Scott Frost’s no-huddle offense found its stride in the third quarter.
>> On the biggest stage, Erik Chinander had a sterling day, fully validating Frost’s decision to bring him to Lincoln. Nebraska’s new defensive coordinator employed an aggressive plan to slow down Auburn’s run game – and dissuade Auburn from running it more than it did – and kept his foot on the gas pedal. UCF has some athletes who make it possible – more on that in a minute – but Chinander’s unit looked well-coached and full of fun. The Knights pursued and tackled well. They forced turnovers and had a pick six. Outside linebacker/defensive end Shaquem Griffin had his way with Auburn despite his 6-foot-1, 223-pound frame. Auburn’s cute, elaborate play-action plays didn’t work very well and Tigers’ quarterback Jarrett Stidham was consistently running for shelter. Chinander can tell defensive line recruits to turn on the Peach Bowl. They’ll like what they see. If you’re a Nebraska fan, you wanted to see UCF’s defense play well. It dominated. That’s a bonus.
>> After a rocky 2 ½ quarters, Frost’s spread, no-huddle offense found its full stride, punching holes Auburn’s stingy defense. It took some time, and a few great second-half throws from quarterback McKenzie Milton, for UCF to put the Tigers on their heels. Once the Knights did, you couldn’t guess what Frost might call next. He showed a lot – quarterback counters, sweeps, rollouts, screens – yet his quarterback played cool and under control. Yes, Milton has that “point guard” skillset that’s hard to teach in a quarterback – think Todd Reesing or Baker Mayfield – but he doesn’t make awful mistakes, and generally has a good sense of when to do what. That’s coaching. That’s a big reason why UCF had a perfect season. Early on, Frost’s creative playcalling didn’t work as well because UCF missed some plays – Milton overthrew a surefire touchdown – and Auburn’s defense didn’t miss tackles on backs Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson. Auburn has a top 10 D nationally, but it isn’t any better than Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan or Michigan State. Nebraska faces all four next season.
>> Embrace with a bear hug the value of a mobile, running quarterback. Milton didn’t play his best game – one of his worst of the year, frankly – but he repeatedly made plays with his feet, either as a runner or in keeping plays alive to throw downfield. The day may come when a program like Nebraska can forgo a mobile QB. Not right now. It needs every advantage it can get in the Midwest, even if NU doesn’t yet have a quarterback of Milton’s playmaking caliber.
>> UCF’s defense had a few dudes Nebraska badly needs to recruit and develop. Matched against an elite, athletic defense, you probably noticed that the Knights’ backs and receivers looked, well, human. But, thanks some terrific sight lines in the Mercedes-Benz Dome press box – end-zone views that were pretty low to the action, you could see how well UCF’s defense could run and hit against Auburn. That’s a far faster, better-conditioned bunch than Nebraska, and three players in particular – cornerback Mike Hughes, safety Tre Neal and Griffin – stood out. NU has that talent on its roster, but it hasn’t been developed or unleashed yet. I don’t mean the in-game coaching fails NU’s players, per se, but more the strength-and-conditioning/recruiting/development piece. Hughes is a legit NFL-style corner in the mold of Alfonzo Dennard. Griffin may not translate great to the NFL, but in college he’s a home-wrecker. Neal is who Aaron Williams or Antonio Reed needs to be.
>>The Mercedes-Benz Dome is a great venue for a big game. Roomy and softly-lit, the viewing experience inside the dome is as good as I’ve witnessed, and the state-of-the-art, circular video screens were excellent, often showing highlights of each play for four different angles. It’s not the loudest stadium you’ll ever be in – the sound gets lost in the size, since there’s ample room to the tops and sides of the arena, but should NU ever make a New Year’s Six game in Atlanta, it’s worth the trip. Even when it’s cold outside. (And it was.)
Scott Frost was born to parents Larry and Carol. Larry, pictured back left, played football at Nebraska under Bob Devaney. Carol, back center, was the first female Olympian from Nebraska and competed in the discus at the 1968 Mexico City Games. Older brother Steve, back right, played football at Colorado State and Stanford.
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