[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Scott Frost’s University of Central Florida offense was so damn pretty. It was beautiful. The prospect of the 2017 Associated Press Coach of the Year at Nebraska has me excited.
I love how Frost spreads teams out to run the ball, getting advantageous box counts, pulling all sorts of linemen and favoring the run to the pass. (He often talks with a run first mentality) The attack is a delicious layer cake, starting with a small package of tempo plays and building up.
In this gateau you find a fantastic mix of concepts and reads based on the coverage look; a blend of West Coast – Bill Walsh (who Frost worked under) stuff like mesh, Wing-T and option plays – from Frost’s days quarterbacking Nebraska – and spread ideas featuring jet motion.
Frost’s use of switch concepts, naturally creating separation in man, while requiring sound processing and discipline in zone, is similar to another West Coast disciple: Sean McVay. Frost’s biggest mentor, Chip Kelly, influenced his no-huddle, up-tempo approach, but unlike his mentor, Frost picks his moments to go fast rather than going at a frenetic pace every snap.
Frost adores unmirrored formations. His usage of quad formations is particularly striking – that being four receivers on one side of the formation. With this he manages to flood one side of the field and often forces a defense to over-adjust or suffer the consequences.
These factors combined could make Nebraska football very exciting. The team’s Spring Game revealed little – with quads only witnessed twice – but these games are more a chance to get players familiar with the basic scheme. Quads formations are more of a specific game planning concept, installed when players have a better grasp of the offense (note how they were barely run against FIU in week 2 of 2017).
In an interview at half-time of the Spring Game, Frost admitted that “we [Nebraska] wanted to keep it a little simple today, and just see the guys block and tackle, and execute, so we’re not pulling all of the rabbits out of the hat.” Quads will still play a big part of any offensive success in 2018 and beyond. Frost also stated about that game: “If I was gonna scout us I’d probably go back and look at things we did at Florida and maybe Oregon more than the Spring Game.”.
So let’s travel back to Frost’s 2017 UCF offense to see his quads utilization. It reveals a lot about the coach as an in-game play caller and as a tactician.
Frost’s Switch Releases and Quads
Let’s start with UCF’s National Championship which heralded their true arrival on the national stage. In the Peach Bowl victory over Auburn, quads formations played a prominent role.
1:58 Third Quarter vs Auburn: Trailing 20-13, 3rd and 4 on Auburn 31
UCF lines up in an empty-set shotgun formation through 02 personnel (two tight ends and three wide receivers), with tight end Michael Colubiale (#86) as a wing back and Jordan Akins (#88) in-line. Pre-snap, boundary wide receiver Otis Anderson (#26) runs a fly motion into quads. The movement is unfollowed and forces a pre-snap bail from the cornerbacks, easing the coverage recognition for quarterback McKenzie Milton (#10); and telling him it’s going to be zone, likely quarters or Cover 2.
This play is a wonderful combination of passing concepts: switch, flood and mesh. Anderson, now the #2 receiver, switch-releases and runs a wheel, creating a switch concept with #1 receiver Marlon Williams’ (#17) post. Colubiale as the #4 receiver runs a flat route. In conjunction with Akins’ drag from the backside, this forms a three-level flood. Akins’ drag, ran with the crosser from #3 receiver Tre’Quan Smith (#4), combines for a mesh concept.
Milton first glances at the switch. This requires a tough, well-placed throw and doesn’t come open immediately—he hit one on the previous third down of the drive. Milton correctly bypasses the three-level flood which the cover 2 matching coverage locks up, and—feeling the edge pressure’s close arrival—progresses to the mesh. Managing to beat the spying defensive tackles to the right, Milton hits Smith’s crosser to the boundary, with the receiver showing great awareness to find nestling room in between and behind the pursuing zones.
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The completion benefited from the shading of zone coverage towards the quads side of the formation. A defense has to respect such an overload. The 19-yard gain from the empty set kept the drive alive on a crucial 3rd and 4 with UCF trailing 20-13 to a Power 5, SEC opponent. Additionally, it got the Knights into the redzone. Not bad at all.
(Such jet motion can be used for jet sweeps but also as misdirection to run the quarterback successfully – as a read or directly through the B-gap.)
