The B1G 10: Scott Frost isn't the answer and never will be. So why is he still Nebraska's coach?
Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten.
1. The B1G Story
This is why you don’t deal in emotion, you strike amid the reality of the moment.
This is why you don’t hope for the best, you move to find what works.
At the very least, Nebraska will endure another month of this nonsense, of thinking and hoping and wishing beloved former national championship quarterback Scott Frost can return Big Red to glory — a move that never should’ve happened in the first place.
At the very least, Trev Alberts has learned a valuable lesson in the early stages of his time as athletic director at Nebraska: Ignore your feelings, not the facts.
“This team can be a great team,” Frost said after last weekend’s ugly win over FCS North Dakota, the latest indicator of what you see on the field must overshadow what you feel in your heart. “It’s not right now.”
Facts, everyone. Not feelings.
Frost had 10 months to set a course of action, 10 months to make a plan and execute it and find a way to be nothing like the previous 4 years that should’ve gotten him fired after last season’s 3-9 debacle.
At some point, someone at Nebraska — and it should be Alberts, who as a Huskers All-American, was a tough, smart pull-no-punches player, just like he was as a television analyst — must rip off the band-aid and have a come-to-Jesus moment with a loyal fan base that deserves much better.
Because there’s more ugly on the way while careening toward Oct. 1, when Frost’s buyout officially drops from $15 million to $7.5.
There’s more arguing about who’s running the offense, and the philosophy of it all (more on that later). There are more special teams blunders on the way — yet another failed onside kick that apparently wasn’t an onside kick — and more rare opportunity that should be seized but is fumbled away on a weekly basis with a cacophony of bad ideas and game-day decisions.
I can’t underscore this enough: Frost had 10 months to get everything squared away for this strange and very public one-shot deal given to him by Alberts. Win, and keep your job.
Frost’s response to that mandate, to being publicly spanked and told it’s now or never, to being put on notice that 4 straight losing seasons don’t work at a program that has everything in place to succeed, was what played out against Northwestern and North Dakota.
Nothing better encapsulates the unfit response from Frost — again, 10 months of preparation — than the nightmare of special teams play.
First, there was the unthinkable onside kick against Northwestern, while leading by 11 and with full momentum and control of the game. We saw what happened after that colossally bad decision.
Next was last week’s onside kick, or as Frost called it — after the unusually tough game against an FCS team that won 5 games in 2021 and finished 7th in the Missouri Valley Conference — a “squib kick.”
At this point, I don’t care what it’s called or what it was. Let’s just humor Frost and allow the “squib kick” response. It failed, miserably.
Just like the onside kick against Northwestern.
“Our aim has been off on a couple of those, and we hit somebody,” Frost said.
And there you have it. We’re 2 games into this nightmare, and Frost — who actually admitted he was going to start his postgame press conference by explaining it was a squib kick, not an onside kick because of all the pushback from last week’s call — proclaimed this was user error.
The last sign of a man on the way to getting fired: blaming players.
Players execute how they are coached. Period.
Don’t listen to any coach who tells you anything differently — especially one who wanted to start a press conference by proclaiming it’s not me.
The aim is off, all right.
And we’re only 2 weeks into this mess.
2. To call plays, or not to call plays
Let’s stick with the 10-month theme, shall we?
Frost had 10 months to frame and build a philosophical idea of where he wanted the offense, and what it would look like moving forward in this one-shot gift.
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The idea of an offensive coordinator was forced upon him by Alberts, who wanted Frost to concentrate more on being a CEO, on fixing little things that become big things. You know, like squib kicks.
So Frost hired Mark Whipple, who just completed a 3-year run at Pitt where he developed Kenny Pickett from a 3-star recruit — the 739th-ranked player in the 2017 recruiting class according to 247Sports — into an NFL first-round pick. Pitt also won the ACC for the first time in 2021 because, in no small part, of Pickett’s elite play.
