Not sure we really need to say it or go into it, but we probably should. Head Coach Scott Frost enters a pivotal year 5 in Lincoln. He is yet to have a winning record, is on his 3rd offensive coordinator in that timeframe, and just got done overhauling every offensive coach except for 1. He was the homerun slam dunk hire back in December of 2017, but things just haven’t worked out the way they were supposed to.
Let me try and set the table for my attitude/opinion/reasoning for where I go with this preview. If any of you have read my stuff before, one of the things that really stuck with me while looking at previews for other teams and reading non-biased national writers content was from about a decade back. You see, I was reading about a prominent coach who was making the move to FBS with his players, and he returned something like 18 starters out of 22. Normally for people like Phil Steele or others, that’s a sign of positivity. But this writer went a different route, “is it really a good thing to return a bunch of guys off a football team that was awful last year?” That really resonated with me. Experience is great to have, but if they aren’t any good at football, what does it matter if they come back?
Many of you can probably see where i’m going with this. Nebraska was 3-9 last year, and quite frankly I don’t think we were very good. Certainly not as good as some of the things i’ve read about how we should have been 8-4 or 9-3. So losing starters probably is a good thing if I stick with the mindset that losing players off a bad team is a good thing. BUT, while I don’t think we were great last year, we were certainly better than 3-9. Further, I think some of the guys that struggled in the past would really benefit from some different coaching. Look no further than Adrian Martinez, he had a QB coach that taught them to throw on the run and coached that many times you don’t throw from set feet anyway, so we are going to practice using your athleticism and throwing on the run. And people got frustrated when they saw him sometimes start running from an empty pocket with minimal pressure or things like that, all the while I knew that was what he was being coached. Hell, you see it on twitter right now with someone showing a video of #2 “why is he scrambling, that pocket is clean!” Well, that’s what they worked on. What if we had Whipple coaching him about how to set his feet, what to look for, and all of a sudden those turnovers that happened just turned into an incompletion instead of an interception, or better yet even a completion?
Allow me to beat this dead horse a little further… Every year I hear about how it’s good we are losing some of the guys us fans weren’t happy with, after all, we were 4-8, 5-7, 3-6, 3-9. Matt Farniok and Brendan Jaimes are perfect examples. Everyone thought their graduation would be a good thing, we could move on to the more highly touted guys like Corcoran and Benhart who were more suited to play in Frosts system. Fast-forward a year later and Corcoran is changing positions, Benhart has been average at best, and those two guys actually made NFL squads. We will get into the stats later on what “getting Frosts guys” offensively has actually netted us (not good).
I’ll land the plane here… i’m going to overlook that I thought we were probably a 5-7 team for 2021 and underachieved, and go with some of peoples thoughts that we were at least bowl caliber last year, because I do think with some better coaching, or a special teams coach at all, we could have done much better. The premise of this preview will be that we should have been just at bowl eligibility in 2021 with the right coaching, because we had the players. But we didn’t have the right coaching, and now I think we are at least closer than we have been in the past. Lastly, I am using Phil Steele’s stats for many of my references. I always laugh because when I talk returning starters people inevitably go “ya but Prochazka kind of was…” and it gets tiresome trying to argue who was a returner and who wasn’t, so i’m going to the premier preview source. So that’s where numbers are coming from, with that said, let’s get into it…
The complete reset button was pressed for the offense and 2022. The scheme that came with this:
Is now on their 3rd OC in 5 years and did a complete overhaul to the offensive staff, leaving behind only the TEs coach Beckton. Crazy to think about the fact that many fans were pissed he was bringing his defensive coaches and now it’s the defense that has held us together the first 4 seasons. To put in perspective how bad Nebraska’s offense has been, here is their national rank for scoring offense: 2021 79th, 2020 101st, 2019 63rd, 2018 54th. You read that right, the very first year where Frost didn’t have his players was by far our best finish in terms of scoring the football. Something had to change. And in comes 4 new coaches on that side of the ball, a welcome shift.
