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Mailbag: Should Scott Frost Give Up Play-Calling Duties?

December 02, 2020

It’s Wednesday, and that means it’s time for another mailbag. The Hail Varsity staff is all on hand to answer your questions, so let’s dive in.

Should Frost give up play-calling duties? I know he won’t, but I think sometimes he’s getting too much into his own former QB mindset to call correct play or series… (@Sal_Vasta3) 

Jacob Padilla: We had a discussion about this in our Slack channel not too long ago. The appeal to hiring Frost (beyond the ties to the program) was his offensive mind. That’s his strength as a head coach and it’s what makes him stand out. Would him giving up play-calling lead to improvements elsewhere in the program? Would he be better at helping polish up the special teams or defense than continuing to iron out the offensive issues? Does Nebraska have anyone on staff that would be better at calling plays? I’m not sure the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” so I don’t think that’s the route I would go. Nebraska’s not consistently good at anything right now, so I’d keep Frost’s focus on the one area he’s most likely to make the biggest difference. 

Erin Sorensen: Jacob said it better than I could. Frost is an offensive mind. Maybe we could argue that he needs to take more input from others, or talk to a mentor, but I actually don’t know if he is or is not doing that already. I think part of what’s happening with the offense is a lack of depth and certainty at a number of positions. I think Frost is just playing it safe in his play-calling right now, and the “why” is probably a much bigger discussion. 

Brandon Vogel: If you could guarantee a clean-up of some of the details that continue to plague Nebraska, maybe you’d consider it. But how much would Nebraska be giving up? Every coach will have some play calls that seem poor in hindsight, but I would still consider offensive play-calling to be one of the Huskers’ strengths. With all of the limitations they are living with on offense right now, they’re still top-10 nationally in standard downs success rate, meaning when the offense is on schedule it wins the down the majority of the time. (National average for that right now is 46.8%, Nebraska’s at 55.4%.) That’s with a limited receiving corps, persistent injuries at running back, a quarterback switch (and switch back), and an offensive line that isn’t performing anywhere near its potential. All of that says to me that the plays work pretty well. The record says it’s still not enough to win Nebraska games on its own, and there’s no arguing that. I’d personally give it a little more time before pulling the plug on Frost the play-caller because that part, on its own, largely works. But if the other stuff doesn’t clear up soon, it might be time to consider such a drastic move. 

Greg Smith: I think his play calling is mostly fine. When I think about this question I tend to think more about would Nebraska be better served if Frost was more of a CEO type of coach. Given the record since he took over does he need to be freed up to be more involved with the defense? Should he keep a closer watch on special teams? The overall pulse of the team? If those big picture items would be helped by him giving up play-calling then I would be more in favor of it. I just don’t think that’s the case. 

Derek Peterson: I’ve thought about this throughout the year. I think I’m firmly in the “No” camp and after thinking it out, I’d argue it really shouldn’t even be on the table. Jacob’s point about Frost’s biggest strength being his offensive creativity is the right one. In my mind, pulling the plug on Frost as the guy who calls Nebraska’s plays is pulling the plug on Frost as the guy. Frost gets input from the coaching staff; the game plan on a Saturday isn’t something he shuts himself into his office and builds by himself, it’s a collaborative process. I’m glad Brandon came with some numbers to back up what I’ve thought for almost the entire season (minus the second half against Penn State), and that’s that Frost has actually done quite well to work with what he has at his disposal as a play-caller. Now, that hasn’t been much, as Nebraska’s offense is extremely limited right now. Can you blame Frost for that? Sure, we could have that discussion. But that discussion wouldn’t involve play-callingit’s hard to get to a lot of his stuff if you can’t execute basics well, something Nebraska struggles to do consistently—and would be more centered around recruitment, development, and usage. Again, that conversation is one to have. Play-calling is separate. I don’t think his experience as a quarterback hurts him. And I don’t think that Frost giving up play-calling to, say, be more hands-on with special teams would be a net positive for Nebraska. Now… hiring an actual on-field coach to work with special teams, that might help, but that’s a conversation we can have some other time.   

Transferring has clearly become an issue, but why? Is it poor recruiting strategies, poor coaching, lack of on field success, something wrong with the culture, something else? Clearly at this point there is SOMETHING wrong. (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: I think the combination of the pandemic, the lack of success and the absence of consistent opportunities all played a part in the departures we’ve seen so far. I also wonder how strong of a relationship the coaches have built with some of these players. Were they recruited by their position coach or by an area recruiter? Are the things the coaches told them during the recruiting process playing out or not? Or perhaps it was a case of the coaches just not vetting the recruits properly and identifying guys who truly wanted to leave home. There are all kinds of potential reasons, and the truth is probably a combination of all of them. But whatever it is, it must get better. Attrition will happen, but it shouldn’t be happening at this rate this early in the players’ careers. 

Mike Babcock: Add to what Jacob says the fact it’s easier to transfer, plus a change in mindset: kids are more entitled through social media and rating websites, magnifying Jacob’s points. 