Six quarters into the Whipple experiment, it looks like Frost has grabbed the reins of play-caller. While we don’t know this as fact because Frost talks about a “collaborative” effort, he was on the sidelines in the second half of the North Dakota game — after a 7-7 first half — with a play sheet in his hands and talking into the headset on every offensive series.
He wasn’t nose-deep into the call sheet in the first half.
But maybe the mean media — and “the best fans in America” as Frost likes to call Nebraska fans — got that one wrong, too. Like the squib kick.
Ten months, everyone. Ten months of detailed planning and Frost already is veering from what he believed would win games.
This is why you don’t deal in emotion if you’re an athletic director. Because the coach you saved will, too, react emotionally when it begins to unravel.
3. No way out
This is your coaching life, Scott Frost: 3 straight home games to finish September, 3 games that will determine if you’re the coach at Nebraska when the calendar rolls to October.
In theory, Georgia Southern this week is a win. I say in theory because Georgia Southern, too, played an FCS team to begin the season — and beat Morgan State 59-7.
Nebraska then gets 2 weeks to prepare for bitter rival Oklahoma rolling into Lincoln. If you think that extra week is advantageous, I’ll defer to the 10 months of preparation for the season.
Beat Oklahoma, and there’s a chance this thing turns. Lose badly to Oklahoma, and the excuse of it’s not a conference game may hold water until the final game of the 3-game stretch.
Think about this, Mr. and Mrs. Nebraska. Your once-proud program, still among the elite of college football 2 decades ago, has been reduced to Indiana as the measuring stick.
Lose to Indiana, and Alberts will rip off the band-aid and strike amid the reality of the moment. Emotion be damned.
4. Welcome to the party, JJ
Cade McNamara wants everyone to know he didn’t know about the King Solomon arrangement with the Michigan quarterbacks until he was told and certainly doesn’t agree with it.
“I would definitely say it’s pretty unusual,” McNamara said after last weekend’s win over Colorado State. “It was kind of a thing I wasn’t expecting at the end of camp. I thought I had my best camp, I thought I put myself in good position.”
Instead, we have contestant No. 2 heading to the stage, sophomore JJ McCarthy.
Harbaugh knows what he has with McNamara, a game manager who played well in 2021 and led the team to a win over Ohio State and a spot in the Playoff.
Harbaugh also knows what he has in McCarthy, an uber-talented former 5-star recruit who can dynamically change the offense. McNamara’s day was complete midway through the 3rd quarter with a 30-0 lead, and the offense just looked different with McCarthy under center.
His second play of the series was a 20-yard TD run off a zone-read keeper that showed his unique acceleration and explosion. Before he left in the fourth quarter, he completed 4-of-4 passes for 30 yards, and ran 3 times for 50 yards.
McNamara finished 8-of-16 for 136 yards passing and 1 TD.
Now McCarthy gets his start against a truly terrible Hawaii team that lost its first 2 games to Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky — both at Hawaii — by a combined 112-27.
McCarthy will be nearly flawless against Hawaii, and the decision for Harbaugh will be much easier to make. This is no longer about who gives Michigan the best chance to beat Ohio State.
This is about who gives Michigan the best chance to win it all.
That’s an easy decision.
5. The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread, brought to you by our friends at FanDuel:
- Washington State (+16.5) at Wisconsin
- Iowa State at Iowa (-3.5)
- Duke (+9.5) at Northwestern
- Georgia Southern (+22.5) at Nebraska
- Ohio (+24.5) at Penn State
Last week: 3-2.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan State Edge Jacoby Windmon.
“He’s undersized to play on the edge, in an odd or even front. I know people watch him now and see a guy that’s tough to block off the edge. He won’t be tough to block in those man situations here. At the end of the day, he’s 6-2, 230 pounds and you’re not changing that. Could he get bigger? Sure. Is it worth a pick? Yeah. But he’s probably a (weakside) linebacker here. Guys that can run and have that explosion and playmaking ability stick in this league. He’s going to have a big year at Michigan State. But let’s see what he runs at the Combine and his pro day.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: Week 1 surprise.
