Scott Frost will have been fired 37 times over by the time you read this. Those preaching patience even up until Saturday seemed to feel like a 28-23 loss to Purdue was the beginning of the end. It remains to be seen what Husker Athletic Director Trev Alberts thinks. What we do know is Frost will get a chance, at the bare minimum, to coach out his team’s final three games. Maybe Nebraska catches fire. Maybe this all gets worse. If Alberts is still asking questions, it’s not a good sign that Frost seems out of answers.
“There (are) no new answers,” the Husker coach said after the game. “We’ll look for them. We’re always looking for more ways to get better.”
And Nebraska has gotten better, the confounding and infuriating part because it hasn’t led to the things such progress usually leads to. The offense moves the ball at a per-play rate that ranks among the 25 best offenses in college football (6.68 yards). Before Purdue, the turnover machine was idling. Penalties are down. The Blackshirts give up 4.97 yards per play, the 22nd-best mark in the country. Nebraska was getting 5.59 (67th, 2017) and giving up 6.34 (112th, 2017) when Frost took the program over.
The games are close. Each of Nebraska’s last eight losses have been by eight points or less. There has been some pushback on that particular piece of it, arguments that games aren’t that close and a few garbage-time scores from Nebraska make them look closer than they were. I’d argue the opposite, that Nebraska’s proclivity for unforced errors at inopportune times have made margins look less indicative of how close the games were. In that span of eight, only the Illinois game to start 2021 was out of reach in the fourth. Nebraska had a second-half lead in four of the other seven.
The Huskers should have recovered an onside kick against Purdue Saturday.
But they didn’t.
“I thought we had it,” Frost said.
That, more than anything, is the Frost experience. Though to be fair, had Nebraska gotten the ball, there would have been little confidence in NU’s ability to drive for the win. It has had an opportunity to drive to tie or win a game in the last four minutes 16 times under Frost and gone scoreless on 15 possessions.
If it had defied the odds, there would have been few left in the stands at Memorial Stadium to see it.
I can’t decide which is more unnerving.
Frost left the locker room after the game, leaving his captains to address the team after NU’s sixth loss. “Magic speeches aren’t going to change this,” Frost told media of the decision. “A team shouldn’t need me to motivate them all the time.”
But that is a coach’s job, isn’t it? Ironically enough, Frost acknowledged as much in his very next breath. That was the moment in the postgame press conference that caused the antenna to pop up; the “huh?” moment.
The players have to motivate themselves (which is true, in a sense, at this level, just bear with me). The players have to police themselves, that horizontal leadership Frost has talked extensively about. The head coach is as hands-off with the defense as a head coach can possibly be, to the point were mid-week questions about the incoming offense are met with “I haven’t watched their tape” responses.
Frost’s offense isn’t just a primary focus, it’s almost made out to be a singular focus. Not a problem in a vacuum, but it becomes one when the singular focus is the largest problem in Lincoln.
And yet… (I’m torn. Can’t you tell?) The scheme works. We’ve seen it work and we’ve seen it work against big teams at Ohio State three years ago and against Michigan this season. The quarterback is on pace to become Nebraska’s all-time leader in total offense by the season’s end. The skill talent available is as good as it has been in years.
My brain keeps sticking on the questions asked and the answers found. It’s the decision-making.
A fourth-year senior quarterback can’t take a safety with 4:53 to play in a seven-point game and he can’t make this throw:
Purdue’s Jalen Graham was sitting and waiting. A quick glance to the right from Adrian Martinez does nothing to move him from his spot, and when Martinez comes back to the Omar Manning slant he wants to throw, there’s a defender sitting right where the ball needs to go. Graham just lets the ball come to him and then returns it for a score.
This, more than anything, is the Martinez experience. Plays others can’t make spattered with plays no one should make. Good until he needs to be great. You can understand why a coach would be hesitant to make a change.
But Frost’s unwillingness to engage in that discussion is also becoming a talking point. Not because he should, but because he has voluntarily painted himself into a corner. Nebraska doesn’t have an experienced quarterback to back up Martinez because Frost decided against adding one. And players who have proven capable of making plays are unable to stay on the field and watching other guys (not just the quarterback, to be clear) make mistakes to no consequences. Sometimes players don’t care about the context.
Jaquez Yant appears to have a zip to his game. He started the season out of shape, but he looks to be in shape now. The redshirt freshman running back had 127 yards on 13 carries against Northwestern on Oct. 2. That was after five total carries in Nebraska’s first five games. In the next two games following, he had 10 total carries.
On Nebraska’s second scoring drive against Purdue, Yant had runs of 33 and 18 yards to get NU down to the goal line. The ensuing touchdown came with 10:45 to play in the second quarter. Yant had two touches the rest of the game while the Huskers struggled to run the ball in the second half.
“We didn’t get very many plays in the second half,” Frost said when asked why Yant wasn’t involved. “Rahmir (Johnson) is just ahead of where Jaquez is.”
NU ran 27 plays. Yant is averaging 7.4 yards per rush attempt this year, nearly 3 yards more than any other back. Johnson has come on strong, but is it not possible to find opportunities for both? Nebraska wasn’t in a position where it had to abandon the run, especially not with a halftime lead against an average run defense.
This isn’t the first time Yant has been planted on the sideline for a mistake, and he’s not the only one in that position. What keeps Zavier Betts off the field? What keeps Alante Brown off the field? What happened to Oliver Martin? Some players can play with no fear of failure. Others, it seems, cannot.
Martin—one of two Husker receivers with a 100-yard receiving game this season—has five catches in the last four games. Samori Touré didn’t get his first catch Saturday until the game’s final six minutes after just one catch against Minnesota. Take away Yant’s 100-yard game against Northwestern and he has 21 total touches in the other eight. Stepp has 15 total touches since his 100-yard performance against Fordham. Betts’ 19 yards per touch this season is the best clip among Huskers with at least five touches; eight skill guys have more touches on offense than he does.
If guys are hurt to the point they’re unavailable, it would benefit Frost to be more forthcoming. In lieu of that, it looks like they’re just not being put on the field. Perhaps that’s a misrepresentation of the situation, but it’s one Frost could easily fix. If it is about consistency, then there are different standards different players are being held to.
Purdue was able to play the game it wanted. Nebraska was unable to dictate things and unable to put its playmakers in positions to make plays consistently enough.
Frost does good football things. So is the failure simply in managing a football team? If that answer is yes, it’s hard to defend keeping him.
Yet Nebraska’s history makes it just as hard to move on. If Alberts goes in a different direction, Frost would be the third coach since Solich to get four years on the job or less. Frost’s $20 million buyout would add to the pool of money set aside and lit on fire for people to not be employed by the Nebraska athletic department.
As has been written here before, continuity in sports is important. As has been written here before, the hardest thing might just be to clench the side rail a little tighter and wait out the storm.
But Nebraska is 0-8 under Frost against the remaining teams on its schedule. It has never won three straight games at any point under Frost and endured three-game losing streaks three different times. Probabilistically, the most likely scenario now might be that Nebraska loses out and drops to 3-9, what would be the program’s worst season since 1957.
With a recruiting class that currently ranks last in the Big Ten and 77th nationally, an uphill battle trying to recruit on the heels of five straight losing season, and the impending departure of quite literally one of the most experienced defenses Nebraska will ever have, is there a better time to cut ties and start over? If you require the head man make wholesale changes to the staff, do you trust his ability to identify the right pieces to add or his ability to convince them to come aboard?
What do you do?
If you’re looking for answers, don’t fret. You aren’t alone.
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.