Scott Frost's best receiver transferred (again), and he's got a big picture issue that's only getting worse
Another offseason, another year in which Scott Frost’s best receiver bolted out of Nebraska like a long-haul trucker heading west on I-80.
Wan’Dale Robinson’s announcement of his plans to transfer to Kentucky on Friday had plenty of implications in Lincoln. He was, by any measure, Nebraska’s best receiver. You could make the argument that he was the Huskers’ overall best player for 2021. He was certainly the most versatile, though his usage became a popular topic of conversation among the Husker faithful.
Whether Robinson transferred because he didn’t like being used in the ground game as often as he was or he did indeed go back to his home state to be closer to his sick mother — this was as brutal of a year as any to be away from home because of COVID — it doesn’t change the end result for Frost. Like JD Spielman last year, Frost watched his best receiver leave his pre-draft year to play in a different Power 5 offense.
If I’m Frost, that concerns me on a variety of levels for 2021 and beyond.
Nebraska’s passing offense got worse every year since he arrived there. Never mind the fact that Frost had Adrian Martinez there for all 3 years. The Huskers just posted a passing offense that didn’t even crack the top 100 in FBS. No Power 5 team had fewer passing touchdowns (5) than Nebraska. I’m not sure how that happens in 2020, but Frost managed to pull it off.
In 2020, only 1 Nebraska player averaged at least 2.5 catches per game. That was Robinson, who had more catches and receiving yards than the team’s next 3 leading receivers combined.
When Spielman surprisingly left Lincoln last year, the saving grace was “well, at least Robinson is back” and “there’s a ton of incoming talent at receiver.” Spielman’s mid-summer decision to leave Nebraska was reportedly due to mental health issues. Again, if there was ever a year in which players being far from home took a toll, 2020 was it.
Two things can be true at the same time, though. Spielman and Robinson might’ve been isolated cases who didn’t necessarily leave as a direct result of Nebraska’s passing offense trending in the wrong direction. But do the best skill players in good offenses leave in the prime of their college careers? Not without a coaching staff overhaul.
That’s the troubling thing for Frost. His team couldn’t throw the ball, and defenses knew it couldn’t throw the ball. That was with a third-year starting quarterback and a 4-star redshirt freshman.
Oh, and don’t tell me there wasn’t talent at receiver. In the 2020 class alone, Nebraska had 3 four-star receivers plus former 4-star recruit Oliver Martin transferred from Iowa. Those guys combined for 22 catches for 269 yards. Zavier Betts was the only one who had double-digit catches on the year, and 1/3 of his 2020 production came on 1 play. With Robinson gone, that’s now Nebraska’s top returning wide receiver.
The good news is Nebraska added 5 receivers in the 2021 class. The bad news is that none of them were ranked among the top 100 receivers in the 2021 class.
There’s more receiver talent leaving Nebraska than coming in. Remember a couple of paragraphs ago when I mentioned that Nebraska had a trio of 4-star receivers? One of them, Marcus Fleming, already left the program. Fleming was 1 of 5 recruits from the state of Florida to commit to Nebraska’s 2020 class. All of them have since transferred.
Even the loudest Frost apologist has to at least acknowledge that this isn’t a good trend. You can’t really continue to play the “we need guys who are fully bought in” when you’re the coach who is 9-17 in B1G play entering Year 4. Sooner or later, how can Frost (and his apologists) not take a step back and say, “maybe there’s a problem with what we’re selling.”
In 2021, this isn’t working. The passing game doesn’t work for this era. I’d argue Frost’s postgame demeanor doesn’t work for this era, either. Here’s the list of things he criticized in a postgame press conference since taking over in Lincoln:
- Frequency of media timeouts (Dec. 12, 2020)
- Claps from Iowa’s sideline (Nov. 27, 2020)
- Inheriting a team with a “weak confidence” (Nov. 30, 2019)
- Players wearing hoodies in pregame warmups … while wearing a hoodie (Oct. 26, 2019)
- Not having enough “tough and dedicated” players (Oct. 26, 2019)
- Reporters who wrote about his play-calling (Sept. 22, 2019)
- Nebraska’s defense, “which he doesn’t call the plays for” (Oct. 13, 2018)
- Players for dancing on the sideline who “look like they love losing” (Sept. 29, 2018)
- Players for being undisciplined and that he’s “tired of watching it” (Sept. 29, 2018)
Notice a common thread there? It’s Frost deflecting blame after a loss, and more times than not in those instances, he put the blame back on the players. Players aren’t void of criticism, but there’s a time and a place for that.
I know what you’re thinking. Why is that relevant to Robinson’s transfer? Didn’t he thank and praise the coaching staff when he announced he was entering the transfer portal?
He did. But this is about what Frost is selling. Right now, he can’t sell that he has a fun or up-and-coming group to play for.
Why would a blue-chip receiver want to play for the coach who still can’t call a respectable passing offense AND he continues to deflect blame publicly after repeated failures? It’s like, not only is this not working but the guy can’t even admit he’s at fault for it not working 3 years into a deal that paid him $5 million annually.
Not a single offensive player from one of Frost’s teams has been drafted yet. The Davis’ brothers are the only 2 Frost era draft picks — the defensive tackles were both late-Day 3 picks in 2020 — which is pretty stunning for a program who had at least 1 player drafted from 1963-2018.
Robinson, had he stayed, could’ve been that guy. Shoot, he should’ve been that guy. He was a top-100 recruit who was immediately inserted into the starting lineup as a true freshman, and he was essentially the only reliable player in the passing game as a sophomore.
Nothing about Nebraska’s passing game is reliable anymore. Frost can’t be trusted to fix it. He certainly can’t be trusted to develop and keep a wide receiver in Lincoln.
He can continue to talk all he wants about building a winning formula. If you ask me, though, it looks like he created a recipe for disaster.