Ohio State: The tepid response from the rest of the receiving corps when Jaxon Smith-Njiba was injured. Marvin Harrison Jr. struggled when coverage rolled his way.
Michigan: McNamara should’ve been flawless against overmatched Colorado State. He wasn’t.
Wisconsin: Rebuilt secondary gave up plays of 35, 26 (twice) and 23 yards.
Michigan State: A year after portal transfer Kenneth Walker III became a star, Jacoby Windmon (4 sacks), a transfer from UNLV, could be next in line.
Penn State: Penn State folded last year against Iowa when QB Sean Clifford was hurt. Freshman backup Drew Allar looked poised and confident in a close game during the brief time he played when Clifford missed snaps because of cramps.
Purdue: WR Charlie Jones had 21 catches last season. He caught more than half that number (12) for 153 yards against Penn State.
Iowa: It’s Year 3 as a starter for QB Spencer Petras, and he was 11-of-25 for 109 yards and 1 INT vs. FCS South Dakota State. That’s a completion percentage of 44, and an average yards per attempt of 4.4.
Minnesota: Lost early last season to an Achilles’ injury, TB Mo Ibrahim had the explosion, and the strength to run between the tackles.
Maryland: Coach Mike Locksley wants 80 plays a game. Terps got 61 vs. overmatched Buffalo —and QB Taulia Tagovailoa didn’t throw a TD pass for first time in 14 games as a starter.
Rutgers: Averaged 139 yards rushing last season, got 212 in the opener vs. Boston College.
Northwestern: QB Ryan Hilinski is a different player. More accurate (54 percent in 2021; 71.1 percent in 2022), and the ball goes downfield (5.6 ypa in 2021; 8.3 ypa in 2022).
Nebraska: Special teams are a disaster. Still.
Indiana: QB Connor Bazelak was lost in 2021 at Missouri. He might be the answer for IU’s quarterback struggles from a year ago.
Illinois: Consistency in approach is still a significant problem. Same mistakes, same results.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Everything was set up for a big season at Purdue. The West Division is there for the taking, and we have the best offense in the division. Now what? — Cary Palmer, Indianapolis.
Don’t panic, it’s one week. But I feel your pain. This can still be a unique season at Purdue, and there are 3 games to get it turned (Indiana State, at Syracuse, FAU) before conference play resumes.
A combination of things got Purdue against Penn State, and it’s something that can’t continue moving forward. Outside of the reality that Purdue still struggles to defend the pass (and rush the quarterback), coach Jeff Brohm’s play-calling was questionable at times, and disastrous at others.
QB Aidan O’Connell is a terrific talent, but Purdue can’t afford to hang everything on his ability to make plays. He will have games where he’s not sharp — like the Penn State loss, when he completed 50 percent of his passes. There must be option No. 2 in the future.
TB King Doerue is solid, and needs more carries. Two runs that gain 7 or 8 yards puts the offense in 3rd and short, instead of 3rd and long after 2 incompletions.
Brohm has to put O’Connell in more manageable situations when he sees O’Connell struggling — or when Purdue can’t protect and it’s affecting the efficiency of the passing game.
3.06. After an offseason focus on improving a horrific run game (3.21 yards per carry), Penn State had 98 yards on 32 carries vs. Purdue (3.06 ypc).
The drop is disconcerting on multiple levels, beginning with Purdue’s run defense, which was 12th in the Big Ten last season and didn’t drastically change what it’s doing.
Penn State ran the ball 23 times in the first half and gave up on it in the second half (9 carries). It’s going to be a problem (again) moving forward.
10. Quote to note
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh: “I do believe players should receive a revenue share from the massive television deals that have been worked out. Don’t you agree? A large piece should come from those who are negotiating the TV deals for the Big Ten.”