LINCOLN — In recent weeks, Nebraska coach Scott Frost has seen kicker Chase Contreraz miss three field goals.
Two of those misses came in the Ohio State game.
Even when NU’s specialists excel in practice, they struggle when the kicks count. The way Frost and special teams coordinator Mike Dawson see it, there’s not much coaches can say to placekickers and punters who spray the ball at the wrong time.
“It’s funny,” Frost said Monday. “I’ve talked to Coach Dawson about it and a couple of other guys on staff, and everywhere I’ve been as a coach — and they’ve been as a coach — the advice you get is don’t say a word to the specialists.”
The specialists have plenty of advice for each other, though.
“Everybody’s a critic to everyone,” kickoff man Brendan Franke said. “Everybody’s got a little something. ... We’re all trying to get each other better, because at the end of the day, the best guy plays, so everybody’s trying to get everybody to be that guy.”
Franke has been the bright spot among the specialists. He’s booted 62% of his kickoffs for touchbacks, and NU has allowed just 19.53 yards per kickoff return this season. That ranks 10th in the Big Ten but a respectable 47th nationally.
Placekicking and punting have been recurring sore spots. NU has missed eight field goals. The Huskers rank 102nd in net punting with costly punts against Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State. Nebraska’s struggles stand out in a league with five teams ranked in the nation’s top 15 in net punting.
Frost has told reporters multiple times that Nebraska doesn’t have a problem with special teams so much as it does specialists — that is, the kickers and punters.
“We receive it as he’s just challenging us to be better because he expects more out of us, which he should,” Franke said. “We’re a (Division I) program, we should be doing things, executing them the right way. When we don’t do that, you can understand how it’s frustrating for him.”
NU will likely pursue placekickers and punters in the transfer portal this offseason. The Huskers got kicker Connor Culp (LSU) and punter William Przystup (Michigan State) going that route. Contreraz came from Iowa Western.
Frost compared specialists to baseball players and golfers — swing-driven athletes who can sometimes get in a slump.
“We’ve had a couple of guys in a slump,” Frost said. “It’s hurt us, but I don’t think there’s anything I can say, necessarily, to get their psychology where it needs to be. I don’t think that’s necessarily their issue. I think we’ve struggled a little bit.”