Getting talented players on the field

Watching the Minnesota game last night, I couldn’t help but get really nervous for our upcoming schedule. Losing to Illinois, Minnesota almost becomes a must win to get to 6 wins and a bowl game. But what were they doing to be ahead of Ohio State at the half? I’m going to table the fact that defensively they were much more aggressive than we were in 2020 when we got beat 52-17. I want to highlight why they may be good offensively, and why are we struggling to get our best guys out there?

I got two texts nearly simultaneously that “already know what Minnesota’s identity is and we are only 3 series into the game. I don’t with us.” I think that’s a huge part of it. We have no clue who we are. But we could help ourselves by getting our best athletes on the field.

I get that. You can’t be doing whatever you want, or dropping passes, or not knowing the plays. But at some point it’s on the coaches to get some consistency. It feels like we are one of the only teams in America that can’t get their best players on the field due to stuff that we can’t see during the week. Let me rephrase, every other team has issues, but “consistency” is tough for me. As a coach I can’t keep hearing that year 4. Because when we do, we put ourselves in spots where we have lesser players trying to make plays.

I can’t tell you how mad I was watching the Minnesota/Ohio State game last night and seeing them take one on one shots to this guy:

I thought to myself… ok we have Omar Manning, we have Zavier Betts. Why can’t we get them on the field? Because if you remember my rant from the other site, when we don’t get them on the field, this is what we do:

That is from last year, and I love Vokolek as a TE, and let’s save the fact that Martinez’s pass was pretty bad comparative to Morgan’s, but you have to get someone other than a TE split out wide in goal line situations on that. That’s the whole difference. That’s where we are. Minnesota has players that when there are one on one situations, they can win that battle. Vokolek isn’t winning a jump ball in the endzone even though he does against our scout team. He may win one, but he’s not going to win as many as if you put Manning or Betts out there.

Dive deeper into it. How easy is this from Minnesota? They see a corner who has deep coverage in the cover 3, so they just audible to a quick out/stick route and it’s an easy 8 yard gain. Now, we hit something like this early in the game to Toure. But it wasn’t one on one, it was a combo route. And do any of us have confidence that the ball will be where it needs to be? Or that our WR will catch it or get open?

So a few things. We have no identity. We can’t win the one on one battles because we are splitting out TEs instead of four star big WRs. I have ranted for years that if you want guys to get acclimated, you find out what they are good at and give them a package of plays that they know they are good at. We did it with McCaffrey. Trimmed down the playbook but got an athlete on the field. Can Betts or Manning be better in the redzone than our TEs so that when teams go man against us we make them pay? That’s what we need, as it opens up a ton for us. If it’s a redzone package, a certain list of plays, whatever… at some point our coaches have to be able to get these guys we are excited about on the field. And we have, we gave Betts jet-sweep packages last year:

Watching that dude run through and away from a Penn State team that typically recruits at a top 10 national level, get him on the field. From there you say “ok you have our jet sweep package down, here’s what we build from there.” Or if Omar Manning is your redzone guy and he catches a touchdown like the Minnesota guy, the next week you say “ok how do we get you out in the field more to get longer touchdowns” and find what plays he’s good at.

I understand our OL played awful, Martinez has accuracy issues, but all these things add up. We need to build confidence with packages of plays. I think you will see that this week against Fordham. Our better guys are going to play and build confidence against a Fordham team that is bad and we can make mistakes against and still win by 40. But at some point these guys not playing needs to fall on the guys that identified them, recruited them, and are coaching them. Mike Schaefer brought up a great point on the Gary Sharp show that Betts is a difference maker, you can see it. But why do we trust him to return kicks but not run offensive plays? We need to coach at some point. If we want to win we need our best players on the field. Our WRs aren’t scaring anyone from what I saw against Illinois, in fact I could argue Illinois had better WRs than us.

Time to get these guys on the field. We will against Fordham.

17 thoughts on “Getting talented players on the field

  1. Having those package plays only helps out with our obvious issues with OL and AM.. Have 20 or so plays and run them.. keep running them.. keep running them..

    1. Ageed. And let’s not be blind to the fact young guys can’t be great at everything… let’s build that confidence with what they are good at while they work on what they aren’t with our coaches.

  2. I find it fascinating that Frost will let players (CJ, AM) play through consistency issues in games, but will hamstring other players for consistency issues in practice. Also, why does it seem like 2 different cultures on the team, between the offense and defense. I don’t recall all of this BS ( not letting good players play) happening on the defensive side of the ball.

    1. That’s a good point. Adrian shows flashes of why Frost sticks with him, then has games like he did against Illinois.

      I’m trying to rack my head around the offensive culture and defensive culture and the difference. I do think they made some decisions offensively in the first couple years that rubbed guys the wrong way and it hurt. No idea why it is hurting them now though in 2021.

  3. This makes me remember Jamarcus Russell at LSU. They completely slimmed down the playbook to something like 20 plays out of five different formations and simply ran combos of them over and over and over and over….and kicked ass along the way.
    Why coaches insist upon doing it differently amazes me. There are only 15-20 hours per week for practice and yet they want to install and utilize some massive, complex playbook. All I can figure is that it comes down to EGO. The head coach wants to show everyone how smart he is by out-scheming everyone when he could just simplify things and actually win games.

