B1G Monday Morning: Nearing the end of Year 3 under Scott Frost, patience is wearing thin at Nebraska as the excuses mount
Saturday was supposed to be a showcase of just how far Scott Frost’s Nebraska program has come. Instead, it illustrated just how far it has to go.
It’s hard to imagine a more uninspiring result as Frost nears the end of his third season in Lincoln. Minnesota, a team that hadn’t played in over 3 weeks and reportedly was missing 33 players, took down Nebraska 24-17. At this point, you can’t help but feel for the people who continue to emotionally invest in this program that is incapable of allowing its fans to feel good about their team for more than a week at a time. The Huskers’ last 2-game winning streak in conference play was over 2 years ago. They are guaranteed a fourth straight losing season.
Ironically enough, Frost (11-20) now has more losses than …
- Mike Riley (the man he replaced) — in 8 fewer games.
- Frank Solich, who coached the Huskers for 6 seasons.
- Tom Osborne had in his final 12 seasons at Nebraska.
Is there a B1G program that is in a worse spot right now than Nebraska (2-5)? At least Illinois (2-5) can start over after firing Lovie Smith, and Michigan (2-4) can too if that’s what it wants, with a much more affordable buyout. Penn State (3-5) has won 3 straight, Rutgers (3-5) is surprisingly OK under Greg Schiano and Mike Locksley’s Maryland squad (2-4) has overcome COVID issues. The only plausible answer is the team Nebraska beat the previous week, Purdue (2-4).
Frost’s buyout of $25.4 million is the sixth-highest in the country, behind only Jimbo Fisher ($53.1 million), Dabo Swinney ($50 million), Ryan Day ($45.5 million), Nick Saban ($36.8 million) and Lincoln Riley ($30.9 million). In other words, you can make a case that Nebraska holds the worst contract in America, because none of those coaches are getting fired anytime soon. Last year, Nebraska needlessly extended Frost through 2026. The Huskers are stuck.
In 2017, Frost oversaw a UCF offense that averaged 7.5 yards per play (second in the country) and put up 530.5 yards per game. Nebraska was 25th in total offense during Frost’s first year in 2018, but the Huskers slipped to 55th last year and 88th this year. It would be fine if Frost at least appeared to be building something, like when Nebraska won 4 of its last 6 in 2018 with a true freshman QB. Now 2 years later, with the same QB, where can Nebraska fans be encouraged? On Saturday, Nebraska’s 29 pass attempts resulted in 113 yards.
And it isn’t clear whether help is on the way. Zavier Betts is a promising young player, and it’s clear that Wan’Dale Robinson can be an important part of a good offense. Look at the way Wisconsin, Iowa and even Minnesota construct their rosters; their top recruits are always offensive linemen. Right tackle Bryce Benhart has struggled so far (he allowed 2 sacks to Boye Mafe on Saturday), but he has potential. Freshman Turner Corcoran, the left tackle of the future, is the highest-rated recruit on the roster. But the Huskers need more of those guys up front on both sides of the ball. Neither Martinez nor Luke McCaffrey projects to be the type of QB who is going to be winning shootouts anytime soon.
Frost has brought in some talent, but these days, it’s leaving the program just as fast. Nebraska’s 2020 recruiting class that ranked fourth in the Big Ten and was stocked with nearly as much blue-chip talent as Michigan and Penn State is basically wiped out already. Less than a year later, 4 of those top 6 recruits have left the program. All of them were 4-star recruits from Florida, with the latest being Marcus Fleming, who plays a position (wide receiver) where Nebraska desperately needs players to emerge. It begs the question: What is going on inside this program? Yes, it’s a pandemic, and yes, kids seem more likely to transfer than 20 years ago. But everyone is dealing with the same difficult circumstances.
As for Saturday, Nebraska missed a golden opportunity. The Huskers’ ugliest loss of 2019 was against Minnesota, when they were bullied by the Golden Gophers and belittled by Frost for wearing hoodies in warmups. That provided a nice spot for Nebraska on Saturday, as some in the media would’ve eagerly used the chance to show how much the Huskers have grown. But against the worst rushing defense in FBS (and second-worst since 2013), one that allows over 6.8 yards per carry, Nebraska comes out throwing on the first play (and 2 of the first 3).
