Leadership can be an onerous task, in part because leaders often get second-guessed to high heaven.
In that regard, the current Nebraska football picture intrigues me. It wasn’t long ago that Scott Frost was hailed as the program’s savior. I think most folks still regard the Huskers' second-year head coach in that light. But just past the halfway point of this season, he’s hearing grumbles in the fan base — not a ton of them, but enough to get your attention.
It’s one thing to question some of Frost’s decisions. That makes sense. He’s getting outcoached at times in a conference that, to be fair, is renowned for excellent coaching.
But to wonder if he’s the right guy for the job? That just seems zany.
His boss, Bill Moos, last week put into a perspective part of Frost’s value.
The question was this: What is it about the 44-year-old coach's temperament that suggests he can handle the rough patches of building a program?
“He’s a quarterback,” said the Nebraska athletic director, referring to Frost’s playing days in the 1990s. “People look to him in the huddle. He’s a leader. If his anxieties get to him and it’s noticed, his players will be a reflection of that. He’s as good as there is in regards to staying the course.”
Thing is, Frost has to be feeling a level of anxiety as he looks for answers to problems in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams.
But offense is his baby. He calls the plays. And he now must find enough good plays to help Nebraska (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) get to six wins and a bowl game. It’s absolutely integral that the Huskers play in a bowl after failing to do so each of the past two seasons. It’s important for players in a developing program to experience the 15 bowl practices. It would be an awful development if North Stadium were once again dark throughout December, with players playing video games instead of football.
Heaven knows Frost’s offense needs practice. It ranks 90th nationally in scoring, averaging 25.6 points, down from 30.0 in 2018.
It ranks 80th in yards per play, averaging 5.65, down from 6.31 (20th nationally).
It ranks 44th in rushing, averaging 189.9 yards, down from 209.0 (28th).
Down, down, down. …
Frost has had to lean too hard on the quarterback position because of the lack of explosive options throughout the unit. If sophomore Adrian Martinez feels more pressure this season than he did last year, as Frost has suggested, that has to be part of it.
Nebraska needs to continue bolstering its offensive line through recruiting and development — but that takes time. Years. Quick fixes are rare. As Frost said last week, it's generally unwise to throw true freshmen into the fray against Big Ten behemoths.
Frost and company need to add bigger skill players, especially at the receiver positions. The Huskers must have the smallest receiving corps in the Power-Five, in part because Dominick Watt (6-1, 190) never made it to campus because of grades and hybrid receiver/tight end Justin McGriff (6-5, 210) bolted town before we got to know him.
But Nebraska is a front-runner in the recruitment of 6-foot-4, 225-pound Omar Manning of Kilgore (Texas) Junior College, the top-rated junior college receiver in the nation. Bellevue West four-star wideout Zavier Betts (6-2, 190), who has pledged to join NU's 2020 class, is another example of what Frost needs badly — taller threats on the perimeter. Think Maurice Purify.
Two or three in the 2020 class wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
In the Big Ten, you better have big and physical dudes at each position.
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In that regard, it’s possible many of us underestimated the impact of Nebraska losing Stanley Morgan (1,004 receiving yards last season) and running back Devine Ozigbo (1,082 rushing yards), not to mention center Tanner Farmer and guard Jerald Foster.
The zone running game has to be a staple, but it's been unreliable at best.
There’s really no receiver on the roster who can run a "go" route and rise to grab a 50-50 ball over a talented defensive back.
In many ways, Frost’s hands are tied as a play-caller.
So, no, two more wins isn't a lock. Far from it.
“This is a tough conference, and there are no easy (games),” Moos said. “What may have been perceived as easier ones in the past aren’t anymore.”
He could be talking about Minnesota. Or Purdue. Or Northwestern. Or Indiana.
Nebraska fans used to regard Iowa as a pushover. Remember those days of yore?
“We’ve got to have our ‘A’ game every time we go out there,” Moos said. “We’ve got some great players. We have some wonderful young players. But in my opinion, we don’t have the depth yet.”
A deep pool of talent helps a program sustain at a high level. When depth is lacking, inconsistency becomes the norm.
Inconsistency is a hallmark of mediocrity. I think Nebraska fans understand that well by now.
In time, Frost will build depth throughout the roster. But it's too early in Frost’s tenure to expect it all to be clicking, Moos said.
“We’re making progress,” the boss said. “Hey, you look at where we were a year ago. Where we were two years ago.”
My heavens, it was a utter debacle in 2017. Have people forgotten Mike Riley’s teams clearly quitting in games? Have they forgotten how players with minor ailments could easily beg out of weight-lifting sessions? Have they forgotten how Riley’s pathological kindness guided the program square into the ditch? It was a dreadful period in program history, defined largely by a lack of passion and direction.
Make no mistake, Frost is all-in in every way you can imagine.
"This wasn't going to be an easy path," Moos said. "We knew that from the very beginning."
Frost will rack his brain to come up with enough offense to prod his team to a bowl.
It'll be a bear. But it's extremely important.