The (Ongoing) Problem with Jake Waters

Looking back at what I wrote on this site following the NDSU loss in the opener, I'm having a hard time seeing any of my stated concerns being mollified. To repeat what has been acknowledged many times: Most of us are not arguing that Jake Waters is a terrible quarterback; and none of us know what Daniel Sams would be doing if he were the starting quarterback. And, yes...the defense isn't particularly good.

Still, I started the year skeptical that the Jake Waters experiment would work and pretty much nothing that I've seen so far makes me feel comfortable seeing where I was wrong. If anything, I'm seeing a few new areas of concern.

Let me start by adding some excerpts from my September 3 analysis and offering up some month of October reconsiderations:

"He is talented. He played pretty well and should improve. He gives all impressions of being a very good college QB...So what's the problem? He may not be a good fit for this team and this coach."

Granted, it is still (sort of) early in the season. The offense with Waters at the helm could begin to click. But the clock is running. This season is a third over and his career is 1/6 over. It may or may not be Jake Waters' "fault". But the offense hasn't worked this year and I don't see a convincing argument that it really is. Against a very manageable opening schedule (two Division 1a patsies, a Division 1aa team, and a Texas defensive squad that had been historically bad), the Wildcats have scores 13 offensive touchdowns (I'm counting the one that followed Thompson's return to the 2 as a special teams score) and Waters has been the driving force behind 9 of those (while taking a vast majority of the snaps).

Defensive issues aside, this team could be 4-0 with even a slightly above average offense. Four touchdowns isn't a lot to expect against even a good Division 1aa team and if you'd told me that we'd hold Texas to 31 in Austin, I'd have expected a win.

In short, the offense isn't working and Jake Waters has been the starting quarterback and has received most of the snaps. That's a problem.

"The problem with Jake Waters is that to maximize his strengths, Bill Snyder is going to have to create an offense that is significantly different than…any he's ever used as a head coach...Having the knowledge and the theoretical ability to do something is not the same as being in one's comfort zone and being able to truly excel in a situation...Does this mean that Jake Waters won't be better than Chad May…? Not at all and he looks to be extremely talented. Does it also mean that Bill Snyder is incapable of dramatically changing his game plan from the last two decades? It does not. But man...that's not an easy thing to do (in football or in other aspects of life)."

No matter how divided many of us have become on the Waters-Sams issue, I've yet to hear anyone claim that Snyder (and Dimel/Miller) have done anything short of an bad job setting the Waters offense up for success. The molasses sweep (trademark pending) which should have died in Carson Coffman's second college game has been resurrected in full glory. And it just doesn't work. Part of my early concern with Jake Waters was not that he couldn't be a good college quarterback, but that I had deep suspicions about whether Bill Snyder could make such a monumental switch in the look of his offense at this point in his career and after having two decades of tremendous success with an offense centered on the running game. Does Bill understand the Xs and Os of a passing game? Um, yeah...Did he recruit the personnel--mainly the linemen and receivers to make this work? I'm not seeing it so far. Does his unquestionable knowledge of the game mean that he'll be able to produce excellence out of an offense that is run counter to the principles of what he's done since 1996? I'm *really* not seeing that so far.

In short, I don't see the poor play calling to be a mitigating excuse for the Waters-led offense, but rather a direct (and somewhat predictable) manifestation of trying to change the fundamental nature of this offense.

In a slight tangent, I have been wondering in recent days just how much of a different coach Bill Snyder is today than he was fifteen years ago. He remains my football hero, but in his junior season Michael Bishop often looked terrible throwing the ball and had moments in which we all had to question his football IQ. If the Bill Snyder of 2013 were the coach in 1997, is it possible that Bishop would never really have seen the field. Perhaps Daniel Sams's passing game really is a quantum fall behind that of Michael in 1997 or Ell in 2001. But I do have my doubts as to whether the issue is really about what Sams is doing in practice as much as it is about the what's being seen in the eyes of the assessor.

In my earlier piece, I offered up three possible scenarios for the rest of the season. One was that Snyder would let Waters free and completely re-tailor the offense by making it at least a 2:1 pass:run ratio and try to utilize the speed of Lockett and Thompson to score quickly and on a series of big plays. The third possibility was that Snyder would just decide that the Daniel Sams mold has worked well in the past and decide to go with what is more in his comfort zone. From my perspective, I think either of these two options employed from the beginning of the season would have the Cats at 4-0 or 3-1.

It was my second option that we've seen played out over the course of this still young(ish) season:

"[Or we could see] that second possibility (and one that I see as pretty likely). Bill just isn't quite able to abandon what he's done for the past two decades. He *has* to have at least a reasonably potent running game because *he's Bill Snyder, dammit!"* It may work in certain circumstances or against certain teams. But if Waters remains the QB and he and Hubert are splitting a couple dozen carries per game...I can seriously see a 4-8 or 3-9 season."

Really, isn't this what we've been seeing so far this year? And while 3-9 might be too pessimistic, based on what we've seen this year, I don't don't think any of our remaining games are safe. (KU? You know, I don't see clear evidence that this year's KSU team has looked better week-in and week-out that the Jayhaws. ISU? Pretty mediocre, but they always play us tough. WVU now seems to have a pulse.) At this point--barring a quarterback change, I don't see the offense doing enough to get this team to a bowl.

After three more games, rather than seeing more promise in a Waters-led offense, I actually see three more reasons for concern. Two are not--as is the case much of what I've written above--Jake Waters' "fault". But one just might be.

Early on, I worried as to whether or not the offensive line would be as effective blocking for a pass-first offense and that still seems a valid concern. But by now I see more clearly a problem at least as big as that of the line's ability to adapt--Kansas State's receiving corps just isn't very good. And if a team is going to throw the ball 70% of the time, there had damned well better be a handful of potent weapons to throw to and ideally a go-to guy who can't be stopped.

