ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It's the first blowout of the Scott Frost era.
No. 19 Michigan (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) thumped the Huskers (0-3, 0-1 Big Ten) in Ann Arbor 56-10. So what now?
The Hail Varsity staff has three more takeaways from the game.
Nebraska has three long snappers on its roster: senior Jordan Ober, junior Chase Urbach and freshman Cameron Pieper. Two of those players made the trip to Michigan: Ober and Urbach.
Ober is in his fourth season as Nebraska’s starting (and scholarship) long snapper. He isn’t bad at it either, earning all-Big Ten (Phil Steele) and All-American (Rubio Long Snapping) recognition in 2017. Ober has also worked with punter Caleb Lightbourn since 2016.
So color me surprised when Ober wasn’t on the field for punts against Michigan. The honor went to Urbach, who has been Ober’s backup since 2015.
Coach Scott Frost doesn’t have assistants answer questions post-game, so I wasn’t able to ask special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt for the reasoning. It’s probably a question for another day anyway.
However, what struck me most is the fact that Nebraska was so willing to make a move at long snapper (maybe Urbach is better at punt coverage?) but not elsewhere on the roster. For example, junior defensive back Lamar Jackson has had his ups-and-downs this season. Could Nebraska have thrown freshman defensive back Cam Taylor into the mix? You know, maybe just to see what would happen?
I’m not the defensive coordinator, so I don’t know what Erik Chinander is seeing in practice Monday through Thursday. It’s intriguing, though.
I just keep going back to long snapper. Ober has appeared in 40 games in his Nebraska career. On Saturday, that experience went to the wayside in favor of Urbach.
Maybe it was the better decision. Maybe Dewitt had seen something in practice that told him this was the right move to make.
My question then is why that isn't the approach being taken elsewhere on the roster?
Following the first blowout loss of the Frost Era, Nebraska’s coach Scott Frost took questions from the media. One thing I wasn’t expecting to hear is that he was excited to get back to work with his guys.
Sure, I always assume that to be the case. I just didn’t expect it to be verbalized. Within his answer to the question, Frost took the opportunity to set expectations for his team as they try to move forward from a 0-3 start.
“We've got to practice better,” Frost said. “You asked me on Thursday how Thursday's practice was and I was frustrated Thursday because Thursday wasn't very good. I didn't want to say it before the game but we were missing on details on Thursday. If you're missing details on Thursday and expecting it to be right on Saturday, it ain't going to happen. Guys are either going to have to figure it out or we're going to have to get some guys that want to do it."
The last line of that quote is what the majority of people will focus on because that line is yet another insinuation that there are players who may need to move on. I would like to focus on the bulk of the quote instead.
One thing we know for sure is that the coaching staff isn’t happy with the level that players are practicing at. I understand Frost protecting his guys last Thursday and not wanting to potentially wreck their confidence heading into a difficult game. Missing details in practice leads to missing them in games. Missing details in games leads to big plays surrendered by your defense and an inability to create any of your own.
The problems that have revealed themselves on Saturdays this fall start in the Hawks Championship Center on Monday through Thursday. When Nebraska turns a corner with practice habits, attention to detail and fundamentals, they will see more favorable results during games.
I don’t know what to say about the offensive line at this point.
For the majority of Saturday’s game, Nebraska’s line was abused by a bigger, faster and stronger Michigan defensive line. The Huskers had their worst rushing day as an offense since 2007; a Sept. 15 loss to USC under Bill Callahan saw Nebraska run for 31 yards. Saturday’s 39-yard outing was the first sub-40 day since then.
Michigan had 14 tackles for loss. Fourteen!
The average height and weight on Ohio State’s starting offensive line is 6-foot-6, 312 pounds; Nebraska’s… doesn’t really come close to that. That’s an issue. Not the whole issue, but it’s an issue. Nebraska’s offensive line is smaller and less imposing than most teams other teams it has faced recently. Yet, their measurables are almost identical to Michigan. It’s not all about height and arm length. What you can’t have is an undersized line that doesn’t look like it’s playing with any heart.
Not only were they tasked with protecting a true freshman quarterback making his first road start, but they were tasked with protecting an injured true freshman quarterback making his first road start. And they responded with a performance that forced coach Scott Frost to pull Adrian Martinez from the game after one half to safeguard his health. You don’t want to protect your guy? Saturday should have been a punch to the gut for Nebraska’s linemen. If it wasn’t, that’s another issue.
“What needs to change? We need to be able to run the ball, protect. I mean, everything needs to change,” Frost said after the game. “I felt great about the game plan coming in. I thought we had a lot of really great stuff for them. We couldn't make anything work. Give a lot of credit [to Michigan] again. We couldn't even line up and run our most basic play and get two or three yards. We were in second-and-8, second-and-9, second-and-15 every time and they brought sub-packages in and rushed us and we couldn't protect. We were on our heels the whole day.”
Frost said it’s not a simple fix; said that if he could snap his fingers and fix something, he would. But here’s the deal, if you’ve got to fix everything, if everything isn’t working, it’s time to switch up who’s doing the job.
Left tackle was helpless against Michigan. Left guard was helpless against Michigan. Right tackle was helpless against Michigan. Before we reached the final Nebraska drive of the game, the Huskers had 79 yards of total offense. Running back Wyatt Mazour had runs of 21 and 17 yards on that last drive. Was it against reserves? Yes, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said postgame he played 78 guys and that was a first for him. But, Nebraska did something on that drive it hadn’t done all day, it opened running lanes and moved the ball.
Christian Gaylord, Boe Wilson, Hunter Miller, Trent Hixson and Matt Sichterman served as the five-man unit. It might be time to give them more opportunities regardless of what’s happening in practice. Like Erin wrote above, we’re reaching a point where if guys aren’t going to produce, it’s time for some consequences.