LINCOLN — To keep with the theme, let’s get to the point quickly.
Under Scott Frost, Nebraska wants to go fast.
“Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang,” quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said Thursday. “We’re gonna go, we’re gonna go, we’re gonna go.”
But transforming an offense that huddled and struggled a season ago to get going isn’t as easy as drawing up a few new plays. Frost’s offense is a mentality, a religion of fast. And in its first full week of spring practice, Nebraska was baptized by way of speed immersion.
Which proved to be the most challenging part of the first four practices, coaches said.
“We’re really trying to develop those guys to move to the next play, move to the next play,” tight ends coach Sean Beckton said. “Early on, it’s been a struggle because they get distracted because they want to learn and know what they did wrong and then we just have to tell them, ‘No, no, go to the next play.’ ”
The week was the first and most important step for an offense in drastic transition. And the main goal for the first few days of practice was simple: unload the playbook and get the guys going without overthinking. It was more important in the first week to do things quickly than correctly. Which took a while to get used to.
“We’ll do rhythm work, so we’re not necessarily going game tempo, but one guy is up, next guy, one guy is up, next guy,” Verduzco said. “But right now it’s like, one guy, next guy is kinda waiting, and then the next guy goes, so I just told them, ‘Let’s get out of huddle mode. Let’s get the next guy up, rhythm throw, next guy up, rhythm throw, next guy up, rhythm throw.’ ”
Last year in Mike Riley’s pro-style offense, the play was called from the press box and relayed to quarterback Tanner Lee, who would spread the news on the field. Now, plays are called by Frost, then relayed to the entire team at once by signalers from the sideline. That’s been tricky to get used to, tight end Jack Stoll said. He and the rest of the offense often find themselves looking back at coaches for direction after a play, rather than looking at signalers for the next call.
“When a play is over, the first place their eyeballs go are to the sideline for the next play, not necessarily to me to see what my quote-unquote evaluation or what Frost might think,” Verduzco said. “Boom, let’s get on to the next play. That piece of the puzzle, just from that dynamic, is something we need to move forward.”
It’s been tough on the defensive side of the ball, too, safety Aaron Williams said.
“You keep going because if you try to ask a question, the offense is already lined up and snapping the ball,” Williams said.
Despite trying to change old habits of slow, the coaching staff is generally pleased with the offense after the first full week. Beckton said the staff was reminiscing the other day about the first spring at Central Florida, when they were all questioning what they were doing there. Even so, 18 months after that first spring in Orlando, UCF’s offense was among the best in the country.
But retooling this Nebraska offense may be a tougher task considering how drastically different UCF and Nebraska were in 2017.
Last season, UCF — which played one more game than NU — scored 318 more points than Nebraska, 22.5 more per game. The Knights ran 97 more plays, converted 91 more first downs and gained 2,276 more yards, 1.88 more yards per snap. To get to 14 points, it took Nebraska on average between seven and eight drives. For UCF, it took four.
Not only was UCF’s offense faster, but it was much more efficient. UCF scored 0.64 points per play, the best in the country. Nebraska finished the year 79th with 0.36 points per play.
Frost is used to fast, dating back to his college days at Nebraska. As the offensive coordinator at Oregon, he was in the press box calling the next play before the previous play had even finished. He took that same mentality to UCF, where in his second season the Knights turned into an offense statistically similar to Frost’s 1997 national title team at Nebraska.
Both scored around 47 points per game, both gained more than 6,000 yards of offense, both had more than 310 first downs, both snapped the ball more than 920 times.
But that’s where this coaching staff wants to get. Which is why in the first full week of spring practice, it was important to drill down speed. Offensive line coach Greg Austin said he wants his offense to win the 10 seconds between plays. The quicker the line can get in the play, get set and go, the better.
Instead of hands-on teaching right when a player makes a mistake, coaches have “learning sessions” after practice. That way a drill or scrimmage goes on uninterrupted. In learning sessions, coaches empty out their notebooks with errors and corrections.
Week 1 was Step 1. So the speed element should be fixed. Players should be used to getting to the next play or drill without correction. Step 2, this upcoming week, is about execution, Beckton said. Not making the mistakes in the first place.
“Being able to make the adjustments to what the defense is giving us,” Beckton said.
Preferably, they’d like them to do it fast.