In just his second season, the former Nebraska QB and Chip Kelly assistant is steamrolling defenses. Let’s talk to him about it and take a look at how it works.
UCF head coach Scott Frost is a name you should probably get used to hearing, this season and beyond. After inheriting an 0-12 UCF and getting the Knights to a bowl, Frost’s Year 2 team is 6-0 and the current favorite for the New Year’s Six non-power bid.
There’s also the coaching carousel, where he might be the closest thing to this year’s version of a Tom Herman, especially if Mike Riley’s out at Nebraska.
Through six games, the Knights are top-three in opponent-adjusted efficiency, explosiveness, and drive-finishing. They lead the nation in points per game with 47.3. QB McKenzie Milton, who started for Frost as a freshman in 2016 as a 5’11 former Hawaiian three-star, is No. 1 among all QBs in yards per play. They’ve comfortably beaten the AAC West’s two best teams, Memphis and Navy, and blown out Maryland on the road.
“We showed flashes of it at times [in Year 1], but we weren’t consistent enough to have quite the level of playmakers we have now,” Frost said in an interview with SB Nation. “I don’t think we were good enough up front to do a lot of the things we wanted to do. Every single position on our offense is ahead of where it was last year, and that usually spells good things.”
Frost got off the Oregon ship right before things capsized under Mark Helfrich. But Frost’s coaching lineage is long.
As a player in the mid-1990s, he led Nebraska to an 11-2 1996 that was seen as a disappointment. As a senior in 1997, Frost led the Huskers back to the promised land, splitting the national championship with Michigan. He was a mobile threat who led a devastating option attack, rushing for 1,024 yards as well as throwing for 1,237.
It was the culmination of a homecoming for the Wood River, Nebraska native. While Frost’s college career ended in Husker red, it didn’t begin there. Frost initially spurned his hometown program and went to Stanford. After two years, he transferred to Lincoln. Throughout his career in college and the NFL, he played for Bill Walsh, Tom Osborne, Bill Parcells, Mike Tomlin, and Jon Gruden.
Despite all of his influences, it’s the option offense that is his greatest love.
“I’ve rooted for option teams my whole life because of my background,” Frost said. “If we’re not playing Navy, I’m rooting for ‘em, and Air Force and Georgia Tech. There’s a beauty to that offense that I respect and admire.”
He proved that by playing option QB for UCF during Navy prep:
Who is that under center? pic.twitter.com/ECoiHFdYCw
— Gerrod Lambrecht (@GerrodLambrecht) October 17, 2017
But Frost also reveres former boss Chip Kelly.
“I don’t think Chip Kelly gets enough credit for affecting college football,” Frost said. “You look back at when he started this offense. Everyone else was running something that looked more pro-style. Now, you look around the country and everyone’s running a version of spread. A lot of them are tempo, and a lot of the schemes that we are running back in ‘07, ‘08, and ‘09, everybody’s running.”
So what makes his UCF offense special?
The run-first offense (40 runs to 28 passes per game, so far this season) starts with the new-school option, out of the shotgun. Here, it’s got a dive man, a pitch man, and a QB triggering the whole thing.
It’s a distribution-heavy offense that gets a lot of people involved.
That’s an option philosophy, taken to the extreme.
Despite ranking No. 6 in total yardage, no individual Knight is averaging more than 73 yards either rushing or receiving.
Sixteen players have caught passes, more than Washington State or any of the country’s other eight most passing-friendly offenses. And 13 Knights have carries, a longer list than even Georgia Tech’s.
In 692 plays over eight games, Syracuse has used 17 different ball-carriers. In 406 plays, the Knights have used 23.
The Knights mix it up on the offensive line as well.
In Year 1 at UCF, it was about nailing the basics.
“We ran a lot of inside zone last year and had limited success,” Frost said. “I think going into this year with our guys understanding schemes and everything better, we wanted to mix it up a lot more. The guys have done a good job with more plays on the call sheet every week.”
There’s still plenty of zone blocking …
… but where Frost’s offense gets fun is in the varying ways he pulls offensive linemen. Frost’s ground attack is no longer just inside zone. It’s varied and deadly.
Here’s a backside guard (No. 73 in the middle, behind where the ball’s going) pulling. Simple enough, right? Just a basic power play.
Ok, well here’s a here’s a playside guard (No. 79 on the right, heading where the ball is actually going) pulling.
Here are two examples of backside tackles pulling, one of which is on UCF’s favored QB run play. Against Maryland, Milton ripped this run off for a huge gain. Watch the left tackle here:
And the right tackle here:
So yeah, the Knights might pull almost the entire offensive line over the course of a few plays.
Here are the Knights running a buck sweep, a la Gus Malzahn’s Auburn, with two pulling guards. Kelly’s buck sweep often had a guard and a center pulling.
Frost credits his offensive line coach, Greg Austin, with getting the offensive line to move in space as it does.
The Knights aren’t always up-tempo. They’re pretty average in plays per game.
But when they want to put the hammer down, they can get snaps off with 28 seconds left on the play clock, to keep a defense on its heels. They also have a quick passing game that uses some trickery, like this group cut block ….
… and packaged plays. Here, a zone-read mixed with a bubble screen to the bottom of the screen.
The offensive line doesn’t just get tricky in the running game. This is slide protection, with the line moving en masse in one direction as a running back fills in on the backside. But RB Jawon Hamilton pivots and catches a pass for a first down as a pass-rushing defender barrels past him.
UCF weaponizes all those pulling linemen in the passing game, too, to take deep shots. Having guards pull helps sell play action; watch the linebackers run toward the line here:
The flashes of last season are now consistent performance midway through Year 2.
Where will Frost be for Year 3 as a head coach? Who knows. UCF is already fighting to keep him, announcing it’s looking to raise an extra $1.5 million per year for football.
For now, it’s all about 2017.
“Last year at times, we struggled with our basic stuff, and some of the trickier things didn’t work as well because we were behind the chains and we were putting pressure on our defense,” Frost said. “We’re getting more yards on first downs, moving the ball and getting more reps and more snaps. That allows us to do more of the things we have designed to beat defenses.”
He’s a coach with a long list of influences already, and he’s not done there, either.
“We have to keep evolving. We’re coming up with new things all the time and looking at the landscape of what other people are doing and being successful with and trying to put the right formula together.”
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