According to Phil Steele, Nebraska returns 7 starters which i’m not sure how that is even possible since we lost Jurgens, Sichterman, Allen, Toure, Martinez to take us to 6 before we even get into Nouilli being suspended taking us to 5. But with that said, we have guys like Prochazka who got some starts, Hixson getting the nod at center who started all of 2018 for Frost where we had our highest points. Thompson started games at Texas. So I can kind of see where that is coming from. But my point really is I would have liked to see what Martinez could have done with a coach like Whipple. I have a feeling people are going to see some things out of Thompson and say “that’s what we were missing with Martinez” and in my opinion, 90% of what we saw from Martinez was coaching and lack of talent around him. We theoretically took care of that for 2022. Whipple here, guys like Trey Palmer and Anthony Grant transferred in, etc.
But I do worry… rarely in football does changing your entire staff on one side of the ball, losing a 4 year starter at QB, losing your best OL, next best is out for the year due to suspension, and the next two best were out all spring with injuries, lose your best WR, lose your best TE…. rarely does that equate to improvement the following year. But the one thing I will say is that the bar from last year is 79th in the country scoring the football. If somehow we can just get into the 50s or even 40s, we will make a bowl game. That really shouldn’t be hard to do with our schedule and our talent.
The problem is, it’s a new offense with a new QB, throwing to new WRs, with an OC calling plays in a new conference. Meshing and getting to know when receivers are breaking, even how certain RBs run an arrow/flat route is different player by player. Even first round draft pick Pickett took time to get going at Pitt. But I do think Thompson has some talents that we didn’t have with Martinez. While Thompson isn’t quite the runner, his ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly with lightning fast decisions will pay dividends.
Lastly, one change that numerous coaches have said to me is that we used to run the ball, see who the defense put in the box to stop it, then exploit that with the passing game. We all saw Frost dial those types of things up at UCF and here. It seems Whipple likes to throw the ball, figure out how they stop that by having less defenders in the box, then exploit it running. A little bit of the exact opposite, and that’s where this quote came from:
Now, Husker fans can quote all the articles trying to dispute that claim by Narduzzi, but at the end of the day the head coach that worked with the guy has this opinion. Leaving “run the ball” guy or “old school Nebraska” families watching our games looking like this in 2022:
I don’t really care if it’s true or not, all I care is what he does while he’s OC at Nebraska. You see, our first game has a Northwestern team that loses all 4 starters on the DL and 2 starters out of the 3 at LB. You have to run on those guys, especially with how we’ve heard things are going in practices. Whipple CAN do it, but is he WILLING to do it? We will find out.
I don’t care what anyone says, the reason we were “so close” last year in all of our games is because our defense was lights out. 6th year covid seniors, understanding the scheme, and coaches that are better than they get credit for kept us in every contest despite us having the 79th ranked scoring offense and second worst special teams in the entire country. Chinanders squad ranked nationally in points allowed per game: 2021 37th, 2020 64th, 2019 61st, 2018 94th. You see, the Blackshirts got better through the 4 seasons while our offense seemingly got worse. It’s the kind of thing you expect from seasoned coaches.
Nebraska returns 5 starters defensively. We lose nearly everything on the DL and in the defensive backfield, but return 3 of our 4 starting linebackers. The DL worries me a ton, losing 5 of your top 6 guys is not easy to overcome. Further, Robinson is the only DL with over 26 snaps played in Chinanders scheme. We have to keep him healthy if we want to go anywhere. Hutmacher at NG and Feist at the other DE spot will create some problems if teams figure out how to get us in our odd front, as I don’t think they are quite ready yet. The Alabama transfer is going to back up Hutmacher and Drew who I actually expect a lot out of will be behind the other DE spot (I expect him to start eventually). But he just got here last week.