GS: I wrote about this topic recently in a recruiting notebook. It’s always a combination of everything but the hope that Husker fans have to hold onto right now is that Frost recognizes that something is wrong. It clearly is but we can’t just brush this off as a batch of the wrong kids or blame the pandemic. Constant evaluation of the program is needed and fixing attrition is one of the key areas moving forward.  

It’s my birthday today, Dec. 1. What four players or coaches from any Husker athletic team, past or present, would you want to celebrate your birthday with? (@JacobKrueger5) 

ES: Nicklin Hames, Lauren Stivrins, Madi Kubik and Kenzie Knuckles. Also, the entire current roster of the volleyball team. 

MB: Rod Horn, Roger Craig, Jon Kelley and Merlene Ottey. 

I heard a Husker sports writer say that he thought Nebraska should have hired another offensive line coach last spring so they would have two coaches for the OL like TO had. It got me wondering, what does Chinander do during practices? Help with a specific position or move around? (@JacobKrueger5) 

MB: I’d guess he moves around during practice. I’d also say I think like Lubick, Chinander ought to have a position group with which he works. But I might be stuck in the past on that. Maybe, it should work the other way. Lubick should move around, and someone else should work with the receivers, maybe Beckton.  

BV: Chinander was an offensive lineman at Iowa. Is defensive coordinator and second offensive line coach too weird? Yes, it probably is. 

GS: In the time that we’ve observed practice, Chinander moves around from group to group. I remember last year him spending a lot of time with the linebackers.   

If money was no object, what men’s and women’s sport would you like for Nebraska to add? (@dmhusker1) 

DP: Hockey would be pretty fun as both a men’s and women’s team. I also wish more universities had men’s soccer. I fully understand why they don’t; I mean, Borussia Dortmund would much rather have a teenage Gio Reyna come up through its own club training rather than having him sit in college for a few years and then come over as a 20-something player, so growing the sport here doesn’t necessarily require it to be a bigger deal at the collegiate level… but that would still be my choice on the men’s side. The sport is fun. It should be valued a little more here because we really do have some talented footballers as a country 

JP: I’ll echo Derek’s suggestion and go with men’s soccer as well. Creighton had a really good soccer program while I was in school and those matches were really fun. I think Nebraska already has every women’s sport that could possibly interest me so I’m not sure what to add on that side. If I had to give a second answer, I’d go with men’s volleyball. I really enjoy the women’s game, so why not see what a men’s program could grow into here? 

BV: I’ll make Jacob’s second answer––men’s volleyball––my first answer, and my second answer is men’s and women’s lacrosse. 

Using a small sample size of three games, based on their play so far, what upsets do you think the Men’s Basketball team could pull off in the Big Ten this season? (@Corn_Huskers) 

DP: Just going off KenPom scores right now, there are eight Big Ten teams in the top 27 nationally, including four in the top 14. Just based on that alone, I’d say Nebraska can probably pull one or two. It will probably enter a bunch of contests labeled as dogs, so you’ll get some technical “upsets” that might not feel that way, but that’s not in the spirit of your question. I’ll just throw out a completely uneducated guess that will probably be really wrong (still really early): Illinois on Jan. 13. I’ll give them an emotional boost with the game being so close to my birthday. Thank me later. 

As we are seeing at Michigan, sometimes alums as coaches aren’t as great as they first seemed. If (big IF) Scott Frost just can’t get the job done, what other former Husker could be a good candidate to lead the program? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

MB: Not sure it has to be an alum. Rather, it needs to be someone who understands the dynamic of the area and can recruit. No former Husker comes to mind right now as a good fit here. I think Frost needs more than three seasons, one of which is so disjointed that pretty much anything except an Alabama or Clemson loss until they play each other can happen. 

BV: I agree with Mike. Too much is typically made of program connections in coaching hires, in my opinion. But, because that is the question, how about a coaching alum? I’ve long had my eye on Lance Leipold. He went 109-6 at Wisconsin-Whitewater, and now has Buffalo playing at a high level with a punishing ground game. Leipold was at Nebraska from 2001–03 and also had two stints at Omaha. 

GS: I agree with everything both Mike and Brandon said. I hate to even go there right now but my focus would be outside the program but in the Big Ten. I’d have Indiana’s Tom Allen on my shortlist that I kept in my drawer.  

DP: Greg is contractually obligated to mention Tom Allen at least once in every one of these things. 

Should Luke switch to RB? Isn’t he basically playing the role now? (@Sal_Vasta3)
I second this question. Seems like he would be a more natural fit. Maybe a Taysom Hill situation, where he is used in the Duck-R spot and then has gadget QB plays? (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: One, I think moving him to that kind of role full-time would be, in a way, giving up on him as a quarterback, and I just don’t think they’re ready to do that. I’m also not sure that McCaffrey would hold up as an every-down running back, nor am I sure that his running would translate to that position as well. He’s had a lot of success with quarterback draws and scrambles, which is a different kind of running than taking 15-20 handoffs per game and finding the hole between the tackles. We saw him as more of a gadget player for a handful of snaps against Ohio State, but Scott Frost has seemed hesitant to go back to that for whatever reason. 

