Can Tommy Armstrong save the season?
OK, that’s overstating his potential impact. But I know many, many fans whose excitement level (and hope) for the Huskers has dissipated over the past month. They don’t see a defensive turnaround coming. They don’t see Taylor Martinez putting up 40 points at the Big House. Their main point of interest — their primary reason to watch — is Armstrong.
With the coaches setting a high standard for Martinez’s health — remember 2010 when they rolled him out there on one foot? — my hunch is Armstrong will play most of the snaps Saturday against Illinois. My hunch is he’ll play a lot at Purdue (with a bye Oct. 19, I don’t see a reason to rush Martinez back for one game). Those could be two big statement opportunities for the freshman.
My feelings on the quarterback situation are complex (like a lot of people’s). I think things could get dicey if Armstrong performs well, then returns to the sideline in favor of a healthy Martinez. And if coaches choose to ride the freshman the rest of the way, wow, imagine how awkward it would be having your senior captain and school record holder finishing his career with a clipboard in hand.
Those issues will be worked out eventually. Today let’s roll back the clock. I dug through the World-Herald archives and found a few stories you might like — I’ve pasted them at the bottom of the blog. They’re from the fall of 1992, before and after Tommie Frazier unseated fifth-year senior Mike Grant as starting quarterback. You’ll find plenty of parallels between ’92 and 2013.
* * *
>> Only one more year of the dead-ball era in college baseball? Sure looks that way.
The current combination of bat, ball and TD Ameritrade Park simply isn’t working. The bats aren’t changing. Neither is the park. Changing the ball is the answer. Which is why a new NCAA study is big news.
It concluded that flatter seams on the ball (similar to what professionals use) would increase the distance of a home run ball by 20 feet.
Rice coach Wayne Graham explained the need for change:
“The fans love a balance in the game. They don’t need the 77 home runs or whatever that (Barry) Bonds hit, but they need the excitement. There’s something about the superhero and the home run. I noticed some people saying, ‘Well, this is the real game.’ No, that’s not the real game. That’s the dead ball-era game. That’s not the game that popularized baseball. That’s not the real game—that’s poo-poo. The real game has balance.”
The rule change will likely be adopted for the 2015 season.
>> Baseball in September is mildly interesting. Baseball in October is exhilarating — at least the first week. I’m used to flipping on a game and seeing a stadium half-full with people looking at their phones.
Last night, I turned on the Pirates-Reds and it was a three-hour pep rally. What a scene. It’s always neat to see places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park in the playoffs. But I prefer stadiums that don’t get a chance every year. Tonight it’s Cleveland. Friday it’s Oakland.
>> I picked Tampa to beat the Rangers. I picked the Pirates to beat the Reds. Let’s see if we can keep the good luck rolling. Gimme Tampa over Cleveland, Boston and Oakland in the ALDS and Los Angeles and St. Louis in the NLDS.
>> The Presidents Cup starts Thursday at Muirfield Village. I love the golf course, but the Internationals aren’t nearly as strong as usual. So the biggest storyline may be 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who this morning aced the 12th hole in a practice round.
Spieth had no status on the PGA Tour entering 2013. Now he’s one of the biggest names in the game. After he finished the Deutsche Bank Championship with birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle, playing partner Phil Mickelson texted captain Fred Couples: “Dude, you’ve got to pick this guy.”
>> Danny Woodhead is earning some love in San Diego after his two-touchdown game Sunday against the Cowboys.
>> Bruce Feldman’s best freshmen of the 2013 college football season (so far). If all were going well at Nebraska, the Huskers would have a defender or two on this list.
>> The NBA’s All-Intriguing Team for 2013-14. Good stuff for hoops junkies.
>> According to Jeff Goodman, Ainsworth native and Colorado State senior Jesse Carr tore his ACL in his left knee for the second time in a year, signaling the end of his career. Sad news.
>> Wow, Steve Spurrier was a little tipsy during his coach’s show.
>> Bob Cousy’s wife of 63 years died last week. It’s an incredible love story.