5:14 Second Quarter vs Maryland: Leading 7-3, 1st and 10 on Maryland 17
The Maryland game featured the most jet play-action. Though technically not a quads formation upon the snap of the ball – taking place when the motion receiver is over the tight end or tight end landmark – it showed us the various ways Frost builds off the look. Previously, on motions into the backfield, the Terrapins had not moved their safety fast with the fly motion. On those occasions the Golden Knights ran inside zone (with the jet man settling in the backfield) or jet sweeps for big gains.
Immediately after running Killins on a jet sweep for 10 yards from the same formation, the offense lines up in an empty set with 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) on the field, and Killins again as the isolated receiver.
This provides the offense with two advantages:
First, it does not allow the defense to set their strength properly if they are aligning based on the backfield—as there is no running back there. (This is especially important for when UCF motions the back in for running the football inside)
Second, it provides quarterback Milton with an important pre-snap indicator: If a safety or linebacker is over the running back it’s man-coverage; if a cornerback is opposite the back the pass defense is zone.
Maryland does have a corner over Killins so it’s zone. This is further confirmed by Killins’ jet motion not being followed by a defender. The motion means the linebackers must still take their read steps despite the formation initially being an empty set, an important factor given they had been gashed on the previous play.
Stressing the defense horizontally, the Golden Knights then hit them vertically, getting the safeties in the wrong position—a consistent goal of Frost’s scheming. The Terrapins’ cover 3 is a simple one, a call affected by the high tempo of UCF. The sole deep safety, Darnell Savage (#4), is drawn to the first vertical route into his deep third shell, and the slot DB—Antoine Brooks (#25)—also runs vertical with Tre’Quan Smith (#4). The cornerback deep third shells are occupied by the two other verticals from this four vertical switch concept. This leaves the second release of the switch butt-naked up the left hash mark.
The same concept’s seam route had been open before but was flat-out missed by Milton late in the first quarter. Here, he does not forego the same opportunity. He hits tight end Michael Colubiale (#86) and only the turf monster can stop the sure touchdown.
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Frost’s Sprint Motion and Quads
Pushing a running back outside on a pre-snap sprint motion is another way to get four receivers, albeit with one of those firmly behind the line of scrimmage. Such an approach provides the quarterback with a read of whether the linebackers move out with the motion or stay with it, influencing box counts and coverages. Run-Pass Options can be run with this strategic intelligence.
For the defense, a simple dump off to the running back for a perimeter screen is the most predictable play. We saw the other plays Frost runs from this quad’s look against Navy:
14:25 First Quarter vs Navy: 3rd and 12 at UCF 34
With 14.25 left in the first quarter, UCF faces a 3rd and 12—making a screen a reasonable call for the defense to expect. However, targeting the intermediate once more, we see the way Frost manages to get safeties out of shape. It’s masterful. For the second time, the design achieved this to perfection.
Even after the sprint motion of Adrian Killins Jr (#9), the defense shows two-high safeties and a Cover 2/Cover 4 matching look. The Golden Knights’ 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end), tight end Jordan Akins (#88) lined up at the top of the bunch, sees the Midshipmen respond with their base personnel—linebacker Justin Norton (#5) positioned over the trio.
They rotate into a Cover 6 look where there are three-deep shells and they man-up on the backside. Only three pass rushers are sent, as rush backer D.J. Palmore (#45) drops into a hook-curl area. Norton’s assignment being the force player against a potential screen pass, running outside and away from the trio of receivers.
The deep hook of outside receiver Gabriel Davis (#13) occupies the quarter zone of cornerback Tyris Wooten (#17). The chute route of Akins, run perfectly in behind the second level but in front of the third, sees strongside safety Jarid Ryan (#2) move across with it in his quarter and attempt to carry the tight end to the deep half of the other safety, Sean Williams (#6), who is keying a potential post from isolated receiver Tre’Quan Smith (#4).
Ryan’s attention towards the chute crucially allows Dredrick Snelson (#5) to be wide open up the hashmark, running a seam route. The switch release nature of the route combination creates more time for this to develop, disguising or “hiding” the real target. Snelson smartly slows his route in the hole of the coverage and adjusts skilfully to the flight of the well-placed pass, picking up the 35-yard completion.
