Northern Illinois vs. Nebraska, 9.14

Nebraska coach Scott Frost watches a playback on the video board during the game against Northern Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Scott Frost projects confidence. A lot of it, actually.

Perusing his coaching record, especially as an offensive play-caller, it's easy to understand why.

But the second-year Nebraska head coach showed last week he's willing to second-guess himself, acknowledging his play-calling at Colorado didn't reflect the mantra he emphasizes to his players: desire to excel with no fear of failure.

Frost also is fine with being second-guessed by others. I've said it before: He has thick enough skin for his position. He told me this week he wants media members to ask him about certain play calls if they disagree or don't understand his decisions. He says he welcomes those interactions, especially if they lead to greater understanding.

Along those lines, how does Frost go about critiquing himself as a play-caller?

"Watch the game tape three or four times," he said flatly.

He also seeks input from his coaching staff. Yes, his assistants do speak their minds, he said.

"I'm always asking for opinions," he said. "Greg Austin does a good job, particularly in the run game. Troy (Walters) does a great job — he's probably the lead voice in my ear. Mario (Verduzco) does a good job, too, because he has to pay attention to everything the quarterback's seeing."

Austin coaches the offensive line and Verduzco the quarterbacks. Walters is the offensive coordinator and also coaches wide receivers.

The Nebraska crew is the same one that in 2017 oversaw a Central Florida offense that led the nation in scoring at 48.2 points per game.

"These guys have all been in this system for 3½ years," Frost said. "They know it well. They know the answers when teams are giving us certain things, and we do a good job of communicating during games."

There's been a premium on in-game communication this season because all three opponents (South Alabama, Colorado and Northern Illinois) have shown Nebraska's offense looks that Frost and his staff didn't anticipate.

"Last week we got something we didn't practice for at all," he said of his team's 44-8 victory against NIU in which the Huskers nevertheless accumulated 525 yards of total offense.

Frost isn't the type to panic on the headset. In each of his three years calling plays at Oregon (2013-15), the Ducks finished in the top five nationally in total offense and scoring. Nebraska in 2018 finished 25th in total offense after finishing 87th in the final season of the Mike Riley era.

The Huskers, however, have sputtered more than many anticipated this season, ranking 62nd in total offense entering a 7 p.m. game Saturday at Illinois.

"What we do works," Frost said. "Ninety-five percent of the time when we call plays, they're the right plays. If you win games, you don't worry so much about play calls. When you lose a game, you look back and question every single thing you did and called."

The Colorado loss led to Nebraska's offensive staff altering its approach a bit.

Keep reading for FREE!
Enjoy more articles by signing up or logging in. No credit card required.

"The one thing we talked about after Game 2 was we need to do what we do a little more and not always try to get certain guys in the perfect play — because the perfect play is not always perfect," Frost said. "I think we got back to the right mindset against Northern Illinois rather than being a little too 'schemey' and trying to get guys in the perfect spot."

Frost makes it abundantly clear that he wants to be the one that media asks about play calls — as opposed to, say, Verduzco or quarterback Adrian Martinez being asked about calls — because after all, the buck stops with Frost.

In an interview earlier this week, he brought up his overtime calls — two perimeter runs that netted 1 yard and a pass play that ended in a sack — in the 34-31 loss to Colorado. I was like a lot of people in thinking his approach was too conservative.

"We were in the right play on first down," he said. "I might've said something after the game about being afraid of throwing an interception. Of course you don't want to throw an interception. The thing that kept me from being a little more aggressive in overtime is I knew if we were faced with a fourth down, I was going to have to go for it."

That's because Nebraska was using what amounted to a third-string kicker.

"So we called a run play on first down to try to get positive yards, and we didn't," Frost said. "We tried a run play on second down to try to get some (yards) back, and we didn't. We were forced to throw on third down, and the kid made a good play. And now you're in fourth-and-14. …"

Isaac Armstrong's 48-yard field goal sailed wide right. Game over.

By the way, Frost to this day feels good about his call on first down. But he admits he'd like to redo the second-down call. Such is the nature of being a play-caller.

"It's just one of those things," he said. "I appreciate being asked about it."

Frost is growing as a head coach. One of his foremost mentors, Tom Osborne, lost his first five games to Oklahoma as Nebraska's head coach and won his first national championship in his 22nd year. We probably need to remember that.

"You always have to be looking at yourself and evaluating," Frost said. "There are pieces of what we're doing as a team right now that aren't to the standard that we expect, and we need to spend more time on those things and re-evaluate how we're coaching them.

"If we need to have more (plays) on offense because teams are dialing in on us, or fewer because we're not executing well, we're always going to look at those things."

Sometimes he'll have the right answers. Other times he won't, and we'll ask him about it.

I feel like the fun's just starting.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Load comments