>> I have no idea why Tom Osborne didn’t call this play for the 2-point conversion in the ’84 Orange Bowl. It comes from Gehlen Catholic in LeMars, Iowa.
>> Finally, Tommie Frazier’s breakthrough. For those who don’t know, Nebraska football was in troubled waters in September 1992. Coming off arguably its two worst seasons (1990-91) in 23 years, the Huskers went to Washington and got waxed. The gap between NU and the nation’s elite teams wasn’t quite as wide as it is now, but it was close. Something needed to change. The offensive scheme? The head coach? Fans had several ideas. But most focused on the starting quarterback. Let’s pick it up there…
From Sept. 21, after NU lost at Washington, 29-14:
“Right now,” he said, “there is nobody real close to Mike Grant.
“I can’t say what’s going to happen seven or eight weeks from now. But we don’t plan any change. He deserves our full confidence and our full support.
“I think you can destroy a quarterback by continually second-guessing him and saying that maybe he shouldn’t be the guy.”
Osborne said the gap is wide enough between Grant and freshman backup Tommie Frazier that he was fearful of what might have happened at Washington if Grant had been injured during NU’s 29-14 loss.
“Some people were wanting a change,” he said. “But I was holding my breath that something wouldn’t happen to the guy.
“I knew what the readiness level of everybody on the team was at that point.”
Frazier fell in Thursday’s practice and injured his shoulder and chest.
“He couldn’t throw at all that day,” Osborne said. “Friday, he could throw a little, but his arm was sore.”
But that wasn’t the only reason Osborne was leery about Frazier playing, especially against the country’s No. 2 team in front of a road crowd of 73,333.
“He needs more time,” the coach said. “The thing that’s really important for people to understand is that publicity coming into a season doesn’t mean anything. They start over.”
Osborne compared Frazier’s situation to that of the previous USA Today All-America quarterback Nebraska recruited-Mickey Joseph in 1987.
“A lot of people wanted Mickey to play right away,” he said. “They didn’t know anything about Gerry Gdowski.
“Three years later, Gerry was a hero and some people weren’t pro-Mickey. So it’s got to be done on the field.”
Gdowski, now a Husker graduate assistant coach, became the All-Big Eight quarterback in 1989.
Osborne praised Frazier’s skills.
“We have not had a true freshman come in who has done any better,” he said. “But it takes time.
“You could do Tommie a real disservice by putting him in before he’s ready. We don’t want to do that.”
Osborne said questions the day after the game about whether he considered replacing Grant with Frazier puzzled him.
“One of the big factors I look at during a game is how well a player is seeing things,” he said. “When Mike came to the sidelines, he was very poised, he was very confident, he knew what was going on and he was never rattled.
“That’s what I decide to make a change on. If I feel a guy tightening up and getting worse, I’ll change for his own sake. I don’t want a guy to go out and self-destruct and lose confidence.
“But Mike was always very much in control and ran the team well. I thought he played well.”
From Tom Shatel, the week after Washington:
Because it would go against every principled bone in Tom Osborne’s body; handing the crown jewels to a true freshman-the antithesis of the steady fifth-year graybeard.
Because it would go against every decent bone in Tom Osborne’s body; stripping away a starting quarterback job that lately has been so much a reward for hard work, dedication and loyalty.
And because his grade book tells him no.
Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. The system. Why not gradually train Frazier, the wonderfully gifted freshman, for the future? Why not scale back on Mike Grant’s present? Because, according to Osborne’s quarterback grading system, Grant “played well” in the 29-14 loss to Washington last Saturday. Or didn’t you already know that?
To be sure, Grant did many things well Saturday. In a high-energy cell, with purple voices raining down on him, he didn’t come undone.
Grant was awarded a 1.91 grade on Osborne’s 2.0 scale. Here, a quarterback is given a “0,” “1″ or “2″ on every offensive play; “2″ being good and “1″ meaning the quarterback may have fumbled, but the center may have stepped on his toe. No Osborne quarterback ever has gotten a 2.0.
“That grade reflects consistency,” Osborne said, “it doesn’t reflect ability.”
In other words, Grant had more non-mistakes than he did mistakes.