Note the intensity with which UCF blocks after the catch, hustles to the ball and pushes the pile. It is the essence of Frost’s “No Block No Rock” mantra.
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13:54 First Quarter vs Navy: 3rd and 9 on Navy 17
Frost’s effective opening script, rooted in smart film study and effective game-planning, showed up just two plays later in the Navy matchup. He uses such an opening as an information log, noting the next move to make. As once-guardian Bill Walsh wrote: “By the time we have completed 8 to 10 plays, we’ve forced the opponent to adjust to a number of things we were doing, and we pretty much established in a given series what we would come to do next.”
After Killins’ sprint motion provided Frost with important information, he decided to exploit a defensive key—noting that inside linebacker Brandon Jones (#3) vacated the box by running with the back outside.
Lining up with the same personnel, Killins (#9) is pushed out and the other inside linebacker, Micah Thomas (#44), follows him out there, while Jones blitzes through the strong B-gap.
This time, McKenzie Milton (#10) is running the football. The offensive line executes fantastically: Jones’ blitz is picked up and right end Josh Webb (#92) is correctly left unblocked. Moreover, they open a cavern in the weakside A-gap, with the only point of attack player, 3-tech Jarvis Polu (#90), getting down-blocked by right guard Chavis Dickey (#79).
Left tackle Aaron Evans (#66) pulls and acts as the lead blocker on the quarterback power. With Milton untouched into the second level, the crackback block from isolated receiver Gabriel Davis (#13) on the filling safety Jarid Ryan (#2) is full of determination and tenacity. Meanwhile Evans pancakes unfortunate cornerback Tyris Wooten (#17). All of the Golden Knights’ blocking is excellent: Milton rushes for 9 yards and the first down.
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Such deception existed against Auburn, too—they gashed them on the same play for 22 yards on a 3rd and 10, kickstarting a stuttering offense. And, as mentioned, throwing to the running back for the typical screen behind the trips is commonplace too. (They threw it for minimal gain in the second quarter of the Midshipmen game)
Like everything Frost does, the sprint motion to quads is based around adding conflict to the defense, keeping them honest and constantly testing them—but, above all, taking what the defense gives you. No defense can stop every single play.
Frost’s Six-Man Play-Action Protection and Quads
In 12 personnel quads, Frost can take a deep shot by fully sliding his offensive line and having a six- or seven-man protection, with two-tight ends and sometimes a running back picking up the uncovered side of the o-line’s pass pro. A defense must both believe in and respect the intention to run the football, from the same look, for this to be at its most effective.
2:33 Second Quarter vs Memphis: Leading 16-7, 1st and 10 on Memphis 34
One game where this was evident was the regular season matchup versus Memphis.
UCF faces a 1st and 10 on the Tigers’ 34-yard line, with 2.33 left in the second quarter and a 16-7 lead. They line up in 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends) quads, with the receivers, tight ends and running back to the field side. Memphis responds with their base personnel in a Bear front and two-high safeties.
The Golden Knights had shown a lot of inside zone with split-action on its drive, and on the previous play picked up the first down with an inside zone-read. Here, they fake a counter, pulling right guard Chavis Dickey (#79). This sucks the entire defensive front into the play, leaving just four defenders on the back end.
The offensive line, excluding Dickey, fully slides to the right, while Dickey, wingback Michael Colubiale (#86) and tight end Jordan Akins (#88) pick up the left side of the protection. Milton can move to the left of the pocket and have ages of time to wait for the deep shot to come open, or—if un-open—he can check the play down to running back Otis Anderson (#26) in the flats.
Two of those on the backend have their eyes and bodies coming firmly downhill too, including weak safety T.J. Carter (#2). The other is slot defensive back Jonathan Cook (#14). Cook is fooled by the excellent route running of slot receiver Tre’Quan Smith (#4). Smith runs half speed, acting as though he is going to crackback block the strong two-high safety—Tyrez Lindsey (#22).
Against two-high formations, Frost has his receivers on the ‘keep’ side wait two seconds, work for outside leverage and then take the MDM (most dangerous man), often resulting in such a crackback. Fresh in his mind, it sees Cook cheat and leave the receiver to start coming downhill.
