The news isn’t necessarily a surprise. I saw it coming in mid-to-late October.
But the finality of the matter is significant.
Nebraska football coach Scott Frost has officially dismissed sophomore running back Maurice Washington from the team, a source familiar with the situation told the Journal Star on Friday.
1. Frost’s task of building Nebraska’s program is onerous. The fewer major distractions, the better.
Perhaps that sounds a little too callous. This is a tough conversation. But if you’re watching the bowl season closely — particularly the Big Ten’s involvement — you understand Nebraska is chasing some excellent programs, and I don’t mean just Ohio State and Penn State.
Anybody happen to notice Minnesota rushing for 215 yards against Auburn in the Gophers’ 31-24 Outback Bowl triumph? Or Iowa holding USC to 22 rushing yards (on 18 attempts) in a 49-24 Holiday Bowl win? Yes, Wisconsin lost a narrow decision (28-27) to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, but the Badgers went down brawling, as the Badgers are wont to do.
The Big Ten West is getting increasingly ornery. Nebraska has some catching up to do and really can’t afford to be weighed down by too many unnecessary off-field matters. Granted, almost every team has them in some form. But the best programs do a good job of minimizing their impact.
I hesitate to characterize Washington as a major distraction because it does sound cold, especially on this day. He’s a young man trying to find his way and overcome a difficult past. But the fact is, he’s facing a felony charge in California. He twice was suspended from the team this season for the first half of the opener against South Alabama and also for the first half of the Oct. 5 game against Northwestern. The second suspension was unrelated to his legal issue.
On Oct. 21, when Frost announced Washington wouldn’t be part of the team for the time being, it was clear to me the situation was weighing on Frost. I know he tried to help Washington grow as a person. I know that for a fact. Frost has referred to how Tom Osborne stuck with players who needed guidance — and acutely needed football for structure in their lives. Based on what I’ve heard from people in the program, Washington falls under the category of a player who needs structure. Nothing wrong with that. So do I. So do a lot of people.
But there are certain acts that run against team rules and are non-negotiable. Frost also emphasized that part. Bottom line, a wayward player at some point has to help himself while playing by the rules established by program leaders. My read, with help from those close to the situation, is Washington hasn’t done enough to help himself in recent months.
If he was doing enough in that regard, he’d still be part of the program.
2. Washington was part of Nebraska’s 2018 “transition class,” which has crumbled to a large degree.
Of the 25 players who were originally announced as part of the Huskers’ scholarship class of 2018 — which Frost and his staff put together in haste — nine no longer are with the program: Washington, Andre Hunt, Cam Jones, Miles Jones, Katerian LeGrone, Greg Bell, Justin McGriff, C.J. Smith and Will Jackson.
Two others in the class failed to qualify academically (Willie Canty and Dominick Watt), and two more (receivers Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard) fell well short of expectations.
That’s 13 players who either fell well short of expectations or never contributed at all. Of course it’s a concern.
But Frost has expressed ample confidence in our conversations about the class of 2019. The “hit rate” in fact looks high. And the Huskers’ class of 2020 is ranked 20th by 247Sports and 18th by Rivals. That class looks to have filled some critical areas of need.
Sometimes head coaches transitioning from one job to another — and therefore getting a late start in recruiting — have to take risks on players. Going forward, Frost likely won’t have to take as many obvious risks.
3. Washington dazzles with his speed. But based on how he played in his final three games for Nebraska — Ohio State (Sept. 28), Northwestern (Oct. 5) and Minnesota (Oct. 12) — it’s difficult to say that his absence in 2020 will profoundly affect the Husker offense, especially against physical Big Ten defenses.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound player’s lack of tenacity in those three contests was striking. He tip-toed into traffic, carrying 15 times for 30 yards.
As it stands, Nebraska’s running back situation looks OK. Just OK. Dedrick Mills, who rushed for 745 yards (5.2 per carry) and 10 touchdowns last season, may have to carry a heavy load, in part because the 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior-to-be is the lone returner who’s proven he can handle such a load. Rahmir Johnson (5-10, 180) showed promise as a true freshman. He’s a hard runner, but has plenty to prove. And, yes, he needs to add bulk.
Another true freshman from 2019, Ronald Thompkins, is a wild card because of ongoing knee issues.
A pair of incoming freshmen, Marvin Scott and Sevion Morrison, probably need to be ready for action. Same goes for walk-on Brody Belt.
Nebraska stockpiled receivers in its class of 2020. A couple could be used at running back in certain packages. That definitely helps.
Washington flashed big-play ability early last season. Here’s hoping he uses his speed to help another program in coming years.