Let’s get one thing straight about General Grant: He’s a pleasant, thoughtful young man with a bright future. He’s got a clue. In the game of life, he’ll be a big-time player.
But on the football field, Grant has proven to be just another body. He is gifted, but he doesn’t make many plays.
Grant knows Osborne’s offense so well he could do a thesis on it. But he’s not a “difference-maker.”
Remember Gill Is Frazier?
This year is the time to find out. What if, in 1981, Osborne had never turned to a sophomore named Turner Gill to help bail out a 1-2 Nebraska start? The rest was history, though Gill, now the Huskers’ quarterback coach, says history won’t repeat itself anytime soon.
For one thing, Gill says he was a sophomore with a year of the “system” locked in his brain. For another, Gill echoes the theme: Grant has played well.
“(Frazier) is more talented,” Gill said. “But there’s no way he should be in there now.”
If Frazier has more ability, what exactly is Grant’s strength?
Gill says “the best thing he does is he knows the offense.”
Nebraska’s offense is a precious commodity. Frazier must wait and watch and get his license before he gets the keys to the car. As Osborne said on Tuesday, “It would do Tommie a real disservice by putting him in there before he’s ready.”
Or would it be a disservice to the school’s streak of nine-win seasons?
Without question, Frazier probably would have missed some audibles and struggled in the Husky Stadium madness. But would he have done worse than Grant? It’s an “L” either way. What’s more, you get Frazier some much-needed battle scars.
“But you’d be risking losing ballgames,” Gill said.
In the Big Eight, “risk” is left to the Oklahomas and Colorados, which have shown no hesitancy to throw freshman QBs to the wolves in return for a secure future. Osborne is not a gambler. There is no room for 8-3 or 7-4 in the “system.”
Then again, in his own way, he is rolling the dice that Grant’s “consistency” will be enough to overcome Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.
Not fair? Here’s what would be fair to Mike Grant: Play Derek Brown and Calvin Jones together in the same backfield and use shorter passes-screens-to take the pressure off Grant’s inaccurate deep throws. Give him more chances to succeed.
And put Frazier right in there as his understudy with ample mop-up duty. The next five weeks offer the perfect window for Frazier to develop and maybe even show why he deserves to start against Colorado.
Why? Why not?
From Oct. 16, 1992, eight days before the Missouri game:
Before the football season, Frazier said, coaches and teammates told him that there would be a swell of support for him or Tony Veland to be Nebraska’s starting quarterback instead of fifth-year senior Mike Grant.
“They told me the fans don’t have confidence in Mike, that they (the fans) don’t think Mike can do the job and that I should just hang in there and stick behind him,” Frazier said.
“Even some players told me that the fans up here don’t like Mike because Mike can’t seem to go in there and perform like he’s capable and that he’s shaky. They said don’t pay attention to the fans.
“To me, all it is is a matter of confidence with Mike. We’re winning with him in there, and you can’t complain about that.”
For a time, Grant said, he was bitter, especially after the Huskers’ 29-14 loss at Washington, when the calls for Frazier were loudest. Grant said that since a counseling session with Head Coach Tom Osborne and Turner Gill, the quarterbacks coach, he has learned to ignore the fans.
Grant said he senses the fans’ criticism. “I don’t see the people upset about Derek (Brown) and Calvin (Jones) when they come in and shift around,” Grant said. “It’s not ‘Calvin, Calvin, ‘ or ‘Derek, Derek.’
“I don’t understand the rationale for fans screaming.”
Frazier, the 1991 USA Today high school All-America quarterback, says neither does he.
“He makes one mistake and everybody jumps down his throat,” Frazier said. “They don’t look at all the good things he does.
“People cheer for me to get in there, but they have to understand that I’m a freshman. What if I rush into it and go out there and have a bad game? Then they’ll be booing me, too. It wouldn’t make sense.”
From Oct. 24, the day of the Mizzou game:
“I haven’t heard Tom Osborne say those exact words,” NU Head Trainer George Sullivan said Friday night at the team hotel. “But I know a lot of the kids had that feeling on the plane on the way down today.”
