It's been a bumpy ride so far for Scott Frost's up-tempo offense
There's a misconception that the Nebraska football coaching staff is hoarding offensive surprises six games into the season. Well, more than they actually are. It's hard to imagine that Scott Frost would hold too much back versus Colorado even for Ohio State to game plan for.
It's even harder to believe we haven't seen a fair (if not excessive) chunk of the playbook this far into 2019.
However, some feel Frost must be keeping things under wraps for some ungodly reason because... well, insert your logic here. After watching the Huskers operate, it's difficult to conclude that's the case.
Following a press conference prior to the Northwestern game, offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Troy Walters commented, "When (the Ohio State game) got out of hand, we didn't want to show too much. We've got more in our bag that we can pull out this week."
I believe that's the case. However, the problem is that Frost's offense has taken the form of a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time. With an influx of new faces in key areas, movement is incredibly awkward. Fans wait — patiently, for now — for rhythm to show. But while insecurity reigns among players that seeps into their ability to perform on game days.
Like a virus.
It starts with an offensive position even more important than quarterback: the center. Cameron Jurgens has been touted as the next great Nebraska center by the coaching staff. Never having played an offensive line position in his career, the former tight end now finds himself struggling excessively with snaps.
It'd be easy for Adrian Martinez to get right up under him and take a short handoff, but that's not how this offense rolls. This is a shotgun snap situation. In it, Jurgens has to put the football right in his quarterback's chest every time without a hiccup. But that's not happening.
Martinez has to duck down and scoop or hop and snag the ball out of the air far too often on a good day. When things get rough, the pigskin plunks him in the mush or sails over his head. Suddenly, Nebraska finds itself with both a wasted down and a loss of yardage.
Jurgens blocks well enough but if the center isn't feeling confident, he surely can't make the right calls all of the time and get those next to him in line. That means both guards and tackles aren't necessarily on the same page.
Offensive tackle Matt Farniok was chosen to represent the team — and unofficially the offensive line — as a captain for a reason. His words from Monday's press conference: "There is no excuse for it now. In week seven we need perfect snaps and it is just the number one rule of our center and that is what we expect from our center."
Representing the team, he stressed that bad snaps are the fault of all linemen. But neither guards nor tackles ultimately chuck the rock.
The five men up front charged with road grading and protecting blindsides can't do their part. And so it spreads.
It's irrelevant which of Martinez, Noah Vedral or Luke McCaffrey is chosen to lead the charge. The athleticism of your signal-caller is rendered moot with an epidemic of poor snaps. They have to waste precious seconds getting a handle on the football. Meanwhile, defensive linemen get their momentum going and linebackers blitz or slip back to cover.
What was a three- or five-step drop gets cut in half. Look for more than one open receiver? That'd be nice and even if that mental connection could be made, there isn't time.
And so it spreads.
The wideouts' lives are made miserable as the quarterback has no time to find them. If they've gotten the better of a defensive back and can make a snag for a decent gain, it doesn't matter. If they're the first read and are wide open across the field, it doesn't matter. If they're a tight end that knocks his defender down and finds himself ready to help move the chains, it just doesn't matter.
Instead, what you are left with is an offensive line that can't get the quarterback the ball on time and block as a unit. As well as a quarterback that has to adjust for almost every snap and overthink to either hand off or try — emphasis on try — to get a decent pass off to a receiver, any receiver.
This isn't an excuse, this is the reality. It just is. And it's painful, especially no doubt for Nebraska's head man. Last year, he had to keep things fairly basic as he brought Martinez along but there was experience and confidence up front. Now, his offense appears paralyzed at times.
It's such a cliche, but this is part of the process. Frost knocked the program down to its foundation and this is what's being built. Well over 20 true freshmen appear to be headed for a redshirt and that speaks volumes.
The Huskers' head coach hasn't shown to be against playing younger guys. One has to logically conclude that there is no point in trying to force players that simply will not thrive in this environment into playing time.
Bottom line: It's not pretty and yes, it'll probably cost Nebraska some games. But if the Big Red wants to return to the national conversation on a regular basis and be in a position to compete in games as they experienced versus Ohio State under Frost, this is part of the grueling process.
He has a plan. It appears that it may take three to maybe five years to be properly implemented, but he clearly has a plan. What it produces is a great unknown. But he obviously believes in it and isn't getting paid the big bucks because athletic director Bill Moos felt he couldn't get it done. Let's remember Moos thought six wins and bowl eligibility would be a fine result for 2019.
It's the right time for Nebraska fans to adjust expectations, enjoy the wins as they come (however they come) and realize that they're part of this as well. As much as it stings, it's going to be ugly for a minute before Frost can replicate what he did in Orlando. For many, that's a bitter pill to swallow. There will probably be a few to pop, so find those spoonfuls of sugar.