Lindsey, keying on the run and expecting more of a disruption to Smith, is caught too shallow and on the back of his feet. Smith darts up the hash mark unabated and is wide open for the seam touchdown via the smash concept. He adjusts to the ball, thrown slightly behind him, and UCF extends their lead.
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13:23 Second Quarter vs Memphis: Trailing 7-6, 1st and Goal on Memphis 19
Earlier in the same game, with 13.23 left in the second, the Wing-T influence shone through. The Golden Knights line up with 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end), but with effectively two wingbacks on the field. The 1st and goal situation just inside the redzone gives them the ideal opportunity to go deep.
Pre-snap, they motion running back Taj McGowan (#12) into the backfield on a jet motion. On the snap, they fake the handoff to McGowan and have him block the edge. Memphis sends what they were showing pre-play—a six-man blitz with a form of cover 1 behind the pressure. The offense’s seven-man protection, featuring in-line tight end Jordan Akins (#88) versus the six rushers should give quarterback Milton (#10) enough time to execute the play.
By getting a hybrid running back-receiver, Otis Anderson (#26), essentially in the backfield, the offense has him matched up with linebacker Tim Hart (#35)—a clear speed mismatch. Anderson is sent on a wheel route. The natural rub caused by slot receiver Marlon Williams’ (#17) switch release and bullet post sees Hart (#35) bump into slot defender Jonathan Cook (#14). Hart, already athletically disadvantaged in his one-on-one coverage assignment on Anderson, has such a collision result in clear separation down the sideline for Anderson.
Free safety Tyrez Lindsey (#22) is also forced to navigate around traffic after the inside release and post of outside receiver Tre’Quan Smith (#4) runs La’Andre Thomas (#12) away from the play towards Lindsey.
Milton could hit Anderson’s wheel for the touchdown, but he sails the throw. He is pressured off the edge by Genard Avery (#6) after right tackle Jake Brown (#77) gets beat to the corner. Williams, who executed his rub perfectly, has a reaction which says it all—elation at a brilliant play design and touchdown quickly turning into frustration at a lost opening.
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The week five matchup versus the Tigers, off a play-action, also showcased the brilliance of Frost’s ‘feel’ for in-game play calling while also illustrating the space quads formations create to the weakside of the field. Once again, it aligned with Bill Walsh’s views on playcalling.
Three running back screens have been called in the game to this point, going for gains of 27, 9 and 14. The success of the play—a total of 50 yards from three calls—resulted in the defense having to adjust more to respect it. Rather than seeing it get shut down, this was just another thing for Frost to exploit. In the second quarter, with a split-backfield look, pre-snap motion from one of the backs forced the safeties to rotate and the called inside zone went for a 91-yard touchdown.
Frost, in trying to keep the running back screen game effective and curtail defensive adjustments, demonstrated his canniness with 11:46 left in the third. He and his team of booth spotters noticed that Memphis was staying very disciplined against vertical concepts – lining up with two deep safeties pre-snap, often matching into a three or four-deep look and consistently staying over the top of routes. As a result, UCF had little success with all-vertical concepts which lacked switch releases or play-action:
Furthermore, the Tigers’ defensive line was ultra-aggressive in pursuing up field.
And then Frost killed Memphis with a gorgeous concept.
11:27 Third Quarter vs Memphis: Leading 23-7, 1st and Goal on Memphis 19
He used the play-action to remove pre-snap adjustment to the screen and increase post-snap fear of the inside run. He ran off the third-level defenders with the receivers running vertical. He encouraged the pass rush up field with the slow nature of the play. He created further space for the screen by overloading one side of the field with three wide receivers and one tight end.
The Tigers position four of their players clearly to the quads and field side. There are just two non-defensive linemen to the boundary. The inside run fake sucks the linebackers up, creating further room for the back to the boundary. The pump fake from McKenzie Milton (#10) to the verts gets the linebackers furiously backtracking towards the field. The slow developing play removes the mush rush of left end Emmanuel Cooper (#97) and gets the defensive line pursuing upfield towards Milton.
Adrian Killins Jr (#9) sells that he is part of the protection, followed by a magnificent catch away from his frame. Three interior offensive linemen are free downfield as the wall. Right guard Chavis Dickey (#79) cuts playside linebacker Genard Avery (#6) out of the play. There is one defender in the alley for two much larger blockers.