Osborne declined to name a starter Friday night.
“We’ll play both of them,” he said. “We’re not real sure in what order.
“Frazier had a real good two weeks of practice. Grant has been under the weather a little. We’ll just have to see what’s best for the team.”
Osborne offered no other comments.
Sullivan said a decision on a starting quarterback might not be made until just before the 1 p.m. kickoff, following pregame meetings and warmups.
“Mike has had a muscle strain in his back,” Sullivan said. “He is better, but he’s still not 100 percent.
“He hasn’t been able to run too well lately.”
Sullivan said Grant, who has started all five games this season, was first injured at Washington on Sept. 19.
“We really haven’t had a lot of time to rest him since then,” Sullivan said. “And it has bothered him a little more lately.”
Two people close to the situation said Frazier has worked with the No. 1 offense more than usual the past two weeks. All practices are closed.
Grant struggled in a full-scale scrimmage a week ago Friday during Nebraska’s open date week.
The fifth-year senior threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He completed 1 of 5 passes for 18 yards and ran twice for 25 yards.
From Lee Barfknecht’s Nebraska-Missouri game story, Oct. 25:
Frazier, believed to be Nebraska’s first-ever true freshman to start at quarterback, scored three touchdowns Saturday to help seventh-and eighth-ranked Nebraska outlast Missouri 34-24.
“He’s going to be a great franchise,” NU I-back Derek Brown said after watching Frazier complete 9 of 20 passes for 157 yards and run 14 times for 77 yards and touchdowns of 3, 5 and 7 yards.
“I think he passed the test,” center Jim Scott said. “He was a little nervous at times. And he messed up a couple of plays in the huddle. But overall he really played well.”
Frazier, who NU Coach Tom Osborne said earned his start on merit over senior Mike Grant, piled up 224 total yards, played without a turnover and was the key figure on all four Nebraska touchdown drives.
Frazier’s final touchdown came after a Husker defense-scorched for a school-record 424 passing yards by MU quarterback Jeff Handy-pitched in with a goal-line stand and an interception in the fourth quarter.
The estimated 12,000 fans dressed in red among the 53,337 at Faurot Field didn’t relax until the final two minutes.
That’s when Nebraska, leading 27-24, gambled on fourth and goal at the Missouri 5.
And Osborne put the ball in Frazier’s hands.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder rolled right, tucked the ball away at the 3 and vaulted over three defenders into the end zone. That capped a 12-play, 49-yard drive that consumed more than five minutes.
“If we had kicked the field goal,” Osborne said, “we would’ve been up by six. That’s nice, but the way they had moved the ball on us at times, we weren’t sure we wouldn’t get beat by a point.
“So we went for it. We just put it in his hands to make a play. And he made a tremendous play.”
Frazier, whose only first-half action before Saturday was one second-quarter series against Oklahoma State, was matter of fact in answering questions about his history-making start.
“It’s just my first career start at Nebraska,” said last year’s USA Today All-America quarterback from Bradenton, Fla. “There are going to be many more like this.
“So I’m just going to remember this as my first start.”
Osborne said he will remember it as much for Frazier’s cool in the heat of an upset bid by 1-6 Missouri than for any specific plays.
“He was very stable,” the coach said. “I’m sure there will be a mistake or two. But I couldn’t see much from where I stood.
“We thought he played a good solid game and made the right decisions. And with one or two exceptions, he threw the ball well.”
Will Frazier start Saturday for 5-1 Nebraska in a nationally televised showdown against 6-0-1 Colorado? NU is 2-0 in the Big Eight and CU 2-0-1. Kansas leads at 3-0.
“I would say it would be surprising if he didn’t,” Osborne said. “We’ll look at it Monday and decide early in the week.”
The secrecy surrounding Frazier’s first start heightened interest in his performance.
Osborne said he decided Thursday to start Frazier, but made no announcement. Word began to leak out Friday, but Osborne still played coy Friday night.
“The thought was not to make a big deal about him starting just because of what we knew would happen with the media,” Osborne said. “I know that’s your business, and I’m sorry we didn’t announce it earlier.
