How close are you, Scott Frost?
“Depends on what you’re asking,” the head coach said Monday morning. “How close we are to what?”
How close are you to winning?
“We’ve been really close a bunch of times,” he said. “We left a lot of stuff on the field offensively, particularly early on because of little mistakes or penalties. Defensively there were some plays out there to be made and we just didn’t make them. It doesn’t take very many of those to turn it around. There’s no question we got better this week."
Despite a fifth straight loss to open the season to No. 15 Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) on Saturday, Frost was as optimistic postgame as he’s been all season. It appears that going back through the film didn’t dull that optimism either, as the head coach was in a pretty good mood when he met with the media on Monday.
“I think the attitude got better, the practice got better, the performance was better,” he said. “I was thrilled we didn’t have any of those dumb things, dumb penalties, selfish plays that contributed to it.”
Nebraska was penalized (more on that later) but they weren’t the same flags that have angered Frost early on this year, they were just a bunch of holding calls. And maybe that’s the best example to show what Frost is seeing but can’t really tangibly point to. He said on his coach’s show there’s a lightness around the program in recent days that wasn’t present when the season started.
“Something’s changed,” he started. “It really changed after the Purdue game [and] changed even more last week. I saw guys bonding together, having fun out there, everybody kind of excited to go to battle. I think getting to that turning point where the team wasn’t going to put up with any more of the culture killers and we’re going to become culture keepers and culture promoters. I see that happening.”
Nebraska experienced two departures from the team last week — running back Greg Bell and wideout Tyjon Lindsey. It’s not fair to either to pin every issue on them and say things are all better simply because they’re gone (Nebraska has had 15 guys leave since Frost took over) but Frost did say it sometimes takes a few departures to make guys understand what kind of culture he's trying to cultivate.
He also said it takes a few guys getting benched; corner Lamar Jackson lost his starting spot against Wisconsin and it looks like punter Caleb Lightbourn will lose his this week against Northwestern (2-3, 2-1 Big Ten).
But more importantly, Frost thinks it took losing so many winnable (sorry Purdue) games to finally get through to his team that a lot of their issues right now are self-inflicted.
“The whole attitude of everybody around here, I feel like we’ve finally turned a corner,” he said. “I see the guys excited that they’re getting better. I see the guys excited that they’re moving forward.”
Other News and Notes
>> Quarterback Adrian Martinez said he saw at least 10 completions he left on the field against Wisconsin. The true freshman quarterback was hard on himself after the game but said “that’s the way it needs to be.”
He added that he’s working on ball security and finding his checkdowns a little earlier as well.
“I don't think I'm anywhere near as good as I can be,” he said.
>> Freshman cornerback Cam Taylor got some more action against Wisconsin on Saturday and Frost was pleased with what he saw. “Came in and broke on a ball and made a nice play, which we haven’t seen enough of this year,” Frost said.
Nebraska rotated its corners more against the Badgers than it had all season to that point. Jackson said after the game he wasn’t a fan; Taylor acknowledged rhythm is a good thing but said he’s fine with it because it allows him to help the team.
>> On the penalties, maybe Nebraska’s second-to-last-in-the-country standing in penalties a game builds a reputation. Maybe because the Huskers have been flagged so much, officials are more prone to continue throwing flags. Maybe?
Frost doesn’t want to go there.
“We deserve a lot of the ones we got,” he said. “We deserve the ones that were dumb decisions and selfish decisions.
“There were a few the other day we got on the offensive line where our feet just weren’t right, we didn’t move our feet and then when the guy’s about to beat you, he either beats you or you grab him. Getting better at those positions, getting better at technique will continue to help us with that.”
>> Frost confirmed freshman tight end Cam Jurgens is moving to the offensive line. We’ve got more on that here.
>> Asked about the running back rotation, Frost said the Huskers “feel great” about their top two guys, Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington. But, what about after those two?
“Wyatt Mazour is a guy we trust. I’m ready to put him in a game at any time,” Frost said. “Mikale Wilbon’s been practicing well and doing everything right so if he gets called I know he’s going to be ready. That’s plenty to get through the last half of the season here.”
What about sophomore Jaylin Bradley, who has yet to touch the field in 2018? Where’s he at?
“Right now,” Frost said, “I suppose fifth.”
Mazour is also working at the Duck-R position and slot behind JD Spielman, as is freshman Miles Jones. Frost said Jones, who also has yet to make his 2018 debut, is “really close.”
>> Sophomore wideout Todd Honas is another name to watch in the slot.
“Todd Honas is a guy that’s been practicing well for us and may eventually get some reps at that spot, too,” Frost said.
>> With Caleb Lightbourn losing the starting punter spot, the Huskers will turn to junior Isaac Armstrong. Armstrong replaced Lightbourn against the Badgers and the difference between the two was night and day. On two punts each, Lightbourn averaged 29.5 yards with a long of 36. (His second punt went for 23 yards.) Armstrong averaged 53.5 yards with a long of 59 and one downed inside the 20.
Frost seemed pretty pleased with Armstrong’s performance, but his comments also felt pointed at a junior punter in Lightbourn who has struggled mightily this year.
“Isaac punted it where he was supposed to punt it,” Frost said. “The first one was a moon shot, the other one landed 40 yards downfield on the sideline.
“We had a punt return against Troy they scored on that probably cost us the game, another against Michigan, we fell down on a punt against Purdue and twice when the game was still competitive Saturday we punted one right down the middle of the field 35 yards, they returned it to the 50 and then shanked one out of bounds and they got the ball at the 50.
“We’re not good enough to survive those types of things so as of now Isaac has done well and we’re going to count on him to do what we’re asking him to do.”
>> Nebraska practiced out of pads Monday. Frost said that’s not something they like to do but “we’re pretty beat up, not with major injuries, just the guys have been through a lot and a grind.” Over the next week, Nebraska will also try and simulate Northwestern’s field, the only grass playing surface they’ll play on all season. Frost said they haven’t cut the grass on their outdoor field since last Thursday.
>> Spielman broke his own program record for receiving yardage in a game Saturday when he caught nine balls for 209 yards and a score. He now owns the only two 200-yard receiving games in Husker history. (He had 200 against Ohio State last year.) Frost had an interesting line about the sophomore:
“It’s funny with JD, through spring he was kind of hurt and then through fall camp he was a little tentative, maybe wasn’t our best practice player through fall camp and I started to get a little concerned because I’d heard so many good things about JD. About two weeks before the first game I think it clicked for him with our offense and he just completely changed and started being dominant on the practice field … Every time we call his number, he figures out a way to get it done.”
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.