That defender, safety T.J. Carter (#2), had been run downfield expertly by tight end Jordan Franks (#15). Franks sells his burst off the line as a genuine route, which is integral to maximizing the gain. Franks’ role in the play is exactly what makes Frost’s blocking rules so effective. When stalk blocking, receivers are instructed to get four-to-five yards away from the defensive back and let the receiver come to them. Franks here keeps running Carter down the field—further away from the screen.
Franks manages to delay Carter by blocking him in the side at the four-yard line as Killins catches at the 17. Carter makes little progress, is cut block by the downfield center Jordan Johnson (#72) and the dynamic Killins hyperspeeds untouched into the endzone for the 19-yard touchdown. The Golden Knights go ahead 30-7 and effectively end the game.
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Frost’s sense for the game saw UCF score on the same play versus Auburn. His low usage of the play-action screen, calling it sparingly, made for a very successful outlet.
3:32 First Quarter vs Maryland: Trailing 3-0, 2nd and 8 on UCF 24
Frost’s run game frequently has the backside tagged with a bubble screen route. This halts backside pursuit, keeping that defender honest and adding conflict to their assignment. Playing with tempo, if the defense has a clear numbers disparity out there, the quarterback has a “gimmie gimmie gimmie” call which sees the center snap the ball immediately for the ASAP throw to the perimeter. Additionally, bubbles on the “keep” side create more space for read-option keepers – essentially producing a triple-option.
The potential play-action element of a bubble screen is not just restricted to a single play. A play-action, fake bubble screen flood would have been completed against Maryland with better ball placement from Milton.
Playing with tempo on this 3rd and 2 sees the Terrapins’ defense not get fully set on the snap. As Frost explained at the Nike 2017 COTY Clinic: “It [up-tempo] gives us some really easy plays. Football’s hard. Moving the ball’s hard. And sometimes we feel like we can steal some easy plays when we get good at tempo as a weapon.”
The weakside blitzer is very late buzzing down into the box. As Frost said back at the Nike 2017 COTY clinic, “pressures are always late when you go fast, usually pass rush is diminished when you go fast.”
The play-action is a smart call as Maryland blitzed into what is nearly an eight-man box. Furthermore, the inside zone fake to Taj McGowan (#12) sucks down the linebackers and puts the hook curl defender—Jalen Brooks (#43)—in conflict, with him having to take read steps before getting to his spot. The pump-fake to the bubble of Otis Anderson (#26) from Milton sucks down flat defender Antoine Brooks Jr (#25) and Jalen Brooks struggles to get over to the hash, which sees him not get fully underneath the deep out route of slot receiver Tre’Quan Smith (#4).
The tight end protection, courtesy of Michael Colubiale (#86), versus a delayed four-man rush provides plenty of time needed for the out route of Smith to come open with an accomplished throw.
However, outside receiver Emmanuel Logan-Greene (#7) does not run off cornerback J.C. Jackson (#7) fully. This allows Jackson—aware that free safety Darnell Savage Jr. (#4) is picking up the skinny post—to look in even more on the play from his off coverage, and the high placement from Milton allows Jackson to make an impressive play on the ball, breaking the pass up. Jalen Brooks almost intercepts the tip drill.
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If Milton had driven the ball lower and outside of the underneath player, he would have given Smith more of a chance to make the catch. That, combined with the route running of Logan-Greene, made this a missed opportunity for the Golden Knights. The play was there for the taking.
(Quick Aside: Milton has started to get some NFL talk; these are the sort of throws he needs to make for success in the big league.)
Frost’s Run Game and Quads
The same advantages quads provides in the passing game also apply to running the rock with a tailback. Back-to-back plays from the Memphis game displayed this impact.
8:22 Fourth Quarter vs Memphis: Leading 37-7, 1st and 10 on Memphis 45
Up 37-7, it is clear to the Tigers’ defense that the Knights are here to tick the clock down. They came out in the same quads formation on the previous two plays: with a counter play-action screen—dumping the ball to the wingback in the flat for an 18-yard gain—and a counter run for 10 yards.
The defense has seen everything. They are coming out in an eight-man box and are practically selling out to stop the run. Yet they can’t halt the drive.
