them today. I’m interested to see if he has a different opinion on it.”
This one was personal for everyone. The week carried with it subplots ranging from “Frost v. Harbaugh” as one fancy new Big Ten coach versus the last fancy new Big Ten coach to relitigating the 1997 split national championship between the two schools. There was vitriol spouted at Frost from Michigan fans as he walked off the field after the game.
On the field, there was fire.
All week, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown stressed it to the team. Don’t give Frost a reason to say that again.
“Yeah it definitely was a statement game,” linebacker Devin Bush said. “We really took that to heart. We wanted to make a statement. When you say something, make sure it's true."
Harbaugh, of course, played coy on the whole thing. “I don’t remember that,” he said. “I’m surprised [the players] remembered that.” But Harbaugh didn’t really need to trade barbs with Nebraska; his team took everything Frost said two years ago and turned it on its head.
Nebraska was outhit.
All the way up to the press box, there was no doubt who was hitting harder. Michigan players said this was as dominant a performance as they’ve seen in their careers. In the first quarter, Michigan ran the same exact play twice and gained 46 yards and a touchdown and then 44 yards and a touchdown.
Frost said this was rock bottom for a team that has hit that point a little too often in the last 11 months. Michigan was the one who (almost) ran for 300 yards (285 to be exact) and Nebraska needed a final drive against Michigan’s backups to get to 100 yards of total offense (it finished with 132).
“I don’t know how many times I’ve been a part of a game like that, we got beat in every phase,” Frost said. “We’re not ready to beat a team like this yet but the keyword to me is yet … I think our whole team needs to see what it looks like right now to play at that level because we weren’t ready to play at that level today.”
One Michigan player said it looked like Nebraska wanted to quit. Frost didn’t see that. He saw guys competing. Linebacker Mohamed Barry (11 tackles; seven of them solo, three of them for loss and one for a sack) certainly didn’t quit. Nebraska just got physically “whipped,” as Frost put it.
The head coach hopes this is the low-point. Barry said it has to be. “You’ve just got to suck it up and get better,” he said. “There’s only one way we have to go.” Nebraska has now lost by at least 30 points in a game five times in its last 28 games. This 0-3 start in Frost’s maiden voyage? It’s the worst such start for the program since the last great war ended. Adversity is plenty here.
The culture is being tested.
“There’s people who, when they face adversity, it’s like a reaction: go harder,” Barry said. “Can’t read? Learn how to read. Can’t get on the varsity team? Keep on working hard and get on the varsity team. This loss right here? Oh yeah there’s going to be people that get off and I hope they show right now so we can get to that team we want to be.”
Frost took the “if we lose guys, so be it” route when asked about the ramifications of this in the short term. “The only ones we’ll lose are the ones we never had,” he said. But if anyone in the Huskers’ locker room is doubting Frost’s methods, all they have to do is go listen to Harbaugh’s postgame media session.
“They don’t complain about [practice],” Harbaugh said. “They actually get it and ramp it up every day. They don't need motivational swings or talks or some of the things some teams need. They just go to work. It looks like they enjoy that part of it and they’ve been playing better.”
“Hard work’s paying off for our entire team, it’s very noticeable.”
In a vacuum, that’s what Frost is trying to extract from his team. Practice matters. What you do on Tuesday affects what you do on Saturday. What you do on Wednesday affects Saturday. Thursday affects Saturday and so on and so forth. Michigan has embraced that. Nebraska is, evidently, still trying to get there.
“In games like these, they're watershed moments. We got our butts whipped. Guys either need to figure out how to work hard and get it fixed or we'll move on to the next guy. That's not trying to throw anyone under the bus. That's just the facts of it. We can't keep doing the same things and expecting a different result than this.
“You asked me on Thursday how Thursday's practice was and I was frustrated Thursday because Thursday wasn't very good. I didn't want to say it before the game but we were missing on details on Thursday. If you're missing details on Thursday and expecting it to be right on Saturday, it ain't going to happen. Guys are either going to have to figure it out or we're going to have to get some guys that want to do it."
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.