Emotions were hot after Nebraska lost to Indiana. To be fair, though, they ran hot during the game as well; “I ripped their butts at halftime to try and get a response,” head coach Scott Frost said Monday morning. Frost likes to tell his team it’s never as good as you think but also never as bad as you think, but Frost saw things in a 38-31 home loss to the Hoosiers he thought the team left behind in 2018.
“I really felt during that game that we made some of the same mistakes that we made last year when we were just trying to get the culture improved,” he said. “The dumb alignments, the dumb penalties, the turnovers, false-starting on first down, making bad plays right when it counted, we made plenty of plays to win that game and some of the same mistakes that got us beat in a few close games last year got us beat again Saturday.”
So he chewed his team out in ways he doesn’t usually like to do. Frost prides himself on being a player’s coach, one who doesn’t swear in the kind of way done to demean, and one who doesn’t scream just to intimidate. But he was hot during his halftime radio spot with Husker Sports, and he was hot in the locker room after.
“We always want to be coaches who love on our players and try to help them improve,” he said. “There comes a time and a place when you have to rip some tails, honestly. That’s what we did.”
Of course, doing that in 2019 carries with it more risk than when Frost was a player. Some guys don’t respond that way anymore. That’s not commentary on the psychological differences between generations (so keep tweets in drafts, Boomers), more just a proven fact at this point. Some guys decide to leave. It’s a fine line to walk, a high wire where a misstep can doom your depth. Nebraska has very little of that right now, but Frost recognized that nothing else had worked to this point, what with his Huskers losers of three of their last four games.
“I want the guys to understand how important it is to do their job,” he said. “I played for Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, one of your first rules is learn to take a butt-chewing.
“If that’s what I have to do to get some of these things stopped, then we are going to have to yell a little bit in the short term. Most of the kids on the team care and want to be great. If there comes a time where things aren’t changing, then they need to get an ear-full.”
Nebraska had no changes to its depth chart again this week, which seemed to strike a chord with some on social media, but that weekly two-deep has come to be worth the paper it’s printed on in terms of the insight that can be gained from it.
Don’t think Frost is tacitly allowing “Just OK” to continue.
He has youngsters on the team doing heavy lifting in that regard. Wan’Dale Robinson has no issues speaking his mind. Neither does outside linebacker Garrett Nelson.
“I want guys to come in who aren’t afraid to do that, because that’s what we need,” said tight end Austin Allen, a guy sort of halfway between being a Riley recruit and a Frost kid. “Somebody needs to hold those [older] guys accountable. They’re obviously going to make mistakes and if the coaches don’t tell them, the freshmen have to tell them. That’s just the way it is.”
Robinson said after Saturday’s game some players on the team aren’t all-the-way bought in. Still. It’s almost like the line from a recent movie, “As long as there are those that remember what was, there will be those unable to accept what is,” or something like that. Nebraska is, in a way, in a holding pattern until the bad roots dry out.
Senior linebacker Mohamed Barry knows how bad it was before, however, and knows there’s been improvement.
“I’ve seen teams that weren’t all the way bought-in,” he said. “Last year’s team, guys were deliberately doing the wrong things on purpose. I don’t think that’s the case this year. But, it’s that progression where people have to own their job and be way more detailed in what they are doing.
“There’s no rebellious people on the team now. That’s not happening. That’s all shut down. It’s just people have to want it more, have to be disciplined.”
Discipline is at the heart of this debate. Coaches have to be partly at fault. “If the players aren’t doing what we’re telling them, that's the coaches’ responsibility at the end of the day,” Frost said. But the players have a responsibility, too. In the spring, the conversation around the defense was that a coach can give you any play, but effort and technique are more important than scheme.
“It’s up to the players,” Barry said. “You can’t put all the onus on the coordinator. We have to go out there and execute. I’m not going to put it all on Coach [Erik] Chinander. No matter what coordinator you bring here, if the players aren’t executing, it’s on us.”
Monday morning, Frost asked his assistant coaches to leave the room. Since the end of the game, players have apologized for heat-of-the-moment reactions to Frost and Frost wanted to make a point to tell players it’s nothing personal.
“That’s what the [Monday morning] meeting was about,” he said. “That’s not what we’re about. That’s not our character. I don’t want a team where I have to do that.
“I wanted our players to understand the reason we did that, why we did that and wanted them to know that it is never personal. The guys get it. Talking to the captains, they want some of that to make sure guys are conscientious to do their jobs better and more precisely. I still feel like that is what we are missing a little bit is just the guys caring enough to do their job perfect on Saturdays and practice all the time. Because it is close, but, we can’t do those little things and shoot ourselves in the foot. We are not a good enough team right now.”
The little things have to matter. Communication on defense, something Barry said was as bad against Indiana as it has been all year, has to be better. Technique in run-blocking has to be better. Knowing your assignment and alignment at key moments has to be better. (Nebraska is tied for 126th in red zone conversion percentage, for example.) Eyes on third-down defense have to be better. (Nebraska has slipped to 81st in third-down defense.)
“It comes down to just being personal,” said right tackle Matt Farniok. “Take every rep personal. In practice you can’t ever relax. You can’t ever take a play off. [Like] I’m kind of tired, I’ll go 75%. It needs to be 100% every time because those little things, they add up and they will show. Those little things, like easing off the gas, those show up in the game. Those lead to the lack of focus. That’s what leads to us making mistakes.
“I think everyone kind of took [the chewing] personal. We know he’s right because we’ve hurt ourselves now. We’ve hurt ourselves to losing two games for sure. We just shot ourselves in the foot when we needed it most. We lacked the focus to get it done.”
Four weeks left to get it right. Frost doesn’t want to have to yell anymore.
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.