Having been gashed up the middle on the previous counter call, this time UCF manages to seal the edge – with Frost appearing to note the lack of width Memphis’ defense played with by having edge players coming inside and an over-reliance on safeties to fill the allies.
Note the relatively small amount that the offensive line moves off the ball. Selling the play-action becomes easier.
The center correctly identifies the point man (the man he is working towards) and the receivers block the “give” side well by maintaining inside on leverage. Edge defender Thomas Pickens (#40) slants inside and gets moved and sealed firmly by wingback Michael Colubiale (#86) and inside linebacker Tim Hart (#35) also goes inside to take on pulling right guard Chavis Dickey (#79).
Running back Cordarrian Richardson (#29) rightly bounces the play outside into acres of room. Taking advantage of Jonathan Cook (#14) being out of shape after just getting off the block of receiver Gabriel Davis (#13), Richardson jukes up field. Juking again, he falls forward for a 9-yard gain—gargantuan in such a game situation.
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7:39 Fourth Quarter vs Memphis: Leading 37-7, 2nd and 1 on Memphis 36
On the resulting 2nd and 1, with the Tigers expecting the run again, the Golden Knights still managed to pick up the first down. Ted Ngyuen, citing Chris B. Brown, highlighted for USA football how Chip Kelly’s run game became overly predictable for teams. As Ollie Connolly puts it: “Kelly was rumbled by NFL coaches once they figured out he was consistently tipping his plays through the alignment of his backfield.”
Switching the side of the running back shortly before the snap keeps the defense from keying on the play, while also confusing their front—just like how Frost’s jet motion or shifting keeps the defense honest.
That’s how they do it here. First they fake hike, trying to draw the blitz offside. Then, looking like they could be running a counter again, they instead switch the side of Cordarrian Richardson (#29) and suddenly create a read-option or straight quarterback keeper with split action.
Playing at the same slow tempo, with a ‘check-with-me’ to the sideline, Milton gets the quarterback keeper call. He holds the ball out to Richardson (#29), allows his wingback Michael Colubiale (#86) to smack edge defender Thomas Pickens (#40) in the mouth again, and keeps the ball for two-yards and the first down—getting UCF closer to running the game out.
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It is important to acknowledge that quads are a wrinkle of the offense, the cherry on top of the layer cake. For instance, often players motion as though they are going into quads but then settle into the backfield and run inside zone ultra-fast, with a bubble screen attached to pause the backside.
Frost’s Shifting and Quads
In his 2017 Nike COTY Clinic appearance, Frost frequently talked about using tempo as a weapon. Yet on the first play of a drive, going really fast isn’t an available option. Here, searching for another way to get the defensive front misaligned and the defensive backfield out of shape, Frost opts for a pre-snap shift into quads.
Initially, the Golden Knights offense lines up in a trips formation with 11 personnel on the field. They face nickel personnel and an under front. By then shifting into a quads bunch formation, emptying the backfield and changing the side of the in-line tight end, they get an ideal look. Like motions, defenses have to adjust to shifts very quickly, leading to mistakes and players not fully set in their new alignment.
10:32 Second Quarter vs Memphis: Trailing 7-6, 1st and 10 on UCF 44
The defense moves hybrid player Austin Hall (#25) over the quads bunch and cheats their deep safety, Tyrez Lindsey (#22), over there too. Effectively, it is four versus four to the perimeter. The box has six defenders in it, and cornerback T.J. Carter (#2) is asked to execute the other deep safety role—more unfamiliar to him. They aren’t fully set.
Effectively, UCF has six blockers for the six defenders. Including the quarterback in the count, it is an advantageous seven on six. The quarterback power they run gives them more players at the point of attack by skip-pulling left tackle Aaron Evans (#66). Playside linebacker Genard Avery (#6) is in big trouble, as Memphis is no longer gap sound. Meanwhile weakside backer Tim Hart (#35) can be blocked by climbing left guard Samuel Jackson (#73).
The play is a pre-snap RPO, with Milton running the ball based on the box count. Going back to that clinic, Frost explained the thinking behind this: “There’s times when there’s not enough people in the core, there’s time where there’s not enough people where we have receivers, and if we’re able to go fast and our quarterback can make quick decisions and we can get the ball to the right place we usually have a numbers advantage”.
