As Keith Duncan’s kick sailed through the Memorial Stadium uprights, so continued the third year of a painful tradition in Lincoln.
Lose to Iowa, miss a bowl game and turn to Scott Frost for answers.
So far, there have been more questions than answers for the Huskers under Frost. Like, how can a team continuously gain 500 yards of offense and find a way to lose? Or, how can a team go 3-9 in 1-possession games? Perhaps most importantly, how can a team once so dominant still be so desperate for a solution?
It’s Frost’s $5 million job to answer that question following a 9-15 start that yielded neither a Top 25 win nor a bowl berth. Unfortunately for him, he’ll have a month longer to think about that than initially planned. And by “initially planned,” I’m referring to the preseason prediction media members had that Nebraska would not only make a bowl game in Year 2 of the Frost era after a 4-win season, but that he’d also lead the Huskers to a B1G West title.
If Frost is going to stand at the podium and preach “trust the process” jargon about building Nebraska back up the only way he/Tom Osborne knows how, that’s his prerogative. He’s the one who got an extension despite an incredibly disappointing start.
But if Frost wants to live in the real world, where tough decisions have to be made and relationships are put to the test, now is about making adjustments. Whether Frost wants to admit it or not, there are 2 key areas in which that can happen.
Let’s start with the defense. Yes, the unit that played an extremely solid second half on Friday and held a Power 5 opponent under 30 points for the fifth time in 20 contests under Frost. Changes need to be made. Personnel changes, in my opinion.
At the time, it came as a small surprise that Frost brought his entire UCF staff — defensive coaches included — with him to Nebraska. After all, UCF’s defensive numbers were, um, not great during their historic run:
UCF had an average defense at best, and that was against AAC competition. Only one top-40 finish in those 6 total areas isn’t a good look.
Nobody really questioned it because Frost was given free rein upon arrival. He was and is the savior. As Osborne himself said, if Frost can’t make it work, who can? It’s his program, and if he wanted to bring his guys on board who was anyone to judge?
But based on what we’ve seen in the first 2 years from the UCF-to-Nebraska defensive staff (defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt and defensive backs coach Travis Fisher) it would be strange not to question their performance and wonder if an overhaul needs to take place.
Some of the numbers are alarming. For example, in 6 games played against B1G West rivals Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Nebraska allowed an average of 271 rushing yards. Iowa actually brought that average down by only getting 225 rushing yards on Friday.
Granted, that was for an Iowa team who averaged 96.6 rushing yards per B1G game this year … a number which was surpassed in the first quarter against Nebraska. And remember that stat about holding Power 5 teams to 30 points or less? Before Friday, those offenses were ranked an average of No. 101 in FBS with 2018 Minnesota’s No. 65 scoring offense being the best of the bunch.
Want more numbers to show why this Nebraska defense has been brutal so far? Sure.
(Those numbers were all entering Friday’s game)
No, that’s not entirely the product of Mike Riley or injuries. If that’s your source of blame for watching Nebraska miss tackle after tackle, well, maybe you think that’ll magically change with this coaching staff. Or if you want to blame it on a lack of talent, explain to me why Nebraska had 1 fewer 4- or 5-star players on its roster than Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin COMBINED.
The talent is there. If it wasn’t, Nebraska wouldn’t have been picked to win the division.
Speaking of that, Frost’s other tough personnel decision involves the position he prides himself on. Are we sure that Adrian Martinez is the guy? I mean, not to be the “play the backup quarterback” guy, but you can bet there were a whole lot of people who wanted to see Luke McCaffrey try to lead a late drive instead of watching Martinez foolishly go out of bounds to stop the clock on a second down run and give Iowa a chance to win the game in regulation.
Let’s call it what it is — Martinez regressed. Instead of developing into the Heisman Trophy candidate he was pegged as in the preseason, he became the guy who couldn’t escape head-scratching decisions and made the fanbase wonder if there was a better option on the sidelines. In nearly every category measuring his efficiency (accuracy, TD passes/attempt, passes/interception, quarterback rating, sacks/drop back), Martinez got worse as a passer and because of his injuries, we couldn’t get a fair Year 2 evaluation of him as a runner.
We’ve now had 2 full seasons of data to evaluate Martinez, who most recently averaged 2.8 yards per attempt with bowl hopes on the line. Woof.
In all likelihood, Frost is going to continue to build around Martinez. After all, Martinez was the quarterback who Frost hand-picked and threw into the fire as a true freshman. The odds of an offensive-minded coach as stubborn as Frost punting on Martinez isn’t likely, but the Iowa game served as a clear indication that he’s not opposed to seeing what he has to work with.
Yes, you’re right. You did see me slip the word “stubborn” in there. Frost is stubborn. He handles player discipline like Osborne, he repeatedly claims “I need guys who are fully bought in” at press conferences and he always seems to follow the same “I can’t believe we lost again” attitude in his postgame media interactions.
Frost has been critical of his team publicly, but using that as a means to light the fire clearly isn’t working. The guy is 9-15, which is a mark that would’ve had Riley, Bo Pelini or any other non-Nebraska native on the first flight out of Lincoln. It’s time to get more introspective than ever.
Frost has a defense that can’t stop the run, which isn’t ideal in the B1G West. Frost has a quarterback who can’t avoid the costly mistakes, which isn’t ideal for a well-paid, offensive-minded coach to have.
At this point, Frost cutting bait on a member of his defensive staff or switching quarterbacks would be major news in Lincoln. He’s frustrated, but he’s still “Nebraska nice.”
Sooner or later, though, that reality is going to set in. He’s got big decisions to make.
There’s a time and a place to be “Nebraska nice.” Now isn’t it.