Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

As Frost's Offensive Evolution Continues, What Is Fun For Nebraska in 2019

July 30, 2019
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Scott Frost calls Chip Kelly “Chipper.” That seemed significant. Frost was sitting on a stage in a hotel ballroom in Chicago and talking about learning from Kelly, a man who it seems is routinely in the background when discussing the meteoric rise of Coach Scott Frost. Because of where he is and who he played for, Frost is uniquely tied to Tom Osborne and when we think about what he’s building at Nebraska, we look through an Osborne-influenced lens. 

Kelly-ian principles, though, are the foundation on which the mansion is built. Osborne-isms are the architecture, in the same way Frost has pulled concepts and coaching ideologies from Bill Walsh and Mike Tomlin and Tony Dungy and the rest of an impressive coaching tree —but Kelly’s offensive philosophies, above anything else, are the nuts and bolts. 

At Oregon, Kelly was enigmatic and anything but chipper. He could be standoffish, but also impulsively fun as hell. He went skydiving and took Frost and a friend overseas to go running with bulls. What the public sees is different from what Frost saw. Has anyone else ever called the offensive revolutionary “Chipper?” I haven’t seen it. 

Though Oregon wasn’t Frost’s first coaching opportunity, it was largely the one that made him. Everything that has come sense can be traced back to a meeting with then-Athletic Director Mike Bellotti where talking about tackling for half an hour led to a job as a wideout coach and led to a job as the offensive coordinator and led to the title as one of the offensive geniuses in college football. 

But the thing that has made Frost great — and, subsequently, the thing that has excitement around the Husker football program at record levels for, what, this century? — is his ability to evolve and adapt. 

His Nebraska offense is not a carbon copy of Kelly’s Oregon attacks. Neither were his Central Florida outfits. You can look at it this way: Kelly provided the jumping off point.

“It’s hard to come up with new things in this day and age,” Frost said at Big Ten Media Days. “When you did something unique, it used to take people a whole season or two seasons to emulate it or catch up to it. I really remember a couple plays that we’ve run that we thought were new — it’s probably already been done but you don’t remember it — and the next week three or four teams in the same league are running the same thing. It’s getting harder and harder to be unique but we’re always going to try and stay ahead of the curve and do some things that people aren’t ready for.”

At Oregon, Kelly’s playbook was simplified. Lots of inside zone, lots of outside zone, lots of sweeps. Go quickly and force defensive miscommunication or over-communication or no communication and take advantage with dudes who are faster than the other dudes. The variance came in post-snap optionality, not pre-snap window dressing. 

When Kelly ran pin-and-pull, he pulled a center and a guard or a center and a tackle and used guards to seal a defensive front. Frost has tweaked the entire concept — he pulls both guards, he motions receivers into the backfield and running backs out wide, he feints jet sweeps left and right, and he shows a bevy of different looks. 

When Frost got to Orlando, he mixed triple-option elements from his Tom Osborne days with Kelly fundamentals and then added in his own unique twists. Rather than focusing on tempo between plays, he focused on tempo of plays. Rather than committing to a ground game that opened up a passing game, he used a passing game that complimented the run. As the offensive coordinator at Oregon, Frost ran it 64.5 percent of the time on standard downs. In his three seasons as a head coach, he’s run it 55.7, 55.8 and 55.6 percent of the time on standard downs. That’s enough to signify a trend. 

The explosion component is there, the pace is there, but the tendencies have changed ever so slightly.

  YPP IsoPPP Adj. Pace % Solo Tkls St. Down/Pass Down Run Rate QB Runs/Game
Oregon
(2015)
7.05
(5th)
1.39
(14th)
18th 73.5%
(80th)
64.5%
39.5%
5.8
V. Adams
UCF
(2016)
4.68
(123rd)
1.16
(114th)
31st 73.6%
(69th)
55.7%
36.1%
7.5
Milton
UCF
(2017)
7.46
(2nd)
1.44
(5th)
22nd 78.8%
(21st)
55.8%
35.2%
7.5
Milton
Nebraska
(2018)
6.31
(20th)
1.15 (78th) 20th 71.0%
(81st)
55.6%
36.2%
10.6
Martinez

IsoPPP is explained here; it’s an explosiveness metric developed by Football Study Hall designed to answer how consistently successful an offense is, and when it is successful, how potent it is. Focus on the ranking with that one. Percent of solo tackles is exactly as it sounds — how many of an offense’s plays were ended by a lone defender making a tackle. It’s proof of concept for a pace-and-space system like Frost’s that emphasizes getting playmakers in one-on-ones.

From 2009 to 2013 (Kelly as the Ducks’ head coach), Oregon ranked 11th nationally on average in rushing attempts per game, cracking the top six twice and finishing 15th and 17th the other two years. (The actual per-game numbers don’t tell the whole story as teams are running more plays in a single game in 2019 than they ever thought possible in 2009.) When Frost took over as the offensive coordinator in 2014, the Duck offense dropped to 36th nationally in runs per game. 

The Knights ran it fewer times in 2017 than they did in 2016, and for how effective the Huskers’ running game was in 2018 behind Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska was 63rd in the country in rushing attempts per game at 38.7.

The biggest change is the way Frost uses the RPO. 

Kelly ran QB dart/wrap concepts with an option for his quarterback to hand the ball off or run it himself. Frost runs QB dart concepts with an option for a running back handoff, or a quarterback keeper, or a deep ball down the field, or a pass to the flats for a receiver who just motioned out wide from the opposite side. 

This ends with a run… 

And that sets up the over-the-top ball…

(That account is a recommended follow for Nebraska Xs and Os by the way.)

Frost is one of the best in the game at not just self-scouting week-to-week and adjusting quarter-to-quarter, but also of sequencing. At Central Florida, that was the equalizer when talent on each sideline was disproportionate. 

But Nebraska won’t have that problem. 

In Adrian Martinez, Scott Frost has perhaps the best quarterback he’s ever worked with. That statement is most likely going to be met with some pushback, as his Oregon quarterback (Marcus Mariota) won a Heisman Trophy and his UCF quarterback (McKenzie Milton) had a 2017 season that saw him finish second in the country in yards per pass and passer rating and fourth in completion percentage, but Martinez combines the best parts of both of Frost’s first two guys and what he produced in Year 1 from an efficiency standpoint rivals what those other two guys did after time to get comfortable. 

He possesses the running ability of Mariota and the body to physically handle the toll. And he has arm talent of Milton. Martinez is a combination of the traits that led to both the Oregon successes and the UCF successes. He can take a basic quarterback wrap play with no pre-snap goodies and no RPO element, make the wrong read, and still score a 41-yard touchdown.

To this point in his coaching career, Frost’s thing has been innovation. In Year 2 at UCF, they had more fun because they opened up the playbook with a greater understanding of scheme. The same appears set to happen in Lincoln. 

“We weren’t teaching everything for the very first time and weren’t teaching guys where to line up and drill, how we wanted them to be dressed, what the names of the plays were, what the signals were,” Frost said after the first day of spring ball this March. And because of that, the fun stuff can come. 

The fun stuff at Central Florida in 2017 was an undefeated season. It was an offense that was both one of the most efficient and one of the most explosive outfits in the country. With more talent in Lincoln after back-to-back top-25 recruiting classes and the right quarterback in place, what will “fun” be for Nebraska in 2019?

We’re still a month away from finding out, but everyone around the program is getting more and more chipper with each passing day. 

 
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