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Around CFB: Frost's onside kick ranks among other poorly puzzling calls

August 30, 2022

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was always going to be under a significant amount of pressure this football season.

But after a trip to Ireland, the pressure is Dublin... er, doublin’.

For those who’ve been under a rock — or Blarney Stone — let’s review.

Nebraska took a 28-17 lead over Northwestern with 9:09 remaining in the third quarter. The Cornhuskers had scored two touchdowns in a span of 28 seconds. Momentum was on their side.

And then Frost, who is 15-30 as Nebraska’s head coach, gifted momentum back to Northwestern. 

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In his fifth year as head coach of Nebraska, Frost is a dismal 15-30. 

He called for an onside kick. The Wildcats easily recovered. They scored a touchdown five plays later.

Northwestern added another one in the fourth quarter and won, 31-28.

Afterward, Frost took responsibility for the bad decision because … well, he was responsible for it.

“I made that call, so it's on me," Frost said. "At that point in the game, I felt all the momentum was on our side. I thought if we [recovered] it, we could win the game ... I felt like maybe we were the better team. You can't really foresee them scoring 14 straight and us sputtering after we played well to start the second half on offense.

“Those are excuses. If I had it over, I wouldn't have made the call.”

So, Frost felt he had the better team and held an 11-point lead, but still called a low-percentage onside kick that would give his opponent the football at midfield.

That’s got to be one of the all-time worst calls in college football. It ranks among (in no particular order):

1. In 1999, Baylor led UNLV 24-21 with 28 seconds to play and had the football at the UNLV eight-yard line. The Bears only had to take a knee to win. Instead, then-coach Kevin Steele opted to try to score one more touchdown. But running back Darrell Bush was stripped of the ball. UNLV cornerback Kevin Thomas scooped up the fumble and raced 100 yards for a victory.

2. Even the best can screw up royally. In 2013, Alabama coach Nick Saban argued with officials to put a second back on the game clock to give the Tide a chance for a game-winning 57-yard field goal against Auburn. Tied 28-28, Alabama had a great chance to win in overtime. The kick was short. Auburn defensive back Chris Davis fielded the kick and returned it 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

3. Kirby Smart wasn’t smart in the 2018 SEC Championship Game. Tied 28-28 with about three minutes remaining, Smart called for a fake punt on third-and-11 at midfield. Not only that, he put in backup quarterback Justin Fields, who wasn’t normally on the punt team. Alabama sensed something was up immediately. Fields was stopped for a two-yard gain. Alabama converted on a prime field position to score the game-winning touchdown five plays later.

4. In 2014, Oklahoma appeared destined to post yet another Bedlam victory over Oklahoma State. The Sooners held a 35-28 lead with about a minute to go. They punted to pin Oklahoma State back at its own 15-yard line. But Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops accepted a running into the punter penalty. He hoped to pin the Cowboys back even farther. Instead, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill returned the second punt 92 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 45 seconds remaining. The Cowboys eventually won in overtime.

5. No. 1 Nebraska likely would have been crowned national champion if it had tied Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers fell behind early but rallied to pull within 31-30 on a Jeff Smith 24-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds left. Yet, rather than kicking the extra point, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne went for a two-point conversion. Quarterback Turner Gill’s pass was broken up. Miami was then voted national champion. Nebraska finished ranked No. 2.

Osborne’s decision cost Nebraska a national championship. Frost’s folly will likely cost him his job.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Prior to Nebraska, Frost went 19-7 in two seasons as head coach of UCF. 

Frost's contract was restructured last November. His salary was reduced from $5 million to $4 million. In addition, his buyout drops from $15 million to $7.5 million on Oct. 1.

By then, the Huskers, whose next three games are against North Dakota, Georgia Southern and Oklahoma, figure to be 2-2, at best.

If they fall at home to Indiana on Oct. 1, Frost might be fired that night.

Regardless, with the final three games at Michigan, against Wisconsin and at Iowa, the Huskers figure to finish 7-5, at best.

That’s assuming Frost doesn’t make any more bizarre calls that cost Nebraska any more wins.

College football quiz
(Expert level)

Who is …
A. Gerard Phelan?
B. Charlie Bauman?
C. Gary Tyrrell?
D. Adam Griffith?
E. Ricardo Lewis?

Heisman Watch (preseason projection)

1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State, QB: Last season, Stroud passed for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He’s the quarterback on a team projected to be a strong national championship contender. That automatically makes him a Heisman candidate. He also has proven talent around him and will face weaker defenses than some other contenders.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Bryce Young is vying to become only the second two-time Heisman recipient in history behind Ohio State’s Archie Griffin. 

