I promised last week I’d get something up during the bye week on Scott Frost’s UCF offense, so here we go. A couple of disclaimers first. One, I’m not advocating for a coaching change at this point. If we do make one, though, Frost wouldn’t be in my first tier of coaches. Doesn’t mean I don’t like him a lot, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want him at Nebraska if we struck out at the first tier level. But after a 15-year freeze on the program, it’s time to start acting like a blue blood in how we hire head coaches. Shoot for the moon. The Big 10 has given us 51 million reasons to try and hire an established head coach with a half decade or more of relevant success. If we miss, then Frost would be in my second tier, and I’d certainly be optimistic he could succeed in Lincoln IF GIVEN THE APPROPRIATE TIME to do so. I capitalize that last part because any coach in 2018, whether Mike Riley, Scott Frost, or anyone in between, will need time to turn over this roster before we can come close to consistently competing with the Ohio States of the world.
The second disclaimer is that I’m assuming Frost would run the same, or a substantially similar offense, in Lincoln. I think that’s a pretty fair assumption given that coaches rarely make a sea change in their offense or defense during their careers, but then again Frost did play under a head coach in Lincoln who did very much that over his 29 years calling plays in Lincoln. Perhaps Frost would do the same, but for now, we’ll take a look at what he’s running down in UCF and assume it’s pretty close to what we’d see in Lincoln.
Because this is a hot topic right now, I’m going to make this a two-part series on UCF. Here is Part I.UCFast
Playing fast is the motto of Frost’s entire team, one he borrowed from his time in Oregon under Chip Kelly. Kelly uses it in the sense of offensive and defensive tempo: get to the line, make your calls, snap the ball or shut the offense down. Your opponent probably isn’t used to playing fast, so the faster you go, the more they are likely to struggle. With getting calls in, with fitness, with simply trying to get lined up correctly. Frost certainly fits that mold.
But UCFast has a more literal meaning too. For an American Athletic Conference team, Frost’s team speed is striking. Across a variety of position groups, they’ve got guys that can run. And that brings me to the first thing that sticks out about Scott Frost: roster management.
You’ll hear me mention that phrase roster management quite a bit over the next few weeks. Broadly speaking, it is how well the head coach has created the roster that he will take into any given season. It includes recruiting: did you recruit good talent, and as important, did you recruit enough of it to fill your roster holes? It also includes a less talked about aspect: trimming the fat. Did you take scholarship non-contributors and move them off scholarship or out of the program? Great teams do, and if you coach at a place like Nebraska where you can’t rely on in-state talent to fill 75% of your recruiting class, you’ve got to do it. Nobody likes to consider cutting college players, but if you want to win, you must cull the roster of non-contributors. Finally, roster management includes the gap fillers, JUCOs and graduate transfers. No school is going to hit 100% through recruiting, so you’ve got to be able to mine the JUCOs and graduate transfer market for the plug-and-play guys to help moderate those recruiting misses. Doesn’t have to be a superstar, but does have to be good enough to hit the two-deep so you don’t have to burn that freshman’s redshirt or play the walk on who has no business playing.
When you look at Frost’s roster, he’s done a great job of roster management in two years through all three areas. Frost’s leading punt/kick returner is a transfer from North Carolina who had a 58-yard kickoff return against Navy. He’s grabbed two transfers from Alabama, one from Oregon, and a tight end from Wisconsin. Fill the gaps. In recruiting, he’s snagged players with big boy talent that couldn’t get into big boy schools for various reasons. His lightning bolt running back, Adrian Killins, was a prospect who would have ended up at Miami if he could’ve qualified there academically. He couldn’t, so off to UCF he goes to turn in plays like this:
That kid can fly, and Frost gets him involved in the running and passing game as much as possible. Killians is straight out of Central Casting for the type of skill position athletes that Frost had at Oregon. Not overly flashy jump cutting inside the tackles, but a complete angle changer for safeties if he gets to the edge.
If Frost ends up at Nebraska at some point, his roster management will be key. He hasn’t signed a huge recruiting class yet at UCF, so that gives me a bit of pause. Ideally, you want a class in the 25ish commit range once every two years if not more. So far Frost is at 21 and 22 in his full classes and currently sitting at 14. That’s not bad, but I’ll keep my eye on how many more he adds if he sticks at UCF through signing day.
F Is Not For Fullback
If you’re a Nebraska fan that thinks bringing back Scott Frost will also drum up the 90s offense under Osborne, please look a way for a bit. “F” in UCF is not for the fullback, and Frost doesn’t even have one on his roster at UCF.
Yep, you read that right. No fullbacks. Instead, Frost is a 10/11 personnel guy who likes 3 or more WRs in the game almost all the time. And unlike what we’ve seen from Nebraska since 2015, Frost isn’t afraid to go Empty quite a bit with 5 players lined up as receivers:
Now, don’t leave me just yet Run the Damn Ball Guy. Frost, despite his affinity for personnel groupings omitting the fullback, likes to spread the ball to run it. UCF ran the ball 42 times for 247 yards (5.9 YPC) against Navy, and that’s pretty consistent with their season totals too (196 rushes, 144 passes heading into the Navy game).