At linebacker we are loaded, Nelson and Tannor are back with Ochaun Mathis coming in to give breaks. We return our leading 2 tacklers as Henrich and Reimer return at ILB. The only issue is going to be can we keep linemen off our LBs? Daniels, Stille, Rogers, Riley, they were so good at that last year. Can a guy like Feist and Hutmacher do the same work? I will be watching that closely first game against Northwestern.
Lastly, in the defensive backfield we lose 4 of 5 guys (again if you count Domann). That worries me, I like who we have but there are just going to be growing pains. Guys who are now starting like Farmer were the ones that last year opposing coaches waited for to get into the game and design plays against them. But that’s what you get them ready for, when it’s their time, they are able to step up and play.
I’ve mentioned that in 2020 Chinander came with a new nickel package that made it so we could get Daniels off the field at NG and inserted edge guys with Domann. It was a masterful job of knowing what our strengths and limitations for the year were (if you remember Daniels just wasn’t going to be able to play every down at NG and we only had a true freshman Hutmacher at backup NG). I went over in my Edge/Nick preview how Chinander could do something similar to reduce the amount of time we have more than 2 DL on the field, and also get Tannor, Nelson, and Mathis on the field at the same time.
I think the defense takes a step back this year, BUT THAT’S OK. Even if they sink to the 50s for scoring defense, if our offense and special teams get to where they are supposed to, 6-6 should be no problem.
Special Teams 2022
According to the site linked below, Nebraska finished ranked 129th out of 130 in special teams last year:
That’s ridiculous… but i’m not sure what anyone expected once we didn’t even have a coach for it. Looking back, it just doesn’t make sense that we went the analyst route for special teams two years in a row (Dawson didn’t want the ST job). Further, we had a first team all-conference place kicker in 2020 that somehow couldn’t even make 20 yarders in 2021. Just shows you that if you lack putting effort and time into ST, even the best players can get rusty and fall off a bit.
Nebraska went out and got a stud kicker and punter to help them out for 2022, but we’ve done that before. The biggest thing is the addition of Bill Busch and his attention to detail. I’ve said this the last two years, since our special teams ranked 2020 105th, 2019 112th, and 2018 118th…
…Judas, let me stop my train of thought and look at those stats… it boggles my mind we just said “everything is fine let’s go analyst route for special teams”…
My apologies, as i’ve said before, whoever takes the job this year is going to look like a rock star because it can’t get worse. Your resume will say you took Nebraska special teams from second worst in the entire country to ______. Well, there’s literally only one spot to possibly fall for this year and Busch won’t let that happen. Looking at those numbers, special teams probably could have won us a game or two each of the last couple seasons if we just would have cared and/or been decent. It’s one of my frustrations with where we’ve been the last 4 years because if you just look at the stats, we are awful. Get a coach in here. We finally did that.
2022 Season/Schedule Prediction
So, here’s the thing, for us to get to a bowl after reading all of these stats i’ve thrown out at you, not a ton has to change. Offense just has to climb out of the bottom 50% for scoring offense, that absolutely should be doable. Special teams just needs to get close to the top 50%, that should be extremely easy with our walk-on program and depth at linebacker. Defense can even take a step backwards as long as ST and offense gets their butts in gear.
Further, Nebraska has the luxury of getting 2 bye weeks since we play a week 0 game in Dublin, that is huge. Also, in 2021 we drew Sparty, the Wolverines, and the Buckeyes from the east division. This year we have Indiana, Rutgers, and Michigan again. That should get you at least 1 more win this year even with Michigan still being there. And our non-conference is a joke again even though we have Oklahoma. But it was last year as well with Fordham and Buffalo.