When Luke McCaffrey — who has PFF’s lowest passing grade of the 28 B1G QBs who have attempted a pass this season — came in the game, Nebraska called back-to-back pass plays, the second of which resulted in an interception. On a blustery day in which stadium workers spent the morning removing snow from the field, having your running QB come in to the game cold and throw — not once, but twice — lacks common sense.
As usual, Frost had the excuses ready. Two weeks ago, it was Iowa’s clapping on the sideline that was throwing off Nebraska’s snap count. This week, it was all the media timeouts.
“It seemed like we had a media timeout every drive,” Frost told the media. I’m not sure what Frost is even talking about here. There was an official review on Nebraska’s first drive (on that first play to see whether it was a lateral), there was the end of the first quarter during Nebraska’s fourth drive and there was a stoppage of play during Nebraska’s 12th and final drive when Minnesota cornerback Coney Durr left the game with an injury.
Frost: "It seemed like we had a media timeout for every drive."
— Sam McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) December 12, 2020
It’s just an unfathomable excuse, even if it were true. But it isn’t, so what is Frost complaining about? Media timeouts, by the way, allow Frost to make $5 million per year and be the 17th highest-paid coach in the country.
Instead, Frost should be focusing on why right tackle Benhart got beat badly by Mafe for 2 sacks in the second half, one of which forced a fumble. Or how a holding call on left guard Ethan Piper wiped out a TD. Or how Frost elected to take points off the board with 5:51 left and then settled for another field goal with 4:42 left.
For Christmas this year, someone should buy Scott Frost a mirror. No one is holding back the Huskers but themselves. If Tom Allen can do it at Indiana, and Pat Fitzgerald can do it at Northwestern, Frost can do it at Nebraska. Sooner or later, though, the Huskers have to show sustainable progress.
It was admittedly a strange day in college football. For the first time since 1918, Ohio State and Michigan didn’t play The Game. Indiana and Purdue, a rivalry that dates to 1891, didn’t play for the Old Oaken Bucket (though that may happen next week). And because of cancelations, 4 of the top 5 teams in the latest College Football Playoff rankings did not play. And somehow, even though it didn’t play in The (Horse)Shoe on Saturday, Ohio State still scored a massive win thanks to The Shoe. (I’ll show myself out.)
With just one more week until bowl games are announced, a few takeaways from the weekend and how they impact B1G teams:
- No. 6 Florida’s stunning home loss to an LSU team victimized by opt-outs and injuries is obviously a huge break for No. 4 Ohio State (5-0). Now, the Gators (8-2) are unlikely to get into the CFP, even if they beat No. 1 Alabama (10-0). This loss also hurts No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1), as that Florida win doesn’t look quite as good anymore. If the Aggies’ best win is beating a 3-loss Florida squad and they don’t have much else, it’s hard to envision them jumping Ohio State. Texas A&M needs either Clemson or Ohio State to lose.
- Even after not playing this week, No. 12 Indiana (6-1) still looks like a good bet for 1 of the 4 at-large slots in a NY6 bowl. While Hoosiers fans were surely hoping No. 9 Georgia would stumble at No. 25 Missouri, no such luck. Missouri tied the game at 14 late in the first half, but Georgia ran off 35 unanswered. Since the Bulldogs have just Vanderbilt left, the SEC could realistically get 3 at-large NY6 bids. Yes, Florida is unlikely to fall below Georgia, even with a loss to Alabama.
- No. 13 Coastal Carolina (11-0) beating Troy by just 4 isn’t likely to help it leap Indiana for that last at-large spot.
- No. 17 North Carolina’s thumping of No. 10 Miami was the second-most impressive performance of the weekend. Is it enough for North Carolina (8-3) to rise above No. 16 Iowa (6-2) and No. 14 Northwestern (6-1)? The guess here is no, because the B1G squads did well in each winning by 3 scores. Iowa dominated a Wisconsin squad that was as high as No. 16 in the CFP rankings just 2 weeks ago, and Northwestern barely broke a sweat against Illinois. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Northwestern and Iowa move up a spot each and for Miami to fall all the way behind North Carolina (since the Committee seems to love head-to-head).
- No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0) is probably a lock, if it wasn’t already. That convincing win at North Carolina just a few weeks ago looks even better, and now Florida is no threat.