This is also my preferred approach to college football. Formation defenses into a light box, get an athletic RB, and then let him work in a lot of open space. It worked for Baylor, it worked for Oregon, and now it’s working for Frost at UCF as well. There is no point in going heavy and bringing extra defenders into the box. It’s just another guy there to make a tackle if you miss a block. Instead, go light, move that defender to the perimeter, and then you don’t really have to block him in the first place.
Now you can leave us Run the Damn Ball Guy because what’s coming, you’re not going to like. Nor is classic “don’t throw it or line up in shotgun in short yardage” Nebraska fan. Because Frost’s offense is almost exclusively from the Shotgun, not only does he eschew fullbacks, but he won’t go under center on goal line or short yardage situations:
Again, I like this. Putting your QB in shotgun in short yardage multiplies the options available to him. Quick passing game or deep shots are already there. You can turn him into a runner either inside or outside. You can also run the speed option, something he did a couple times against Navy. And because you’ve spread the formation out, you give your QB a clear view of the defensive structure. Why make things harder than they have to be?
But there would be times where this happens, and when it did, a certain subset of Nebraska fans will make their displeasure known if it doesn’t gain a first down:
If you make it, Shotgun Isn’t For Short Yardage guy stays quiet in the stands. But the first time you don’t make it, the next 13 rows are going to hear about it. “Stop being so damn cute. Just line up and smash into the line of scrimmage.” Ever heard that?
Quarterback Run Game
If Frost’s fullback avoidance ignores the First Commandment of Husker Football, he more than makes up for it by embracing the Second Commandment of Husker Football: thou shalt never have a statue QB. Frost likes the run game, and he features his QBs heavily in it. They’re not running classic option under center, but Zone Read, QB Counter, Draw, Speed Option, etc. are ever present. And so when Shotgun Isn’t For Short Yardage guy complains about going Shotgun Empty on 3rd and 3, tell him to sit down and pay attention because this might happen:
That’s exactly why you go Empty with your QB in the Shotgun on short yardage. Clear out the entire box to put the math and real estate game in your favor. You have 5 blockers, they have 5 defenders. That makes it a QB versus safety chase and tackle drill, and the safety is 15 yards deep playing the middle of the field. How do you think that’s going to go?
This freeze frame of the play gives you a pretty good idea of how formationing a defense into what you want works for Frost. He wins that play before the snap simply because of how he forced the defense to line up to his formation. With the threat of the bubble screen always present in the Frost offense, the defense has to play 3 DBs over 3 WRs to the field. With 2 WRs to the boundary, it leaves Maryland matched up and a man short in the box. 5 blockers, 1 runner, against 5 defenders. Advantage offense if you’ve followed the Second Commandment of Husker Football.
Pulling the tackle on the Dart concept to create additional space is simply the coup de grace on this one. The C gap defender is so far away from the ball that he can’t get to the QB unless he immediately blitzes. So pull the LT, let him wrap into the opposite B gap, and have the QB follow him to daylight.
Frost’s current QB McKenzie Milton isn’t his ideal QB, as Milton is more in the scrappy Joe Ganz mold than Marcus Mariota. Still, when you’re able to create that much space on the field through formations, even those who fall short of Mariota’s lofty wheels can get enough yardage to keep things moving.
Pullers, Pullers, and More Pullers
We’ll talk a lot more about this in Part 2 covering specific offensive concepts that Frost likes, but for now, let’s just say he loves pulling linemen. And he’ll run them through a variety of blocking concepts. Power, Counter, Pin and Pull, Dart, G Lead, you name it, he does it. Nebraska has pulled a fair amount of plays this year too, but not nearly to the magnitude that Frost does it.
And don’t confuse 10/11 personnel and no fullback with being a sissy offense. Frost runs plenty of downhill blocking schemes, including this one-back Power Read play:
That’s a little bit different than the traditional Power Read play that Nebraska ran under Tim Beck with Taylor Martinez. Instead of leaving the DE unblocked and reading him on the decision to keep or hand off, Frost’s QBs read the linebackers at the second level while the OT kicks out the DE. If the LB flows fast to the outside to play the RB, the QB keeps it and follows the pulling guard up the middle. If the LB stays in to play the puller, it’s a hand off and the hope is the RB can beat the DE to the edge.
In this case, UCF does both. Not only does the RB have a free edge, but even if the QB had read it wrong and kept the ball, he still could have followed the pulling guard for a first down. When you can get to that point as a play caller, it’s a pretty straight path to a top 10 offense. Even the wrong play by your QB (a keep read) gives you a 5-yard gain. The right play by your QB gives you a near house call.
Wrapping It Up
That’s a good start for Part I. We haven’t dipped into the passing game, but nobody wants Frost in Lincoln to throw the ball anyway. Run the Damn Ball. As long as you do that, we’ll overlook your abandonment of the fullback who paved the way for so many of your runs #7.
Suffice it to say that Frost’s offense is a well-oiled machine. Yes, he has a lot of team speed because he coaches at UCF, a team that’s never been short on speed because of its Florida location. That team speed makes things a lot easier for an offense. Some of it he’s created, a lot of it he was gifted by the previous UCF staff. Nevertheless, as my grandfather used to say, if you use a cheetah to pull a wagon, you aren’t getting anywhere fast. Frost knows what he has and he’s an expert at applying it from his time in Eugene.
In Part II, which I hope to have out sometime before Thursday, we’ll look at a handful of concepts Frost uses to set his cheetahs free.