Tyler Lockett has had a great year and it's clear that he'd play a major role on any offense in college football. For all of his gawdy numbers, however, there are a couple of limitations to his effectiveness. The first is a little hard for me to comment upon effectively, because I watch on a jerky feed and haven't gotten clear views of plays that have been described as "catchable balls" (including two in the end zone) that Tyler did not come up with. From what I have been able to see, they haven't been flat out Torrell Millereque derfs, but passes that you'd hope a big time receiver would find a way to make in crunch time. The second limitation I'm seeing is that he doesn't appear to be an effective red zone target. (More on this in a bit.) At any rate, Tyler is probably good enough as a #1 receiver, but he'll need a lot of help.

But where is this help? Tremaine Thompson ran wild in the first half against NDSU. In the last three and a half games, he's caught 11 balls for 111 yards. That's a 35 catch/350 yard season. And he's the number two.

Curry Sexton has his moments, but probably doesn't start on most teams. Torrell Miller is awful and Kyle Klein can't beat him out. We like to think that our tight ends are weapons, but McDonald and Trujillo have caught five balls between them in the past seventeen games. Maybe Deante Burton will be good, but it's hard to confidently posit a guy who's never caught a college pass as an "asset", much less a "weapon".

Particularly worrisome is that the Waters-led offense is showing signs of being ineffective in the red zone. It's a bit imprecise to identify, as it's not been uncommon for both QBs to take snaps on a drive, but of the 13 offensive touchdowns this year, Waters has been the QB on 9 of the scoring plays, and Sams on 4. Sams has been in the red zone 5 times and the Cats have scored 4 TDs and a FG. Waters has been in the red zone 8 times (not including the fourth down failure against NDSU in which he got to the 24 before losing yardage) and this has resulted in 4 TDs, 2 FGs, and 2 TOs.

More significantly, all of the Waters'-led red zone scores have come on the ground. Jake's shortest TD pass of the year was 43 yards to Hubert. (Lockett also came up yard short from the 32 on another.) But to this point, I'm not seeing that Jake Waters and these receivers are much of a threat to score against a short field. And given that this team has one reliable target who isn't very big and whose chief asset is his speed, this really makes a lot of sense.

A second "new concern" I have about continuing with Waters is that it seems pretty clear that John Hubert isn't going to be effective as a feature back. Taking out the U-Mass "explosion" (and, for god's sake, this is U-Mass), Hubert has averaged a little less than 50 yards a game over his past eleven.

Drifting into the realm in which even I have to acknowledge that I'm not on very strong footing, I have to see that on his three carries DeMarcus Robinson *looked* like a better back. He's clearly faster. He cut quicker. And he ran with real power. It's been conjectured that Hubert's pass blocking abilities are a big part of why he continues to take nearly all the snaps. But once again....perhaps the commitment to Jake Waters is denying this offense yet another weapon.

My third "new concern" I'm seeing as a possible problem with Jake Waters that *is* Jake's "fault". I do understand the statistical arguments that "clutch" play tends to be greatly overrated, that we tend to recall the moments of heroism more vividly that the displays of fizzle. Still, I can't shake that sense that some guys just don't let their teams lose (at least without a hell of a fight). Collin Klein was one of those. During his most godawful outing, Michael Bishop was on the verge of pissing away a game against Tech when he threw an egregious interception into the hands of a 300 pound lineman at the five yard line. But Michael--as many of us remember--went hard after that motherfucker and tripped him up at the 3. Two plays later, Tech fumbled. The Cats snuck away with a victory (with Michael safely on the bench for the remainder).

It's not fair to Jake Waters to label him as "not-clutch". But in the Wildcats' two losses, his play with the game on the line hasn't been particularly inspiring. When the offenses needed one more score against NDSU to provide a cushion, Jake threw three straight in completions. Starting at his own 25 with 28 seconds to go in that game wasn't a situation tailor made for success, but throwing an interception on the first play sealed the loss. Twice in the last few minutes against Texas, the Cats had the ball inside the Texas 10 and both times Jake fumbled it away. Yeah, the "butt fumble" may have just been "one of those things that happens". And yes, his line/McDonald let him down on the second fumble, (though I still maintain he took a loooooonnnnngggg time to get rid of the ball and on first down, maybe he needed to look for what was open, expect a rush, and be ready for second down).

The bottom line is that Jake Waters has had the ball three times this season when the team was behind in the last two minutes of the game. He's fumbled it away twice and has thrown an interception. Am I making too much of this? Probably. But added to the bigger points that the offense isn't producing overall and my increasing doubts that Waters is a good fit for this coach and this team, it doesn't do him any favors in my eyes.

So, I'll go ahead and say it--it's time to give up on the Waters experiment and turn it over to Daniel Sams. Barring the discovery of an explosive offense (which I consider much more likely to come via a Bill Syder-type QB running a Bill Snyder-type offense than I do Snyder being willing/able to change what he does best *and* the line shaping up *and* more receiving threats emerging--especially in the red zone), this is looking to me like a 4-5 win season. Daniel Sams--who has shown pretty much what most of us would have hoped for when he has the ball (even being effective through the air when allowed to throw it) has another two and a half years to go.

Maybe Sams becomes the spark that gets this team to 6 or 7 wins. Maybe he takes his lumps, but gains valuable experience for the next two years. Or maybe he shows that he can't hack it and Snyder can come back with Waters for a year and Jesse Ertz after that (and Sams as DeAngelo Thomas and ideally a new offensive coordinator to usher in the "new era").

I've been leaning this way since the off-season. But I'm now on Team Sams. And if it's Waters from here on out, I'll be really happy to have been proven wrong.

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