I expect us to make a bowl game this year, because we have been so bad the past 4 years at things we shouldn’t have, I believe new faces and fresh ideas can get us over the hump. Not to mention the easy thing of focusing on special teams. My frustration is “the hump” has been lowered to making bowl games now. That should have never happened. Here’s how I see the season playing out with just a quick thought on each game:
Northwestern (Dublin) – I see this one being a lot closer than people think. Everyone quotes what we beat them by last year and how bad they were, only to forget we destroyed Minnesota and Illinois in 2018 only to come back and struggle the following year against them. Further, Fitzgerald is one of those coaches that when he has a bad year or not much is expected from them, many times he follows it up with a 1st or 2nd place finish in the division. That along with playing in Ireland has me all sorts of scared for this game. That said, I expect a win (1-0)
North Dakota – No idea, you better win (2-0)
Georgia Southern – Again, you better win (3-0) and i’m predicting Husker fans are feeling great about our team after this game and expecting an upset against Oklahoma at home.
Oklahoma – While I liked what we did last year and they have a new coach, we just don’t have the fire power. Venables will now have 3 game films of Whipples new offense and we lose our first game of the season. loss (3-1)
Indiana – The homecoming game coming off a much needed bye. Our fourth straight home game and I think Indiana’s best days are behind them. With that said, Indiana came in and beat Nebraska at home in 2019 when Noah Vedral started and we were coming off a bye that game too. I just don’t see that happening this year. win (4-1)
@Rutgers – While I hesitate to call this our first away game since we went to Ireland, you know what I mean. And we are playing them on a Friday, so it’s a short week and we are traveling to the furthest school in the conference. Short week and a Schiano coached team worries me. loss (4-2)
@Purdue – Nebraska gets an extra day to prepare for Purdue as they get back from their Friday game in New Jersey. Frost is 1-3 against Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers, and the only year we won one was a Covid season which all Husker fans tell me doesn’t count when defending our record the past four years, and when Brohm had nearly all of his players sitting out for 2020. Purdue returns 7 players on each side of the ball, and again Brohm is a masterful coach getting us at home. I think we take a bit of a slide here 2 straight games. loss (4-3)
Illinois – Bielema got us last year in his first game coaching at Illinois. Both teams will be coming off a bye, but I believe Nebraska coming off two straight losses will get the upper hand in an attempt to regroup. win 5-3)
Minnesota – Like Brohm, PJ Fleck is 3-1 vs Frost, and we haven’t won since 2018. Even the game where Minnesota only suited up something like 40 scholarship players against us, we struggled and lost at home. I couldn’t decide if we were going to lose this game or the Purdue game, but Minnesota and Purdue are equally scary to me. Somehow, I think we win this against Fleck and get back into the win column against the Gophers to make us bowl eligible. win (6-3)
@Michigan – The gauntlet starts now even though you could say it starts the week prior. Michigan is absolutely freaking loaded this year and I just don’t see how we get out of Ann Arbor with a win. loss (6-4)
Wisconsin – The Badgers have typically had our number, as Frost has never beaten Chryst. With that said, Wisky is the only team to return less starters than Nebraska in the western division, and I think somehow we figure it out against them this year. win (7-4)
@Iowa – Another short week road game, to play Iowa who will have a nasty defense looking to make a fool out of us. I just don’t think we can beat them on a short week and they have our number like many other teams. loss (7-5)
Season/Schedule summary – I’m kind of surprised I got us to 7-5. It’s funny, depending on what side of the fence you are on, you will roll your eyes at me having a win against Wisconsin, or if you are a die hard kool-aid guy you can’t believe I have us losing to Rutgers and Purdue. The truth of the matter is, Northwestern in Ireland is going to be tough, Purdue, Rutgers, Minnesota, even Illinois will be a dog fight for us.
