New Nebraska football coach Scott Frost made his final game directing the UCF Knights a real winner on Monday afternoon at the Peach Bowl. UCF defeated the Auburn Tigers 34-27 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, finishing its perfect season with a 13-0 record.
4 things we learned
1. Erik Chinander’s defense isn’t perfect, but it’s intense
UCF’s offense got a lot of attention in 2017, and rightfully so. As DieHards’ Ollie Connolly recently pointed out, the Knights offense was as solid as could be:
“The Knights finished second in offensive S&P+, and first in points per game. They ranked fourth in efficiency and second in explosiveness, a dastardly combination. That’s not all: They finished second in yards per play (the best single measurement of offensive success), and were a whooping 13th in the country in percentage of solo tackles (80 percent). That’s 1-on-1 football, indeed.”
Against Auburn in the Peach Bowl, though? UCF’s defense made a strong case for itself. For example, the Knights had 5 sacks in the first half. They averaged 1.75 sacks per game prior to the Peach Bowl.
Nebraska fans don’t need to necessarily overreact, but the Huskers can be at least a little excited about what Erik Chinander can bring as defensive coordinator. Chinander’s defense isn’t perfect, but it’s intense. The pass rush wreaked havoc on Auburn’s offensive line, and the secondary was good in space, stopping the Tigers’ last minute threat with an interception.
Who would have thought?
Sure did not expect the story of the Peach Bowl to be UCF’s defense.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) January 1, 2018
2. The dual-threat quarterback is important to Frost’s offense
Frost’s offense works because of the dual-threat quarterback. That’s why Frost and his staff went after quarterback Adrian Martinez so quickly once hired by Nebraska.
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was a little off against Auburn. His statistics (16 of 35, 242 yards passing and 2 TDs, but 116 yards rushing on 13 carries and another TD) against Auburn weren’t exactly on par with his usual numbers from the season, but he was still solid for UCF.
Milton’s place in Frost’s offense highlights what the staff will want at Nebraska. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this spring between Martinez, sophomore Patrick O’Brien and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia. O’Brien and Gebbia are more pro-style quarterbacks, but have shown potential to work as a dual threat.
And for what it’s worth, UCF’s offensive line deserves credit, too. The Knights O-line did a nice job against the Auburn front four, and created opportunities and pockets for Milton to throw and also scramble out of some trouble.
Dual threat QBs in college >>>
— Nick Bahe (@NickBahe) January 1, 2018
3. UCF is resilient
Frost knew the challenge his UCF team was up against in facing Auburn. He noted the biggest obstacle on Sunday.
“We have small, fast guys, and they have big, fast guys, so our guys need to take care of the ball and protect it,” Frost said.
Frost is right. UCF has fast players but they’re smaller than the fast players on the opposite sideline with Auburn. In fact, the Tigers’ game plan appeared at times to be one in which they waited and wore UCF down. Yet, UCF didn’t go away.
For Nebraska fans, not giving up is a victory in and of itself. Too many times in previous years, the Huskers appeared to stop trying, and fans’ frustrations followed. Against Auburn, UCF showed a much different approach and that’s something that can provide a little hope for Nebraska fans going forward.
"They aren't going away," play-by-play announcer Dave Flemming tells viewers, referring to UCF. That sounds simple enough. To Nebraska fans, who watched Huskers "go away" time and again this season, it must sound like sweet music.
— Steven M. Sipple (@HuskerExtraSip) January 1, 2018
4. Frost’s choice to coach was the right thing to do
This isn’t something new that we learned. It sort of became more and more clear over the last few weeks, but Frost’s decision to coach UCF in the Peach Bowl really was the right thing to do.
Nothing but respect @coach_frost he didn’t bail on the kids he stayed and finished his job and coached them in the bowl ✊🏾
— LaMike james (@LaMichaelJames) January 1, 2018
Even Auburn coach Gus Malzahn credited Frost for his decision on Sunday.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him from the standpoint that, you know, he’s taken another job, but he chose to do the right thing, and he chose to be there for his team,” Malzahn said. “And I think that’s a great example for coaches in the future. You see college football changing and all the jobs changing and all that, but very impressed with him.”
The ESPN broadcast didn’t end up being the Nebraska infomercial athletic director Bill Moos was hoping for, but Frost’s decision was a strong testament regardless. It’s hard to say what impact his decision will ultimately have down the road, but it was the right one for now.
And for Nebraska fans without a bowl game to support, it made New Year’s Day a little more fun.
Frost and his staff are on to their next adventure with Nebraska. After a wild month of balancing recruiting for the Huskers and game preparation with UCF, Frost can finally catch his breath. But not for long, as recruiting will ramp back up soon enough.