2. Bryce Young, Alabama, QB: The 2021 Heisman recipient must overcome history. He’s hoping to become only the second two-time Heisman recipient.

Last year, he passed for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns. Young will put up big numbers again. However, last year he had arguably the best set of receivers in the nation. This year he’s working with less proven targets.

3. Will Anderson, Alabama, LB: Considered the best defensive player in the country, Anderson led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss in 2021. If he matches last year’s totals (17.5 sacks, 33.5 TFLs), Anderson could become the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman since Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997.

4. TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State, RB: A year ago, Henderson rushed for 1,255 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. He did that despite a slow start. He had only two rushing attempts in the first game and 12 in the second game. After that, he had nine carries or fewer in five games. He figures to get many more chances this season, which should result in many more yards.

5. Devon Achane, Texas A&M, RB: Despite splitting time with Isaiah Spiller and getting 10 carries or less in seven games, Achane rushed for 910 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged seven yards per attempt. Now he’s the featured back. He’s running behind an expected improved line. He figures to get more help from the passing game. That should equal a significant increase in yards and touchdowns. He’s also an accomplished receiver and dangerous on kick returns. Achane is a dark horse candidate, but don’t be surprised if he comes on like Secretariat.

Predicted playoff participants

Joshua S. Kelly/USA Today Sports
Last season, Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers failed to reach the CFB or ACC Championship game for the first time since 2014. 

1. Alabama: Best team in the SEC.

2. Ohio State: The class of the Big Ten has a great chance to get through the regular season unscathed.

3. Clemson: The bet here is the Tigers bounce back in a big way from last year’s down year, which was still a 10-win season.

4. Georgia: The defending national champion won’t be as good as last year, but the Bulldogs still have more talent than any regular-season opponent.

This week’s best games

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State: A sexy matchup on the surface. Some observers think Notre Dame is grossly overrated. This game may reveal whether that idea is true or false.

No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 3 Georgia: As Georgia's defensive coordinator last season, Dan Lanning watched the opponents typically get beaten down. As Oregon’s head coach, he may join the list of the beaten down.

No. 23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas: The Razorbacks could be as good — or even better — than last season. Cincinnati probably isn’t. But it’s a marquee victory for the winner.

Florida State vs. LSU (New Orleans): A Sunday night matchup of former national powers trying to regain lofty status. LSU is probably closer.

No. 7 Utah at Florida: A win over an SEC opponent would be a feather in the cap for Utah. Some think the Utes could be a playoff team. Meanwhile, Florida is rebuilding. Still, there remains a feeling that the Gators may have more overall talent.

Quiz answers

A. Phelan was the Boston College receiver who caught Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” 48-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining to defeat Miami, 47-45, in 1984.

B. Bauman was the Clemson nose guard who was punched by Ohio State coach Woody Hayes after Bauman’s interception clinched a victory over the Buckeyes in the 1978 Gator Bowl.

C. Tyrrell was the Stanford trombone player who was bowled over by Cal’s Kevin Moen in the end zone after a multi-lateral kickoff return on the final play of Cal’s 25-20 victory in 1982.

D. Griffith is the Alabama kicker whose 57-yard field goal attempt against Auburn was short and returned for a game-winning touchdown, aka “The Kick Six.”

E. Louis is the Auburn receiver who in 2013 caught the game-winning touchdown against Georgia, known as the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare.”

Discussion from...

Around CFB: Frost's onside kick ranks among other poorly puzzling calls

4,407 Views | 7 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by rocky the dog
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You're a excellent sports journalist, Olin. Thanks for reminding me of that over and over, again.
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I don't see how #2 was a bad call. He tried for a 57 yard FG to win rather than risk OT. Seems smart to me even though a 57 yarder might not happen. That was more on bad special teams play than on a bad call.
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Going for a fake punt on 3rd down and 11 is a horrible call.
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When did the noun "gift" become the verb of choice in lieu of the verb "give"? There really is no excuse to not use the word "gave" in this (or any) context. Yes, I am comfortable with being a grammar nazi.
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Osbourne in going for 2 was trying to take any guesswork out of the decision. You can assume they would have won it with a tie, certainly not a guarantee in that era. Most likely, but who knows. I watched it live and kinda figured he would go for it,
rocky the dog
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A most entertaining article. Great way to start the day.
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