That's the worst loss of the Scott Frost era, which is really saying something
If you weren’t speechless after Nebraska’s latest dud of a performance, perhaps that’s the 1 word you came up with.
Oh, look there’s another word for Saturday’s lapdog effort against Illinois!
That showing was so bad that it made Bill Callahan look good. It was such an embarrassment to get waxed by Illinois at home that Nebraska, the team who pushed like no other B1G program to play football in 2020, should seriously consider if it wants to play football the rest of the season, or if it would rather do what Austin Peay did and just opt out of 2020. For all we know, the Huskers made a collective pregame decision to do that.
That’s the worst loss of the Scott Frost era, and I’m not sure it’s that close.
Frost got walloped at home by an Illinois team who won 22.5% of its B1G games under the current coaching staff. Take away Rutgers and Illinois entered Saturday with just 2 B1G road wins in the entire Lovie Smith era. And all 1-3 Illinois did was walk into Memorial Stadium like it owned the place.
If your argument is “well, Illinois is a different team with Brandon Peters,” take a walk and think about that statement. Peters’ presence didn’t force Nebraska to turn the ball over 5 times.
A performance that universally awful isn’t fair to just put on 1 thing. That’d be like saying Kansas is a bad football program because it can’t develop talent at the defensive tackle position.
But for the sake of this argument today in my effort to avoid the “shut the whole thing down” take, let’s instead focus on an issue that’s been holding Nebraska back since the moment that Frost loaded up the bus and made the move from Orlando to Lincoln. That is, he brought an unproven defensive coordinator to do a job that he’s been entirely overmatched for the last 2.5 years.
Frost’s trust in Erik Chinander is, at the very least, baffling. And on Saturday, we saw that unconditional trust yield another disaster.
If this sounds like a repeat of something I banged the drum for after the Iowa loss last year, well, you’re correct. That’s exactly what this is.
Think about this — Nebraska faced an offense ranked No. 116 of 126 FBS teams and it surrendered 41 points. Was part of that due to the aforementioned 5 turnovers? Sure. But again, that wasn’t a 1-off. This is the same Nebraska defense who surrendered over 500 yards of offense to a winless Penn State team playing a backup quarterback and a 3rd-string running back.
Nebraska’s defense has gotten worse and worse this year. That’s a microcosm for how things have gone under Chinander. Remember, this is the same guy who ran the nation’s No. 116 pass defense at UCF in 2017 and then got a promotion to become a Power 5 defensive coordinator. That’s a quite the thought given what we know about modern offenses.
Go figure that it actually hasn’t been the pass defense that’s been the biggest weakness of the Frost era Blackshirts; it’s been the run defense. When Nebraska’s run defense has yet to finish better than No. 94 in FBS under Chinander. Entering Saturday, the Huskers’ No. 78 scoring defense was No. 98 vs. the run. Then, it proceeded to allow 285 rushing yards to Illinois, who had 2 backs eclipse the 100-yard mark.
It’s not working. Sooner or later, Frost has to realize that his buddy Chinander and his 3-4 defense aren’t ever going to be the answer in Lincoln. This is a group with 7 seniors on it (Ben Stille, JoJo Domann, Will Honas, Collin Miller, Dicaprio Bootle, Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams), yet in Year 3, that message is clearly still not getting through to his team.
That display came just days after Chinander revealed that he had handed out Blackshirts to unidentified Nebraska players, and then said “it’s gotten to the point where they don’t need a pat on the back every day.”
By the way, those black Nebraska jerseys that were worn during Saturday’s horrendous showing were not the reason the Huskers got blown out at home by a B1G cellar dweller. That was the first time they wore those under Frost (they lost wearing those against UCLA in 2013 and then against Northwestern in 2015).
Saturday’s new low was neither uniform-enduced, nor position-specific, though obviously Luke McCaffrey took a massive step back after winning in his first career start last week. Missing Dedrick Mills isn’t an excuse for losing to Illinois by 3 scores, either.
It was bad all around. There was no redeeming quality about it.
That’s why it trumps all of these other woeful Frost era losses:
- L 34-31 in OT to 5-win Colorado in 2019 (blew a 17-point lead in the final 17 minutes)
- L 31-27 to 4-win Purdue in 2019 (against a third-string QB)
- L 24-19 to 10-win Troy in 2018 (Troy got $1.15 million from Nebraska)
Again, there’s a lot to choose from. We’re talking about a coach who is now 10-18. At least those 3 games were close, though. And yeah, that Troy loss was bad, and not just because it happened to a Sun Belt team and it dropped the Huskers to their first 0-2 start since 1957. But at least that Troy team won double-digit games and was a year removed from winning at LSU.
Against lowly Illinois on Saturday, Nebraska trailed 90 seconds in — even though it received the opening kickoff — and never even had a chance. At home. After a win. As a 3-score favorite (Nebraska was -16.5).
If I’m a Husker fan, this is the type of stuff I see that makes me realize it’s not getting better anytime soon as long as Chinander is on the sidelines:
Frost says Nebraska’s coaching staff came into the game with two defensive plans, and that the staff and players have to do a better job of settling into the plan once it became clear Brandon Peters was going to be the QB all day.
— Sam McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) November 21, 2020
That’s alarming. There’s simply no way that Frost can continue to roll out this defensive coaching staff and expect things to turn around.
The good Power 5 coaches are willing to make those tough decisions. They recognize that in order to win at this level, you cannot tolerate that type of weekly liability and expect to improve the program. If Frost doesn’t make major personnel moves at season’s end, he’ll be laying the foundation for his own demise in Lincoln.
One could argue after Saturday’s effort that he’s well on his way to doing that.