LINCOLN -- No matter what the job is, even the best swing and miss at times.
Baseball? Happens all the time. The best basketball players on the planet make half their shots. CPAs miss occasionally, too, you just hope it’s not your tax return open on the desk when the mistake happens.
The same can be said for offensive playcallers and play designers in football.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost is considered one of the preeminent offensive minds in college football, but he’s not above admitting the sausage-making process ain’t always pretty.
“We invent some really good things and some other times I laugh at myself after the game thinking, ‘What was I thinking? That was never going to work,’” he said Monday.
This summer at the Big Ten football media days in Chicago, Frost was on a similar riff about creativity when he recalled a play he dreamed up while at Oregon.
“You can ask Marcus Mariota about ‘Spartan Pass’ against Michigan State, and he’ll laugh," Frost said then. "One of the worst ideas I’ve ever had.”
Many, though, work just as intended.
Take a 41-yard completion to redshirt freshman tight end Austin Allen against Ohio State, for example, which worked thanks to a slick design that fooled the Buckeye secondary.
It got introduced that Monday at practice.
“There’s a lot of times at practice where one play, it just clicks and everybody knows that’s going to be a big play for us,” Allen said. “And then it gets called in the game and everybody executes their job and it works out great like it did all week.”
Frost, obviously, is always involved in the planning process. This week he might have even more ideas than normal.
The Illinois defense is now coordinated by head coach Lovie Smith, who took over playcalling duties when Hardy Nickerson resigned a couple of weeks ago. Smith, the NFL veteran, aided in the proliferation of the “Tampa 2” defensive scheme, and although he had already left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Frost arrived there as a safety in 2003, the system made a big impact on the NU coach.
He credits then-Tampa defensive coaches Mike Tomlin, Raheem Morris and others for making him a good tackler and teaching him what he needed to become a better pro player. He believes so strongly in the methods that he knew he wanted a Tampa-rooted coach to teach defensive back play if he ever became a head coach.
“It’s sound,” Frost said Thursday. “That was the best part of that scheme when I was playing in it is, you always knew where you were supposed to be, you always knew where you were supposed to fit. There wasn’t a lot of glaring issues with it because everybody knew their assignment, everybody knew their role and knew their run fit.”
That also means that now Frost has the answers to the exam in a way, even if it’s been awhile and even though he said Smith and others have done a good job modifying the system over the years to account for dual-threat quarterbacks and other modernization on the offensive side.
For instance, NU running backs coach Ryan Held thinks Frost’s expertise regarding the system — secondary coach Travis Fisher played in it as well — aided the Huskers as they put together their plan for the Illini.
“Some of the different things that they’ll do and their techniques and where they’ll be landmarkwise, I think can help us with our vertical passing game and underneath passing game,” Held said. “Obviously, with the run game, it is what it is. They’re going to line up and if they’re two-high (safeties), we’re going to know they’re in two-high. They do a little disguising, but for the most part we’ll know.
“Really it’s for helping our receivers and the other guys know where they’re going to be dropping so our angles are correct in our passing game.”
Smith only has one game of playcalling on tape at UI this year — a 55-31 win last week against Minnesota — so NU coaches this week have said it will be important to make adjustments on the fly. If there’s anybody who’s got a bag of tricks for just that task, though, it’s Frost.