Can experience offset sloppiness? Scott Frost, Nebraska focused on correcting the 'little things'
Nobody needs to hire a detective to figure out what’s been going on with Nebraska’s football program the past three seasons. It’s no mystery to Scott Frost.
The “little things” have been causing big problems in Lincoln since Frost’s arrival before the 2018 season. Those pesky, mental mistakes have resulted in a 12-20 record, with 12 of those losses coming in one possession games.
Heartbreaking defeats in so many tight games is the difference between a few bowl appearances and a coach perceived to be flirting with the hot seat.
“There’s been way too many close games. We look back at some of those games — it was a mistake here, a mistake there, a turnover, a poor play on special teams, a penalty at the wrong time,” Frost said. “Teams that win in this league don’t make those mistakes.”
Ill-timed penalties, turnovers and other mistakes have been a byproduct of a young, inexperienced roster. Frost and his players would tell you that youth is no excuse for sloppy play, but it is an explanation.
Although everyone thought Frost would return to Lincoln and resurrect a middling program in a matter of months, it’s been a work in progress. The staff was forced to trim the fat early in Frost’s tenure, and that has translated to a younger roster in Lincoln a little longer than expected.
Now, finally fielding a veteran team, it’s time to see some progress.
“We’ve had too many of those self-inflicted wounds and our kids are really attentive to try to do the things to get those fixed” Frost said. “Having a veteran team, an experienced team I think helps those mistakes. We haven’t had an old team yet. This will probably be the most experienced team we’ve had, so we’re working together, coaching staff and players, to make sure those things don’t happen.”
A good chunk of Nebraska’s returning experience comes on the defensive side of the football with nine starters back in the fold. There’s a sense that the Blackshirt mentality might be returning to Lincoln after a noticeably long absence.
Starting safety Deontai Williams says that returning so many contributors from last year — Cam Taylor-Britt, Marquel Dismuke and JoJo Domann, to name a few — makes his job as a leader much easier. But he also acknowledged that those “little” mistakes Frost discussed need to be eliminated.
“Pay attention to details. Some of the stuff we beat ourselves with,” Williams said. “Also, being disciplined, not jumping offsides and things like that. Eliminating the explosive plays.”
Nebraska finished 11th in the B1G a year ago in penalty yardage, averaging just under 61 yards per game. The Huskers also ranked 13th in turnover margin with a -11 total during the 3-5 campaign.
You’re not going to find that recipe in many successful cookbooks.
“There’s 14 good programs in this league. Top to bottom, I think this is the strongest league,” Frost said. “If you beat yourself in this league, you’re not gonna win.”
Playing in the toughest conference in the country isn’t where the challenge ends for Nebraska. A nine-game B1G schedule can be challenging enough for a program trying to wiggle its way back to the top. The difficulty is exacerbated when the Huskers draw Ohio State and Michigan in cross-over matchups and have games against Oklahoma and Buffalo in non-league play this fall.
Without question, this will be the most intimidating schedule Nebraska has faced in Frost’s four years as head coach. And after spending the last three seasons under .500, there are some serious hesitation to pencil the Huskers into a bowl game at the end of the 2021 campaign.
So, what exactly is the good news in this story that would give Husker fans enough anxiety to last through another decade?
Along with the experience, the talent has been elevated in Lincoln. It’s not just the starters that Frost likes about his team entering this fall, it’s the look of the roster from top to bottom.
“There’s no doubt we have more talent in the building right now than we’ve had since I’ve been at Nebraska,” Frost said. “I think overall as a team our depth has gotten better, which should help on offense, defense and special teams. So, there’s been improvements, but none of that matters. We gotta go out and play well and I think this group is locked in on that.”
Frost doesn’t have to think about it. Sitting at a table across from his head coach at Lucas Oil Stadium, Williams made it clear that he and his teammates are locked in to the season.
“(We want to) show the world that we can change narrative of Nebraska Cornhusker football,” he said.
Four years into his tenure at Nebraska, Frost finally has the combination of talent and experience it takes to win at a high level in the B1G. In 2021, the difference between a successful year and another disappointing outcome boils down to one question.
Can the Huskers fix the little things?