But Nebraska’s schedule sets up great for them to have some better fortune this year. While the schedule is more favorable, it doesn’t change the fact that Nebraska has to do better in their division. While Scott Frost is a horrendous 15-29 here at Nebraska, he’s even worse in the B1G at 10-25, and an abysmal 6-17 against division foes. You read that right, for the last four seasons we have averaged 1.5 wins against division teams per year. The fact some people are calling for “8 or 9 wins” seems almost absurd. At minimum 2022 would be the exception rather than the rule. I just can’t get to over 8 or more when I look at what our track record is against these teams and how much change we have had. Quite frankly 7-5 gets us wins against 4 teams in our division, more than doubling our season average.
It’s ridiculous anyone, let alone me, has us going 7 wins beating teams like Wisconsin on their prediction. But my concern has never been the talent that Nebraska has or had. It’s been a coaching issue. Bill Busch is now overtaking special teams, I mean, we have a coach now so that’s a positive. And a good one at that. I’ll overlook special teams now that we have a coach and say between the O and D, our offense has been the downfall of our team, we have new coaches there like Whipple who coached a first round draft pick at the most important position and Joseph who has a national championship ring. While I hesitate to say the coaches will instantly make guys better because I heard it when Verduzco “had Milton, imagine what he can do with four star Martinez”, it does give me optimism for the guys that are here to have some coaches that have done it before. Again, it’s never been a talent issue.
I don’t mean to take away from guys like Held, Austin, Verduzco, and even Frost. But the reality of the situation is they had 6 seasons as full-time head coaches in FBS and they have 1 winning season. And you also remember the cry about how the crossover games haven’t been fair for Nebraska drawing teams like Ohio State more often than the Marylands. But the reality is we haven’t beat Wisconsin or Iowa yet the past four years, and we only have one win in four tries against Minnesota and Purdue. You have to win your division. I get if your crossover games are harder it may spill into other games on the schedule, but when you hear 6-17 in your division as a head coach, if it was anyone that didn’t have the last name Frost they’d be gone. With the help of seasoned coaches now and newer ideas, things are at least better this year in terms of being able to win the “games we should”. Or at least the games Husker fans were used to winning prior to 2018. It just is unfortunate that it took year 5 to get here.
Lastly, the fresh coaches on offense gave a new perspective on what our players moved and looked like to have us change up what we were doing in the weight room a bit. Something i’ve been advocating for since this staff got here. When we were losing in Boulder in the second half it was because “we can’t train for altitude”, when we lost second halfs in 2018 it was because “Riley left the cupboard bare”, but the reality is our guys get worn down every game and throughout the season. Something i’ve been hammering since 2018.
That may not be all S/C related. But it is at least one of the factors. Coaching and adjustments another. As discussed in this preview, i’m hoping we’ve remedied both of those things.
I just can’t subscribe to the fact we were 3-9 last year, 3-5 the year prior, but all of a sudden losing a 4 year starter at QB, losing your best WR, losing your 1st team all B1G TE, losing your best offensive lineman then having another starter suspended for the season, losing all your offensive staff, losing 4 of 5 DBs and losing most of your DL… all of that being a good thing and netting us 8-4 or better. If that’s the case, I still get mad that it didn’t happen sooner. I think we are closer to 6-6 than 8-4 because 8-4 has us beating teams we really haven’t the past 4 years just because we overhauled everything. Nevertheless my thought process is the decisions we made in the offseason are the correct steps to get us where we want to go in the future. If it happened too late and we only go 6-6, then it kind of is what it is. But it’s tough not to like what i’ve seen/heard from new guys like Busch, Joseph, etc., compared to what was going on before. If Chinander keeps the defense respectable and our offense can gel, a bowl game at minimum should happen.
SSO HOT TAKE: I am kind of judging this season on how we do compared to Kansas State. Not fair in the slightest, but if Martinez goes and wins 8 games in Manhattan but we win 6…. well. Conversely, if we win 7 or 8 and he drags the Wildcats down to 4 or 5, we will get our answer. I think he’s a really good QB that is finally going to get some much needed coaching (that Thompson has too fwiw) and he’s going to do well down there.
Join us tomorrow where we do the Northwestern preview.
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