“I just didn’t want to have him go through the hype and publicity that would surround it.”
Grant, whose only action was one series in the second quarter, has been bothered by the flu and a muscle strain in his back first suffered at Washington.
“Mike didn’t practice on Monday and was subpar Tuesday,” Osborne said. “But by game time he was in good enough shape to play.”
Did Grant’s health lead Osborne to start Frazier?
“It certainly gave us a nudge in that direction,” he said. “But Tommie deserved to start.”
From Tom Shatel’s game column:
The look of a gunslinger.
The look of a winner.
More importantly, the look of Nebraska’s next great quarterback.
Even those Nebraskans present Saturday at Faurot Field who couldn’t look inside Frazier’s helmet, much less his head, had to sense it. The Kid is something special. On a day when Nebraska’s secondary hardly looked ready for the Colorado challenge, Frazier appeared more than up to the task as he led the eighth-ranked Huskers to a 34-24 victory over Missouri that was somehow bigger than expected.
It was the day The Kid became The Man.
He trotted out as somewhat of a surprise starter for senior Mike Grant, whose back had stiffened him out of the lineup. But then The Kid immediately blended in. And whether he was diving in from 5 yards like an Olympic high-jumper to ice the victory or discussing his first start afterward with a face void of emotion, he looked like he belonged.
“I think I played well,” Frazier said. “I made a couple of mistakes on audibles, but other than that, it was an “A.’ ”
So spoke Professor Frazier.
Nobody dared argue.
“At this age,” Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said, “Tommie Frazier is in the Turner Gill category. He showed a lot of poise. He showed the look of a winner.”
In fact, it looked like Deja MU. Eleven years ago, Gill survived a blitzkrieg on this very field in a 6-0 victory that served as the springboard to Gill’s three-year legacy as one of the best quarterbacks in NU history.
Missouri may be a shadow of its 1981 self. But Saturday, the Tigers’ passing game was good enough to upset the Huskers if a hero hadn’t stepped up. Eleven years later, another one has.
“I think it does parallel that,” said Gill, now Frazier’s mentor as quarterbacks coach. “A young guy had to come in here and win a tough game. This will give him confidence in himself and confidence from the team.
“He has that something you can’t describe. He has an air about him. He knows how to lead. Some people have it, and some don’t.”
Air Frazier was enough to persuade the conservative Osborne to do the equivalent of putting on a wig and doing the twist in the end zone: Hand the keys to his complex offense over to a “true” freshman. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound high school All-American from Bradenton, Fla., was NU’s first nonredshirt freshman to start a football game in the “modern era.” This encompasses the Jerry Tagge era and the Turner Gill era.
Now we are about to see the Tommie Frazier era.
“I called in Turner Gill in the middle of his freshman year to ask him if he wanted to play varsity and he said he wasn’t ready,” Osborne said. “But Tommie seemed to have enough confidence that it didn’t faze him.
“I was a little worried about it yesterday because there were a couple of things in meetings he didn’t pick up on, but he played very well today. He had played in a lot of big games in high school. Just like Jamelle Holieway at Oklahoma. They play in playoffs for three years and 15 games a year. If you’ve been under that pressure, it doesn’t matter if it’s high school or college.”
The pressure for The Kid on Saturday was having to cope with his own defense’s inability to stop Missouri. He responded with the most passing yards by Nebraska this season (157), a season-high three touchdowns and the thing that will send him to the head of Dr. Osborne’s class: No lost fumbles or interceptions.
“No turnovers-that’s pretty good for a freshman quarterback,” Osborne said. “He was very stable out there. I’m sure there will be a mistake or two we’ll find but I didn’t see many. He made some good decisions.”
Osborne may have made the best of all Thursday: start Frazier. How hard was it? Not that hard, Osborne said. Grant had injured his back Sept. 19 at Washington, and only recently had it started to stiffen up and give him problems. Where did this come from? Not even the Kansas City Chiefs hide injuries this well.
