ATLANTA – Kevin Steele was there for the start of the Scott Frost story, the huge high school numbers, the even bigger recruitment, the decision to go to Stanford and the decision to come back home. Auburn’s defensive coordinator now, Steele was Nebraska’s linebackers coach then, another job on a résumé that includes stops at Florida State, Clemson, Tennessee, Alabama and LSU.
Spend that much time around some of the game’s greats then add an up-close familiarity with Frost to the mix, and Steele is far from surprised by the success of the coach standing on the opposing sideline in Monday’s Peach Bowl.
“I knew Scott Frost as a high school football player,” he said. “You knew the family that he comes from, the kind of high school player that he was, the kind of player he was at Nebraska, the intangibles that he’s had. It’s not a surprise that he is where he is. He’s been exposed to some really, really good football coaches, Tom Osborne, Chip Kelly. He’s a really smart guy, always has been.”
Central Florida, the nation’s top scoring offense at 49.4 points per game, will need its smarts against an Auburn defense that is loaded with NFL talent on the line and in the secondary. The Tigers rank ninth in scoring defense at 17.3 points per game.
“It’s the best defense we’re going to play this year,” UCF offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “There are really no holes in this defense, from the front four to the back end.”
If there’s an offense that can perhaps create some holes, however, maybe it’s this one. UCF has yet to score fewer than 30 points in a game this season. On the other hand, Auburn has yet to allow more than 28. The contrasts here come ready-made, Power 5 guys versus Group of 5 guys, skill and size versus speed and scheme, offense versus defense.
But those things have more to do with how football games are billed than with how they’re won. That still comes down to the most used of all football coaching terms: “execution.”
Steele wasn’t surprised to see a high degree of that from Frost’s team either.
“Take out all the external things – their record’s this, they won the conference championship, it was a huge turnaround for them over a three-year period. Take all of that out and just turn on the video and start watching the technical football aspect. They’re very well-coached,” he said. “You can see that they play and understand what they’re being asked to do, and so their execution is at a high level.
“They’re very resilient in that they play the game the way it’s really supposed to be played. Every play is not going to be a touchdown. They appear on video to have the psychological mindset of ‘execute the next play, execute the next play,’ and you see them play at a fast tempo with fast guys.”
How UCF gets that level of execution also looked familiar to Steele. It’s Oregon’s base offense, yes, but there are “wrinkles” to it, “a little more option,” said Steele. He knows where that comes from, too.
So is there anything that surprises the Auburn assistant who has been coaching college football since 1980? What about Frost going back to Nebraska?
No, Steele took that one in stride as well.
“He’s from the state, his mom and dad are coaches, they went to the University of Nebraska,” he said. “But then there’s the wild card.”
Steele was talking about the call of home. We know there wasn’t an actual call from Tom Osborne to Frost asking his former quarterback and next-big-thing in the coaching ranks to come home. There never would be and didn’t need to be. Home spoke for itself in this case.
But if there had been?
“Speaking from my experience,” Steele said, “I don’t know that I could tell Coach Osborne ‘no.’”