    1. Art Briles at Baylor found out one of his guys wasn’t good going over the middle so all he ran were out routes and fades in their offense. It was crazy to hear because taht seems so predictable. But you can’t argue with their success.

  4. Manning and Betts have been in Lincoln long enough, i hope it’s not the knowledge of the playbook that’s holding them back.

    The offense is a mess and at this point I don’t see AM getting a lot better with the current coaches. I like the idea of drawing up 8-10 plays out of a couple different looks and do them over and over until everyone is tired of running them, then run it again.

  5. Yeah that Minny game was an eye opener. They played crisp and with no fear of failure. Even in the loss you could see that was a well coached team that plays to its strengths and is physical at the point of attack. They put their playmakers in positions to succeed. Frost will use talent but in ways that are not conducive to success (Wandale Robinson as the featured running back on the goal line) or let physically gifted guys languish like Betts and Manning in favor of great practice players like Liewer (no offense the the kid). Can’t make sense of so many of his decisions.

    1. I still go back to our Ohio State game last year. Our defense basically played to not give up the 20+ yard bomb but we got diced up and played to not get blown out, and we did anyway. Not sure what happened there. It’s really odd to me that we can blow the doors off Minnesota year 1 with Frost, but we lose year 2 and 3.

  6. When you go into a restaurant and the menu is like a 3 ring binder, the food is almost always going to mediocre at best (sorry Cheesecake Factory fans). The items may all make sense on paper, but nothing is executed well. On the flip side, the best restaurants have slimmed down menus, executed perfectly, using the best ingredients.

    The Black 41 Flash Reverse blog had something on offensive identity recently. Lots of data there that shows how much NU tries to do. I’d hypothesize that it (1) keeps some of the talent off the field, (2) leads to reps being spread thin, and therefore, not great at anything, and (3) *maybe* squeezes out practice time for other things (ball security, situational work, special teams?) Not sure if it’s ok to point to another blog, so I won’t include the link.

  7. So I feel like I was annoyed with this all the way back to Pelini (talented players not getting on the field), but I feel like it is really bad now. The amount of (theoretical) talent we have recruited, to either see them leave or on the sideline boggles me (not to speak of that I personally think this year’s class isn’t getting us anywhere, at least to compete with anyone relevant)

    I completely am on board with not playing players who don’t show up in practice, etc. But last year when I see the people who we recruited, then who we actually play at WR, I’m thinking WTH?

    I know we’ve had plenty of guys play ‘above’ their ranking, but I feel like every program has this to an extent, you’re always going to have surprised on who develops. Some might call me a star-gazer, and I am perfectly aware that stars don’t automatically translate to success, but we have had so many relatively high-profile recruits that barely even see the field, or underperform when they do.

    I will not claim to know the exact ins and outs of every individual situation, but overall to me it’s either
    1. Awful at evaluating
    2. Awful at developing
    3. Constantly having bones to pick with certain players
    4. Combo of all the above

    I guess most of the problems I see that there are a million little things that could theoretically change, but it all comes back to I think it all stems from the head coach, and don’t think he will fix all of them to be successful long-term at this point.

    1. I think the part that is really getting frustrating is that at some point we are either not evaluating or researching these kids enough, or we are and what we are asking of them is too stringent. If that makes sense.

      You can’t continue to have guys like Washington come here and not get on the field, Bell come here but then transfer out, Robinson come here and then transfer out. And let’s be honest, it’s all happening on the offensive side so it really makes me scratch my head since that was supposed to be our bread and butter unit.

  8. Thank you for your time and effort putting this together. I am just a fan with no experience of coaching but I am like others frustrated with why some players aren’t playing. I understand the coach’s perspective of wanting to reward those who do the right things in practice day in and day out, but maybe the “stars” don’t come out until the lights are bright, which is when it counts. Here is a link for PFF ratings for yesterday’s game:

    Wyatt Liewer graded out to 52.4 (lowest of all receivers) with 40 snaps while Omar Manning graded out to 65.7 with 42 snaps. I think Omar still needs to live up to the hype and Wyatt should get some reps, but this proves my point of maybe some guys just aren’t practice players. IF the the talented players are not putting in effort and being lazy then yes you can’t give them all the snaps despite being the most talented. I’m sure this is a fine line. Just when Zavier Betts commented this offseason that he didn’t put enough effort into last season, I would assume and hope that he now knows what he has to do and has made the appropriate changes (FYI he only graded out to 54.1). Alante Brown had the 3rd highest WR (62.6) but only got 28 snaps. Looking at the Oline grades, ouch, considering its an FCS team. There’s a huge drop from our centers (Jurgens, Hixon) to everyone else. Better get that fixed before they start seeing better D-lines.

    SSO, are the coaches taking these type of game grades to adjust anything in practice for the next week? Or is it just status quo of you have to show us in practice before we trust you fully in a game?

    1. PFF really doesn’t do much for our coaches, but it can give us fans a little glimpse into what non-biased scouts think. To your point, guys like Manning and others who didn’t play as much many times grade out higher. But there are thing us fans don’t see during the week to prevent people from getting on the field.

      What I don’t understand is how are they consistent enough or “do the right things” when we play Fordham but not teams like Illinois?

  9. Great article and something I’ve discussed all week at the other place until MABCs little slave vacationed me. Lol

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