MB: As Jacob said, whether McCaffrey would hold up with a significant number of carries is questionable. Christian is what, 5-11, 205? More like a running back. Anyway, I wonder why he hasn’t been used as he was against Ohio State. As for the implications of moving him, isn’t Logan Smothers highly-touted, too? What does he think when Scott says McCaffrey is definitely the quarterback of the future? McCaffrey probably needs to be on the field somehow. 

DP: If you’re reading this, Mario, I’m sorry. If the question is “should he” and not “will he” then I’ll hedge and say maybe. They won’t for the reason Jacob stated: they’re not ready to pull that trigger yet. But should they? Everything that has happened this year has made that a question worth approaching. Remember, eligibility is frozen. If all the QBs are back for 2021, Nebraska would have a redshirt freshman (by eligibility) Luke McCaffrey and a true freshman Logan Smothers and a true freshman newcomer in Heinrich Haarberg all sitting there with a guy in Adrian Martinez who’d still have two years of eligibility remaining. That’s not exactly the timeline Nebraska was preparing to have with its quarterbacks. I really like Smothers and Haarberg as passers. McCaffrey and Martinez’s strengths seem to lean more toward the run. That’s a logjam, which is to say it’s a situation that will create a transfer or two somewhere on down the line. So, should Nebraska give Logan Smothers the “QB2” title and transition McCaffrey into more of a Taysom Hill-type/receiver/runner? Not a crazy conversation to have. To say that it couldn’t work would be a little naïve, I think. Luke has the best running back in the National Football League as a brother he can lean on for advice and he’s clearly a very, very dynamic runner of the football. 

Is Dedrick Mills going to finally play this week? With all of the kickers that they have why can’t one of them kick the ball out of the end zone on kick offs? (@CarnesRegg) 

MB: We didn’t get an answer to that on Monday, maybe tomorrow—or maybe not. Frost doesn’t like to reveal too much about such things. 

DP: Ehh, Nebraska’s second in the conference right now in average yards allowed per return on kickoffs. The touchback percentage, to your point, is one of the lower numbers in the league but I’d look for more work to be done on the punt/punt return game first. 

How likely is it that we play every game remaining on the schedule, including the extra game on championship weekend? (@radicalhusker)
What’s everyone’s take on the possibility of the Minnesota game next week? (@tchristensen43) 

ES: I give it a 50-50 chance of happening. Of the 47 people who have tested positive or are out due to contact tracing, 26 of those were staff members. The timeframe for how long they have to be out is different, so maybe that will allow Minnesota to come back quicker. We’ll see. 

MB: I’ve already scratched the Minnesota game and placed the plus-one at 50-50. Looks as if the Purdue game will be played, thankfully. Purdue was the last to play Minnesota before the Gophers shut things down. 

GS: I’d give a 15% chance of playing the remaining games as scheduled. I’m really pessimistic about the Minnesota game happening.  

DP: 20% 

Can Coach Frost create a culture of when he played in the late 90’s? We need to understand that he is dealing with a completely different athlete now. These players have grown up in a different culture (society). (@craig_denoyer) 

ES: My counter-question would be: Do we want Nebraska to have a similar culture to the one it had in the 90s? Or, do we want Frost to build a culture that works for Nebraska now? As you said, athletes today are not the same as they were 25 years ago. There isn’t anything wrong with that either. We evolve as people, and the game (and culture) will have to evolve with it. 

MB: Don’t think Frost can create such a tough-love culture now, though from what I see on the outside, a similar culture exists at Alabama now, and maybe Clemson. Take Alabama; given its level of talent, players have to work to keep their positions and Saban is demanding in a way Frost probably can’t be. The toughness is there at least. On the other hand, Osborne had the respect of his players to such a degree that they played hard in order not to let him down. I wrote a book, talking to former players and coaches under Osborne. All of them said they’d only do the interviews IF Osborne knew I was doing them. And during the interviews, to a player, they said they didn’t want to let Osborne down so they gave everything they had. He cared about his players, first and foremost. Frost can establish that. But winning has to be part of any culture in order for it to be perceived as working. 

Who, from the following categories, would you like to have dinner/drinks with: Musician, Coach, Announcer, and Actor/Actress? (@Corn_Huskers) 

DP: Justin Timberlake (the GOAT), Steve Kerr (MJ stories), Doris Burke (inspiration), and then Tom Holland (the GOAT) and Scarlett Johansson (come on). 

JP: Steve Nash is now a coach, so I’ll take him (my favorite athlete of all time). I’ll go with the duo of Brian Custer and Robert Smith in the announcer category so I can tell them how terrible they are. I don’t really care about the entertainers.  

ES: Taylor Swift, Andy Reid, Doris Burke and Meryl Streep. 

MB: Tough limiting . . . Bob Weir, Tom Osborne & Ron Brown (former assistant), Shelley Smith & Kevin Kugler, Sandra Bullock & Donnie Wahlberg. 

GS: Beyonce, Nick Saban, Gus Johnson and Denzel Washington. 

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