Milton makes the correct quick decision here, recognizing the numbers advantage “in the core”. He snaps the ball, fakes the screen to Wilkins at the base of the diamond—seeing Hart go way outside—and then takes off on the quarterback power draw.
Milton is great as a runner. He presses the line of scrimmage, leaving Avery—left to two-gap thanks to Hart biting on the screen—peering in on the play and losing his advantageous leverage. Milton explodes through the opening and has the block of Evans take Avery out. Having set this block up, Milton has caverns of room and picks up the first down with a 25-yard run. On the first play of the drive, leading 9-7, this is a real statement from the offense. Shifting, with no tempo possible on the first play of drive, creates similar confusion.
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Later in the game Frost added another tier to the play, attempting to get the coverage to bite by running a fake jet sweep with the man at the base of diamond and running vertical routes off it. This resulted in an incompletion, but that’s not the point. Instead, it is more evidence of Frost’s persistent probing of defenses. He is always adding maximum strain.
Catapulting the Cornhuskers
Quad formations, then, are an extreme example of how Frost likes to flood areas of the field, stress defenses and then stretch them. In the majority of the cut-ups the defense did a sound job. There was just too much space for them to cover given the formation and route combinations.
Quads force a defense to over-adjust while sticking to the offense’s core: gaining spatial and numerical advantages while adding conflict through tempo, motion and play-action. It fits in perfectly with the counters and layers to the offense, building off lots of things
At Central Florida, the football was distributed frequently to lots of players. There was team speed all over the field. It was all about getting it in an athletes’ hands in space. Wide receivers J.D. Spielman and Tyjon Lindsey are two playmakers who Frost talked about after Day 2 of Spring Practice: “[J.D.] and Tyjon are the type of kid that flourishes in our offense, guys that can win in space, you get them the ball in space and they can make things happen with it…I see a lot of potential out of both of those guys.” Frost needs more of “guys that can win in space”: Immediately obvious in the Spring game was how much slower 2018 Nebraska was compared to 2017 UCF.
Change, then, will take time. Frost’s style and personnel contrast massively with predecessor Mike Riley’s world of fullbacks. Frost will run what his team does best, but discovering that requires reps. An adjustment period for the players is needed too. 2016 UCF was nowhere near as good at getting lined up with haste, instead running more hot and cold with their effectiveness at playing with tempo—a point conceded by Frost himself. For maximum effectiveness, and the ‘easy yards’ that Frost so craves, being fast to line up is imperative.
Even more challenging is the prospect of recruiting in Nebraska. It is very different to the All-Athletic State of Florida, where even the fifth-choice options that the Golden Knights picked up were massively physically gifted. As Frost himself admitted in the post-spring game presser “[the] depth isn’t great right now”. And, speaking of his earlier years at UCF, Frost disclosed that it took a while to “get the right athletes in the system”.
The most important position on the field needs a starter. At the Big 10 Media Day, Frost told reporters that “the number 1 trait that a quarterback in our offense has to have is he has to be a fast-blinker, he has to be able to process information really quickly and be a step ahead of the game.” In addition to that Frost must also find a quarterback who has enough mobility to take advantage of the running room this attack creates, and therefore is accounted for by the defense. This keeps them in 1v1 blocking matchups.
Back in the spring, redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia (#14) really lacked the ability to drive the football to the intermediate, and his passes in general lacked velocity and zip—something Milton has in buckets with a rapid bullet of a release. Andrew Bunch (#17) looked better, with an ability to move around the pocket and scramble but also make some very precise throws. Four-star recruit Adrian Martinez showed his wheels, elite placement and touch, and he has to be the favorite.
The offense is simple enough for Frost’s new team to grasp, as was proven in the spring. Frost remains an excellent in-game identifier and adjuster. The straightforward nature of the attack may concern those who recall the death of Chip Kelly’s spread in the NFL, after predictability saw it perish. Crucially, though, Frost makes a concerted effort to evolve his attack every year—something he revealed at the 2017 UCF Coaching Clinic and something Kelly failed to do in the NFL. Nebraska fans can get excited about a very different brand of football.
TL;DR? Frost’s offense will succeed in Lincoln and catapult the Cornhuskers back to greatness.