Things felt different in a number of ways heading into Year 2 at Central Florida. And those changes in both attitude, toughness and understanding culminated in one of the best offensive attacks in football and one of the most opportunistic defenses in football.
This coaching staff doesn’t like to operate here on the timeline from there — which is understandable, not all things are equal between the two situations — but a lot of the things UCF saw in the run-up to 2017, Nebraska is witnessing in the run-up to 2019.
Ahead of his second season coaching the Knights in Orlando, Scott Frost brought in his mentor to speak with his team. Tom Osborne, Frost’s Nebraska coach and the guy he’s modeled a good deal of his style after, talked about the importance of winning Saturday during the weekdays.
“There (were) a million things that were valuable that he said, but one of the things that made an impression on us as a staff was him reminding us that on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — even during the season — we had live periods, one-on-ones,” Frost recalled Thursday as his Huskers prepared for their second fall camp. “We adopted that that year.
“Kind of refining our toughness and grit was more valuable than any potential risk of getting someone injured, and that’s a tough decision as a head coach, but I think it paid off that year. I think we’re deep enough or getting close to deep enough to do some of those same things. Tuesdays when I was playing was my least favorite day because it was live ones-versus-ones pass skelly, full team pass, and those guys used to pin their ears back and come get it. Those were the practices that made us better.”
Nebraska didn’t do much of that last year. Some, not a lot. With better depth on the team this time around, the coaching staff feels like they can ramp up the in-season physicality a little bit without risking harm to the team.
Right tackle Matt Farniok had a line about the team’s strength and conditioning — “With Duval, it’s either you are going to get really, really strong or you are going to get really, really, really strong. He doesn’t give you a chance to back off.” — that does well to illustrate the way the team is feeling about their physical progress.
They’re bigger (Little Will Farniok isn’t so little anymore) and with that comes confidence. They’re closer, with the Unity Council coming back this summer; Frost wanted to bring it back last year but didn’t feel his team was ready yet. They’re also more committed.
“I think some of those workouts where you’re out in the 100 degree heat out at the stadium at three o’clock and having everyone give it their all and having no one quit, in past years occasionally you’d see a guy tap out,” tight end Jack Stoll said. “I never really saw that this year. That just shows you we are gaining a lot of toughness. We’re really excited to see how it translates to fall camp. We’ve had a tough team before, but I think we’ll be the toughest team in the Big Ten, no doubt.”
Frost wants them to prove that. That’s one of the things he’s looking for. Prove you can line up across your man and win your battle. Nebraska didn’t win the one-on-ones enough last season, improvement will come if that can change.
And from a strength perspective, the Huskers have positioned themselves to do that — “I think this summer we were way ahead of where we were last summer as far as the amount of weight we’ve been able to move in the weight room,” said defensive end Ben Stille — but it’s not just a product of adding muscle. Maybe the biggest difference between this camp and last camp will be what’s going on between guys’ ears.
“I think what is going to be noticeably different is just where we are starting from (an) understanding of our scheme standpoint,” Frost said. Last year we had one spring under our belt, but we were still going out and going through install and taking it slow to make sure guys knew all the details.
“The majority of the guys we’re going to be counting on this year we can lineup and just go run a huge percentage of our playbook on Day 1 if we needed to. So we’re not going to skip over some of the little details that maybe we skipped over last year. From an understanding standpoint it’s going to be completely different.”
Just the natural progression of things (especially with an offense this complex). In Year 1 you teach concepts, in Year 2 you drill technique. “You are not as worried about learning it, you’re more worried about perfecting it,” Stoll said.
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Now the coaching staff can teach details at pace, rather than making sure things walk smoothly. And the team can fly around and play on instinct rather than thinking about what they’re supposed to be doing.
“I expect there to be better execution, tighter execution, better detail,” Frost said. “I think even our true freshmen are at a better point now than they were last year. Just because they are coming in and working with guys who understand it and with coaches who understand it and have been around it a long time. From an understanding standpoint and a detail standpoint, I expect us to be way ahead just because it is Year 2 in the schemes.”
The defense is excited it can pin its ears back and attack. The offense is excited to open up the playbook. Either side can focus on thinking about what the other is doing pre-snap, versus thinking about how they’re supposed to be lined up or what they’re supposed to do.
“I like this team a lot better going into this year,” Frost said. “Just seeing the look on these guys' faces when I walk past them in the hallway, just seeing the guys hanging out together, addressing each other, being in the building, there is a different feel this year. More of a winning feel. A feel I am used to. I can’t wait to go to work with these guys. … We have a lot to accomplish.”
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.