But Osborne also credited Frazier with rapid improvement the past two weeks, playing his way into the job as Grant missed a handful of practices. Still, there was caution. Osborne didn’t announce his decision for fear of “hype and publicity” that might swallow The Kid. And Gill went out of his way to tell Frazier to “relax” and “don’t overthink.” Frazier also was given fewer audibles to play with.
“I just tried to prepare myself to play as well as I could,” Frazier said. “Not like a freshman, but like any quarterback. It’s basically the same as high school. The only difference is that it’s in front of thousands of fans.”
He makes it sound so simple, doesn’t he?
“We were nervous,” Gill said. “We felt he would make some mistakes, but we thought he would make up for it with his running ability and speed.”
He did make mistakes. But more often that not, something good happened when Frazier put his hands on the ball.
On third and goal at the Missouri 9, he bobbled the snap, bounced back into the pocket like a grasshopper, scrambled to his right, faked the pass and somehow rambled to the 1-yard line. That set up Calvin Jones’ second-quarter touchdown.
Minutes later, he had to call a timeout with 30 seconds left in the first half at the Missouri 29 that had Osborne raging. But when Derek Brown couldn’t get out of bounds at the 9-yard line and the clock wound down, Frazier had the presence to call time out with two ticks left so Byron Bennett could at least sneak in a 26-yard field goal before halftime.
But his biggest and brightest moment came on fourth and goal at the Tigers’ 5 with two minutes left and Nebraska up 27-24. Instead of electing to try a field goal-and expecting his defense to stop Missouri-Osborne went for it. It was a run-pass option, with Frazier going right and having the decision to run or pass. He looked like an Olympic high jumper, taking off at the 3 and landing softly in the end zone.
“He had to do it,” McBride said, “and he did do it.”
That sums up his first start: Frazier had the ability to make plays, and he made them. That intangible. It left Husker fans with an emotional equilibrium as they left the stadium: The secondary may be in trouble Saturday against Colorado, but right now, nobody’s betting against The Kid.
Make that The Man.
Frazier said if Grant is healthy for the next game, he’ll start-as is Osborne’s policy that you can’t lose your job to an injury. But even Osborne said he would be surprised if Frazier didn’t start against CU. Osborne breaking policy? That’s how good Frazier is.
“If that’s best for the team,” Frazier said, “I’ll take it.”
He is seizing it. It’s 1981 all over again. The beginning of an era. We saw it Saturday. It was real enough to touch and taste, and even Frazier seemed to be taking a swig as the gunslinger was asked what he will remember about this day.
“There’s going to be a lot more starts like this,” Frazier said. “This was just the first.”
From a story two days prior to Nebraska-Colorado, Oct. 29:
“Right now, there is nobody real close to Mike Grant.
“I can’t say what’s going to happen seven or eight weeks from now. But we don’t plan any change. He deserves our full confidence and full support.”
Four weeks later, Tommie Frazier started ahead of Grant at Missouri and led NU to a 34-24 victory.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, the true freshman from Bradenton, Fla., has been named to start again in a game against Colorado that has Big Eight and national title implications.
What happened in that short a time for Frazier to overtake Grant, a fifth-year senior?
“It’s mostly just knowledge of the offense,” Osborne said Wednesday. “I’ll guarantee you there are probably more plays in our playbook than in that of most pro teams. It’s pretty complex.
“But the guy has done about as well as anyone I’ve seen in this short a time. It’s really been quite remarkable.”
In the first month of the season, Osborne said, rookie mistakes slowed Frazier.
“At the time we were getting ready for Washington,” the coach said, “Tommie was still making mistakes in practice that we aren’t seeing now, like in audibling or calling a play wrong.
“The thing that was difficult early was he would call a play wrong, and he wouldn’t even know it was wrong. He still occasionally will do something like that, but it’s not nearly as frequent.”
Osborne said such miscues affect everyone on the field.
“We felt if Tommie tried to run the team at that point that he might put a lot of players at a disadvantage by not being sure of what he was doing,” he said. “He simply wasn’t familiar enough with the offense before Washington to get the most out of the people around him.
“He probably wasn’t against Arizona State, either. But the open dates served him well. In the last three weeks, we feel, he learned enough not to handicap other players.”
