Two words, champ: Shaquill Griffin. The next time someone tries to give you any lip about Nebraska coach Scott Frost’s defenses at UCF, the first thing you do is kindly point their backsides in the direction of the Legion of Boom:
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) September 12, 2017
— C.J. Tumbarello🏈 (@TumbarelloHB) October 31, 2017
As a rookie from UCF, No. 26 goes into Week 15 of the NFL season ranked sixth in the NFC and No. 1 among Seattle Seahawks defenders in pass breakups (13) and No. 6 on the squad in tackles (43).
“Their top cornerback from last year has been starting from Day 1 for the Seahawks and is now Seattle’s No. 1 [cornerback],” Pro Football Focus analyst Josh Liskiewitz noted. “And his twin brother [UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin] is the kid with one hand who’s a spectacular pass rusher. Obviously, Frost, he went to Oregon, he’s [known] more for that system, that they can be a very explosive offense.”
Defensively, though, not so much. The hometown kid’s Cornhuskers honeymoon phase was barely over the threshold before a few chucklenuts pointed out that the 12-0 Knights, who lead the nation in scoring offense (49.4 points per game), also rank 53rd out of 130 FBS schools in scoring defense (25.2 allowed per contest), and 93rd out of 130 in total defense (429 yards allowed per game). And that, even if watching the Knights roll to the Peach Bowl has been all kinds of fun, it’s also produced a handful of 31-21-ish or 49-42-ish sort of scorelines along the way.
UCF has posted 40 points or more a whopping nine times this fall. The Knights also have given up 24 or more on five occasions. To which Liskiewitz has two more words:
“Does every team there need to be the Blackshirts?” he said, laughing. “Because they had such a cool nickname, and that’s the No. 1 priority? The defense has to live up to that? I don’t understand the complaint about that. I think he’s a hell of a coach, and I think we’ve seen enough bits and pieces to think that he can coach that side of the ball, too, let’s be honest.”
— Jason Beede (@therealBeede) October 1, 2017
Defense wins championships 😏 pic.twitter.com/SwCg8rG9a6
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) December 3, 2017
If you don’t work you don’t eat!
UCF DEFENSE WORK!♥️ pic.twitter.com/25xtkkb5co
— TJ LSU DAD (@tj_lsudad) November 24, 2017
And if you don’t trust your eyes, trust the metrics:
Yards are the means, but points are the end. No New Year’s Six game outside the Orange Bowl’s Miami-Wisconsin matchup — Turnover Chains vs. The Cheese Curtain — features a defense as ruthlessly opportunistic as the one Frost is taking with him to Atlanta.
And, more to the point, installing in Lincoln. Eventually.
What applies to basketball in terms of scoring efficiency — empty possessions are great for a defense, killer for an offense — slots neatly into a football context, too. Brian Fremeau’s BCFToys.com site dishes out a bunch of goodies, but among the best is its Points Per Drive page, which charts offensive possessions in all FBS vs. FBS games and excludes “first-half clock kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores.”
Here is how the Knights defenses have stacked up the last two seasons nationally, and how that compared to the Huskers during that same stretch in 2016 and 2017:
Frostball: Obtain and contain.
Diacoball: Strain and complain.
“I think that [unit] can take care of itself,” offered Jim Walden, the former Nebraska assistant turned head coach and radio commentator. “It depends on whether he was worried about winning them or not. If you’re in 42-35 ball games that you win, that’s what they’ve done at Central Florida. They’ll get their defense together. When the offense kind of pulls it together, defense kind of falls in line with it. …
“I always felt, as good as one side is, the other seems to get it together. It’s the whole chicken-and-egg thing: You never know which one’s causing it. I was there with the Blackshirts, but that was another era and we had a hell of an offense, too.
“And you’ve got to know that, even as good as Central Florida was, you could conceivably say they’re getting the fourth- or fifth-best defensive player [in the state] … you’re not going to find great cornerbacks and great linebackers and great rush ends just anywhere. I’d think you could have a chance to get a better group of defenders at Nebraska than you could at UCF.”
Griffin was a 3-star find from St. Petersburg, Fla., in the Class of 2013. Imagine how much fun defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is going to have once you’re stirring the 4-star and 5-star prospects into the mix.
“They’re getting better every week.” – Coach Chinander
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) November 17, 2017
Frost’s high-tempo, quick-strike offense forced opponents to push things vertically, to take risks, either to try to keep pace or keep within shouting distance. The constant throughout the last two years of UCF football was pressure — pressure to move the chains, pressure to get on the board, psychological pressure on the opposing passer combined with physical pressure in his face.
According to CFBAnalytics.com, the Knights allowed the opponent to score — field goals, touchdowns, whatever — on only 27.2 percent of their possessions, which ranked 39th nationally. The Huskers’ opponents got something out of 40 percent of their possessions, good for 109th.
“This team, they didn’t win a game two years ago, and two years later they’re playing in a New Year’s Six game,” Liskiewitz said of Frost. “I don’t care how he does it. Bring it on.”