The state of Nebraska shouldn’t have needed one more vital, forehead-slapping, oh-no-he-didn’t moment to realize that Scott Frost is not qualified to be the Cornhuskers’ head coach. His lifetime record at the school is 15-29, and they should have seen that coming after last season’s 3-9 disaster. But on Saturday, Frost committed the most dramatic act of self-sabotage yet, as if to drive home the point that he was lacking in every way.
Frost approved the ludicrous idea to attempt an onside kick with 9:09 left in the third quarter and his Cornhuskers holding a 28-17 lead over Northwestern. There was no way it could have worked, and the result of the game swung in the Wildcats’ favor as a result. In a typical Week Zero celebration of the bizarre and stupid, they scored the game’s final 14 points and won 31-28 in Ireland.
That play might be remembered as Frost’s breaking point if he doesn’t drastically improve for the rest of the season. When the mountain of faulty evidence became a little higher, his last remaining backers abandoned him. In a sense, this was the icing on the manure cake.
Since hiring Scott Frost in 2018, the Huskers are 5-21 in one-score games.
That's the worst record in FBS over that span. pic.twitter.com/pEUhKujuBd
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) August 27, 2022
An upbeat press conference followed the most recent come-from-behind loss, with the final question being about whether or not Frost intends to resign. “In a firm “no,” he stated that it was not going to happen. Nebraska is my favorite state. If I can still fight, I’m going to fight with the boys. It’s been nine months since his camp should have conceded. They held out instead long enough to see Frost turn his own crew against him.
After taking the gamble that will be remembered forever, Nebraska’s possessions were: punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, interception. As a whole, there are a total of 23 plays. Overall yards: 85. A total of 0 points.
After being given a second chance, Northwestern’s final six drives went as follows: touchdown, punt, missed field goal, touchdown, punt, and running out the clock. Fifty acts in total. An overall tally of 214 yards. Counting up the points, we get 14.
An onside kick up 11 with all the momentum was a bad call, and that must have been obvious to even the Irish fans, many of whom probably just had the most basic understanding of American football and were more interested in drinking Avia Stadium’s free beer dry. From 2014 through 2020, published research estimates that the onside kick conversion rate in college football will be 23.8%. It’s the last resort play, employed when an opponent has exposed a weakness in your front line or when you’re desperate.
At that point in the game, Nebraska was the very antithesis of desperation. Perhaps the Cornhuskers saw something in the Northwestern return unit in the first half that made them think this unconventional play would work, but Pat Fitzgerald is a tight-lipped coach who seems unlikely to be one of the last to overlook such a thing.
It was a reckless bet with inevitable, catastrophic consequences. In his postgame press conference in Ireland, Frost said, “I wouldn’t make the call if I had it over.”
Maybe if Trev Alberts, the athletic director, could do it all over again, he wouldn’t have re-signed Frost for the fifth year. This was a last-ditch effort to salvage a national champion quarterback from the heyday of Tom Osborne, who is a hero in the local community. An admission of loss that was unlikely to bear fruit, the fresh start has gotten off to a rough start.
A total of four offensive staff members were let go, a special teams coordinator was brought in, Frost stepped down as play caller (and took a pay cut), and six starters, including quarterback Casey Thompson, were brought in through the transfer portal. And yet, despite all the shifts, the essentials remained the same.
Frost’s record in close games at Nebraska is now 5-21. His Huskers aren’t merely unlucky, as their defenders said last year; they routinely blow leads. Their performance in this game was terrible. Twice, Nebraska had an 11-point lead and then blew it.
Northwestern appears to have regained its luck associated with even years. The Wildcats won the Big Ten West in 2018 with a 9-5 record, and they repeated as champions in 2020 with a 7-2 mark. They had a combined record of 3-9 in 2019 and 2021. Within those four years, they have yo-yoed from first to last place in the division.
The Irish champions still have a ways to go before they can challenge for the Western Conference, but they followed in the footsteps of previous Fitzgerald teams by staying in close games until the very end, fighting hard, and taking advantage of their opponent’s mistakes to pull out a narrow victory. Fitz has made a name for himself by consciously attempting to be the polar opposite of Frost by making the most of every situation.
Even yet, Frost was able to publicly insult his new offensive staff, with an apparent shot at coordinator Mark Whipple: “Our offensive unit needs to realize that being more inventive is essential to success in this league. For whatever reason, Thompson’s final 10 dropbacks of the game resulted in a sack, two interceptions, and a total of three completions for a paltry 25 yards.
Getting rid of Frost is seeming like a realistic option now. On October 1, his buyout will decrease from $15 million to $7.5 million, and at this point, the only thing that could save him is if Oklahoma loses to Lincoln on September 17. There are two easy games between now and then, against FCS North Dakota and Sun Belt Conference member Georgia Southern.
On September 24, there is no scheduled game, and on Buyout Cutdown Day, there will be a home game against Indiana. When October rolls around, if Nebraska is 2-2 or worse, Alberts can either follow the history of early firings or let Frost try to prove something other than what his 45-game body of work suggests.
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