Osborne said Frazier is a quick study.
“He wouldn’t be where he was if he wasn’t that way,” Osborne said. “I wouldn’t say he would never repeat a mistake.
“But he doesn’t require a lot of reps on something before learning it.”
That’s rare at that position, Osborne said.
“Most quarterbacks take two years to get pretty comfortable,” he said. “Some guys take three or four years.
“Some people think it takes that long because I have some aversion to playing freshmen. I don’t if they are good enough. But we do require them to demonstrate it in practice.”
We’ll wrap it up with Tom Shatel from Nov. 9, after Nebraska crushed No. 8 Colorado and No. 13 Kansas in back-to-back home games:
And now the future of Nebraska football, freshman quarterback Tommie Frazier, is suddenly and furiously being unleashed on the present.
And the past, the one and only Turner Gill, is busy fending off all comparisons. When he sees Frazier tromping through the Big Eight, he doesn’t see his reflection from a 1983 highlight film. He doesn’t see the “next Turner Gill,” which has had more sightings than the Loch Ness Monster.
He sees the first Tommie Frazier.
“When I came here, I wanted to be the best quarterback at Nebraska and in college football,” Gill said. “I don’t know what his goals are. Let him be Tommie Frazier. Let him set his own standards and not outdo everything. If it happens, it happens.”
The Spark Well, something is definitely happening at Big Red Central.
With all due respect to the humble, hard-running duo of Derek Brown and Calvin Jones, the staunch labor of the offensive line, the mayhem of Travis Hill, Trev Alberts and John Parrella and the rest of this collective hammer, that something is Tommie Frazier.
“It’s a combination of things,” Gill said. “Not just solely Tommie.”
Agreed. This Frankenstein is made up of many parts. But on the other hand, there is no question that there has been one spark to this fire. One glue. One impetus.
The difference is the 6-foot, 200-pound “true” freshman. There’s certainly nothing false about Frazier. He throws crisp, accurate spirals, sometimes too hard (ask William Washington). But he delivers. He makes plays. Moves chains. Gets Ws.
If you haven’t noticed in Nebraska’s 52-7 and 49-7 wins over Colorado and Kansas-maybe you’ve been out of the country-the Huskers have acted like somebody hit their knee with a mallet. You can see it, sense it, feel it. Frazier has sent a current of electricity through this program-a much-needed one, mind you-that has awakened something inside each player.
“He’s been a big part,” Jones said. “He has a feel for the game. He is always cool, calm and collected.”
Take his 36-yard touchdown pass to Armstrong to open the scoring Saturday. The wrong play is brought in. Frazier senses the miscommunication and changes the play to the open pass to the tight end.
Would you rather have a quarterback who runs the offense like a robot? Or a guy who brings a sandlot leadership and improvisational ability to get things done?
In Frazier, it appears Nebraska has both.
“There are some plays he still has problems with, but he has shown he has the ability to overcome them,” Gill said. “It’s that little dimension he adds. It’s amazing that he has come in and had a pretty good grip on the offense so quickly.”
So amazing that it’s suddenly not hard to fathom Frazier making All-Big Eight quarterback or Frazier leading the Huskers to a bowl win.
“He’s handled everything well,” Gill said. “His teammates see it and react to it. That’s a plus.”
So, too, is Gill. He was brought in as a first-a Tom Osborne quarterback coach-to work with this young stable of quarterbacks. And the timing couldn’t be better. Gill, a three-time all-conference quarterback from 1981 to 1983, oversees all quarterbacks. But he has become Frazier’s personal groom, relating his own experiences and serving as a go-between for Frazier and Osborne, who hadn’t started a freshman quarterback until this season.
“You wonder, ‘Am I good enough to play here?’” Gill said. “I’m sure it’s gone through his mind, too. But now he’s seeing, ‘I can win the big game.’ He’s getting a lot of confidence.”
It’s rubbing off.
“Tommie has had a lot to do with us going up,” Brown said. “If he continues to do this, he’s going to be a great asset to the team.”
He already is. The past and the future are making for a wonderful present.