A predictable result
No. 16 Iowa 28, Wisconsin 7. This game certainly raised some eyebrows as the spread opened with Iowa being a 1-point favorite, and because of how much money was put on Wisconsin, the spread moved 3 points the other way by kickoff. It was even more puzzling when you consider Iowa entered on a 5-game winning streak, Wisconsin entered on a 2-game losing streak and the Badgers were without 3 of their top playmakers (RB Jalen Berger and WRs Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor).
The result was hardly surprising, considering the data points we already had on both teams. And the way the game unfolded wasn’t surprising, either.
Whether college or NFL, it is increasingly rare for teams to punt on 4th-and-1 when you’re near midfield or past. And yet, this is the game where it would’ve felt strange to see either of these teams going for it. Iowa had a 4th-and-1 at the Wisconsin 40 on its first drive and punted, of course. But the Hawkeyes recovered a fumble 3 plays later, leading to a Keith Duncan field goal. Wisconsin’s only touchdown came after punting on 4th-and-1, albeit from its own 36. It underscores the core philosophy of each of these teams; don’t take chances and put your defense in the best position to succeed. It’s part of the reason neither of these teams ranks all that highly in most offensive statistics and that they almost always rank highly in the key defensive metrics.
The other important development was the second half performance of Iowa’s Spencer Petras, who shined after halftime for the second straight week. The embattled QB has had his share of growing pains, but he went 4-of-7 for 124 yards and 2 TDs against a Wisconsin defense that is fifth in the country in terms of pass defense. The more Ihmir Smith-Marsette, the better.
There isn’t too much to overreact to for Wisconsin, which sorely missed the explosiveness of Berger. This is a lost season plagued by injuries and its young QB, Graham Mertz, going through some growing pains. When Nakia Watson scored a TD in the third quarter, it was Wisconsin’s first TD in 34 drives. Life ain’t easy without Jonathan Taylor.
1. Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)
Smith-Marsette looked like an All-American in the win over Wisconsin on Saturday, as the dynamic wideout broke open a defensive stalemate with a pair of explosive plays. Lined up in the slot, he made one move and was wide open for a 19-yard TD. Later in the third quarter, he got loose for a 53-yard score, which he punctuated with a backflip (and a hurt ankle).
Spencer Petras connects with Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the back corner to extend the Iowa (+1) lead to 14-0
— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) December 12, 2020
Ihmir Smith-Marsette burns the Badgers secondary from the slot and comes up with touchdown #2 on the day. Newark, NJ native is going to regret that front flip though. pic.twitter.com/CRMHytp2ik
— George Balekji (@GeorgeBalekji) December 12, 2020
2. Cam Porter (Northwestern)
The true freshman running back entered the day with 8 carries, and he rescued a struggling running game in the victory against Illinois. After starting running back Drake Anderson fumbled on the Wildcats’ first possession, Porter came off the bench to rumble for 142 yards on 24 carries.
December 12, 2020: the @camporter02 breakout. ✍️
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 12, 2020
3. Bo Melton (Rutgers)
Rutgers has finally figured out a way to unlock Melton’s blazing speed, as the wideout scored 2 rushing TDs in the comeback win over Maryland, giving him 8 total on the season (after just 2 the previous 3 years). He finished with 97 total yards and his third multi-TD game this season.
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) December 12, 2020
4. Mohamed Ibrahim (Minnesota)
The workhorse didn’t get his normal volume in the win over Nebraska with just 20 carries, a season low, but he still made them count with 108 yards and 2 TDs. He is third in FBS with 154.2 rushing yards per game and leads the country with 29.2 rushing attempts per game.
Mohamed Ibrahim 💪 Needed 1, got 26
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 12, 2020
5. Parker Washington/Jahan Dotson (Penn State)
The Penn State wide receiver duo went off in the comeback victory over Michigan State. Washington tallied 4 catches for 95 yards and 2 scores, while Dotson hauled in 8 passes for 108 yards, in addition to returning a punt 81 yards for a TD.
Parker Washington isn’t going to be a star. He is a star. pic.twitter.com/GFDOxd8qJz
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) December 12, 2020
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) December 12, 2020
Honorable mention: QB Eric Najarian (Maryland), QB Sean Clifford (Penn State), QB Payton Thorne (Michigan State), RB Jake Funk (Maryland), WR Jalen Nailor (Michigan State)