LINCOLN — There's been a different approach with this Nebraska football coach. We built the statue of him before he could coach a game.
The Celebration of Scott Frost continued Saturday. It was a revival meeting in red, more than merely a spring game. In fact, it was dubbed a “record-setting spring game.”
How can you have a record-setting spring game?
When a record 86,818 show up to watch the 13th practice of the spring. It was an amazing sight, and caused waves nationally over social media, and the majority of them were here to see one person.
They cheered him as he led the team out of the tunnel, a new tunnel walk song, a version of the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
Why not? The coach is a rock star.
They cheered him from start to finish, and as Frost left the field at the end, he received a huge standing ovation — from the entire stadium, most of whom were watching him on the giant video board.
The man of the hour held up both hands and acknowledged his people.
This was a moment, a day, all about Frost, and the way of football, the hope, the optimism and the winning he’s expected to bring back. But for today, it was about the lovefest, that first moment when many fans got to see him in person. A Frost love fest.
The man himself got choked up talking about his entrance, and for a minute he put himself up in the stands with the 86,000, was one of them. Which is the kind of thing this coach can do.
“That was kind of special for me, walking out of the tunnel and hearing the fans,” Frost said. “They brought back more memories than a lot of things have, especially just the smell of the stadium with the food in there that took me back a long time.”
And here I thought I was the only one who noticed the food.
Then the action commenced, and reality crashed the party. When you’re in honeymoon mode, you don’t want to hear about reality until later. But reality came in two reminders on Saturday.
The first: this is going to take a lot of work. A lot of work. Some patience. Some grinding. It’s not going to be pretty. Sure isn’t going to be easy. This Fixer Upper won’t be done in an hour.
But from what we saw, it should be a ton of fun.
That was the strong takeaway Saturday, other than young Adrian Martinez’s smooth operating. If Frost was the star of the show, his offensive style was the co-star.
In an intra-squad scrimmage masqueraded as a game, it delivered the goods.
And that is, it was fast. The up-tempo, no-huddle scheme, with its array of quick passes and quarterback options and occasional misdirection, was as advertised. And this was straight vanilla.
Wait until these guys get the hang of it, find a quarterback and put the No. 1 receivers on the field.
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.
The Red team, playing with the two quarterbacks and several other potential starters, ran 80 plays in 31 minutes of possession. That worked out to be 2.58 plays per minute of possession, and that was with the second half going on sports writer time: a running clock.
There were several penalties, though only two by the Red, for illegal formation and such. But for the most part, the two offensive groups kept up, kept pace, and that had to please Frost.
Of course, it ran and looked smoother with Martinez, the true freshman from Fresno, Calif., with the controls.
Tristan Gebbia (12-17 for 125 yards and two touchdowns) had impressive downfield throws. But he bobbled a couple of snaps and missed a couple of receivers. He looked good but not nearly as comfortable as Martinez.
We saw why No. 2 was Frost’s No. 1 target to quarterback this offense. Martinez, who missed last fall because of an injury, shook off the atmosphere and the pressure of the moment and played like he’s been in this offense his whole life.
He had three touchdown runs, including a draw where he timed it just right, and just glided in general. Martinez seems to have the running element that Frost wants. And he seemed to make a lot of right decisions. The quarterback race will go into the fall, but you left here saying Martinez had an edge.
It was one day, but Martinez played well enough to throw a caution light on bringing in a graduate transfer quarterback. Would anyone out there be better?
You might have to teach them how to run this offense. Martinez already looks like he has a doctorate in it.
The thing is, it’s still in the syllabus stage. Someone asked Frost about where the clock was when the ball was snapped on Saturday, and the coach said he didn’t know.
“I don’t know exactly how much time I want on the clock when we snap it,” Frost said. “I just know I want it to get fast.”
But when it comes to judging progress this season, Frost says don’t look at the clock.
This is a results game, a results business. But for the first season, at least, how Nebraska does its business is priority one.
Frost’s offensive and defensive schemes are based on speed and attacking. Playing fast because you know immediately where to go.
It’s way of football. It’s way of life. It’s diving into the Zach Duval Life Plan. Nebraska players’ bodies have changed since buying into the new strength coach and his methods. But there’s a long way to go.
This is the team that has been pushed around in the Big Ten. It needs a big summer of Duval. That’s why Frost planned the final spring practice for Monday, where the coaches will go over what they want the players to do all summer.
That’s smart. For a team that needs to get bigger and tougher, this summer might be more important than the spring.
But as Frost preaches, it took until the second preseason camp at UCF for everything to sink in.
“I hope it happens sooner here,” Frost said. “But that’s really when two years with Zach in the weight room kind of took hold. That’s when two years of recruiting helped supplement the team. Two years of being in our culture. Two years of playing together and learning how to care for each other.”
Next season is not really a bad time to expect growing pains or preach patience. Nebraska plays in the Burma Road Division. At Michigan, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin, at Iowa, at Northwestern. Michigan State at home.
And you can bet the whole lot of them will want to put extra care into welcoming the new hot shot coach into the league.
Take a quarterback who’s going to be new, whomever they choose. A team figuring things out. And add those six games. You get to 6-6 in a hurry. And that’s if you win the rest.
Now add in the Frost factor. Confidence and scheme to mix in with a team that has some skill talent. A culture that promotes playing hard, being tougher and more physical, actual blocking and tackling.
Toughness and physicality aren’t light switches that go on and off. That might take a while.
But it’s no stretch to say Frost and his way of football could be worth a three-game difference for a 4-8 team. A 7-5 prediction seems like a good starting point for next season, one that could go either way with good or bad luck with injuries and breaks on the field. This team is not that deep, and dangerously thin in certain spots.
The only prediction that’s safe to make on April 21 is that it’s not going to be easy. But it looks like it’s going to be fun.
“Nothing happens overnight, or at a flip of a switch,” Frost said. “I think it’ll happen faster here from a culture standpoint because the guys are so hungry to do it.”
The Huskers aren’t alone there. Nearly 90,000 left here excited, but it had nothing to do with the food smells. They’re ready to eat.