Nobody thought K-State had a chance against Baylor. Even us.
The 17-point line seemed low. The Bears were averaging almost 70 points and 780 yards per game. K-State had lost consecutive games to Texas and Oklahoma State, teams with significantly less firepower than Baylor.
All that, and K-State took a 25-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats held the ball for almost 40 minutes, limited Baylor to 60 plays on offense, and kept the Bears under 40. For reference, Baylor had been held under 40 points in the first half only once previously this year.
That was the good news. The bad news was that Baylor scored 21 points on plays of 93, 72 and 54 yards. Winning time of possession doesn't matter if you don't score points off it, and when you're that explosive it's easy not to care about holding the ball.
K-State's defense did enough to win the game...almost. K-State held Baylor to almost exactly half its average point total on the year, and less than 60 percent of its average yardage per game. When you do that, most of the time you win.
The time you don't? When you play a team that can score from literally anywhere on the field.
So what did K-State do to slow the Bears? The Wildcats admitted that you can't take everything away from Baylor on every play. By focusing on making sure Baylor didn't break off big runs, K-State made the Bears one-dimensional and more predictable. For example, take a look at the GIF below.
Baylor runs its zone stretch play, with Petty handing the ball to Lache Seastrunk. K-State's linemen and linebackers do a good job of stringing the play out, but it's safety Ty Zimmerman who makes the tackle after only a one-yard gain. A safety only makes that tackle if the front seven does its job and the game plan calls for safeties to play an active role in run support. Here is yet another example, showing the excellent job by K-State's front seven to contain Seastrunk, with safeties flying up in support.
Unfortunately, Baylor is sufficiently well coached to recognize that and counter. Both of Baylor's two longest pass plays came after K-State stopped rushing plays for short gains. For example, K-State downed a Mark Krause punt on Baylor's five yard line with about 9:30 left in the second quarter. Bryce Petty kept the ball on a quarterback draw that gained only two yards. Good deal. Baylor looked like it would play conservative deep in its own end with a fired-up K-State crowd roaring, and it was in a passing down. On the next play, Tevin Reese got behind Randall Evans and Petty hit him in stride for a 93-yard touchdown pass.
Two plays. Barely 30 seconds. Reese crosses K-State's goal line with no Wildcats in sight.
Now, back to that GIF above. K-State stops Seastrunk, in part, because it its emphasized taking away anything in the running game. The GIF below is the very next play.
Baylor lines up in the same one-back, four-wide formation. Petty fakes a handoff to Seastrunk, then hits an open Goodley. But for a poor angle by Dante Barnett and a brutal stiff-arm by Goodley, it's probably stopped for a 20-yard gain. Even so, it would have been a successful play, giving Baylor a first down at about midfield. But against Baylor, you have to admit that, in some instances, a 20-yard gain is acceptable. It's better than a long touchdown play, after all.
K-State has been vulnerable to play action all year. Two of Baylor's big scoring plays came off play action. Anecdotally, I felt like K-State had been burned by play action some this year, but I wanted to quantify that hypothesis. The results for all play-action plays against K-State this year are below.
- 36-51-0, 434 net yards, 8.5 yards/attempt, 6 TDs, 3 sacks for -12 yards
There are probably worse teams in the country against play action. But opponents are completing 70 percent of these passes, scoring touchdowns on almost 12 percent of these plays, and gaining 8.5 yards per attempt. K-State's defensive philosophy clearly puts run-stopping responsibility on its safeties, sometimes to the detriment of its deep responsibilities.
He's no Daniel Sams, but... Jake Waters looked a lot better running the ball against Baylor. Part of this may be that Baylor's rushing defense is overrated, but the Bears more than held their own against Iowa State last weekend, limiting the Cyclones to 81 yards on 28 attempts (2.9 yards/attempt).
But Waters did a couple things very well in the rushing game. First, on speed options, he did a good job forcing assignment commitment by Baylor, ensuring that the defender assigned to the quarterback could not also make a play on John Hubert (see second GIF below). On speed options with Waters in the game, K-State gained 26 yards on three plays.
Second, Waters looked much more decisive in the running game. Instead of waiting for a hole that never developed, he hit the hole that was available and got whatever yardage was available. For his part, John Hubert mostly did a better job of this against Baylor, too (second GIF below, particularly how he finishes the run), with the fourth-and-one on K-State's first drive an unfortunate exception. Here's an example of Waters' decisiveness.
Baylor's drops weren't that harmful. There was some discussion after the game that K-State was blessed by good fortune with some drops by Baylor's wide receivers. While Baylor receivers did drop three* passes on the day, they weren't that big. The first two drops would have netted Baylor first downs had the passes been caught, but Baylor would have still been well within its own territory. It's not like they dropped wide-open touchdown passes, as K-State receivers have done twice this season.
The last drop was Goodley on third and 10 late in the fourth quarter. The pass hit him five yards downfield and, barring at least two missed tackles by K-State, Goodley was not going to get anywhere near a first down. Bottom line is that the drops certainly helped, but they probably weren't the difference between a 10-point margin and a 24-point margin.
*When I initially wrote that, I was missing a few plays thanks to FSN's game replay. Turns out, Tevin Reese also had a drop, on a play that would have gained a first down in K-State territory.
In defense of Sams' interception. Yes, it was a bad decision to leave any chance of that pass being caught by anyone other than Zach Trujillo. But Trujillo waited for the ball to come to him, rather than working back to the ball to shield Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon. He didn't give his quarterback any help.
But further, what were we doing passing in that situation? On the first play of the drive, from our own 20-yard line, we called a pass play, and Sams scrambled for an eight-yard gain. While second and two is understandably a down where you can take a chance down the field, this doesn't strike me as an opportune place to do so. There were more than four minutes left, and K-State trailed by only three. K-State could have won the game by running for eight yards per play, in a game where the Wildcats averaged 6.0 yards/carry.
Baylor had not consistently stopped the rushing attack all game with Sams at quarterback. A 10-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown would have likely eaten up almost all of the remaining time. Passing on both the first two downs of that drive strikes me as bad play-calling.
And because no post is complete without it, here's a full quarterback comparison.
Passing and rushing stats adjusted for sacks. Success rate adjusted for the two clock-killing plays at the end of the first half and the clock-killing spike in the second half.
Daniel Sams: 4-7-1, 47 yards, 6.7 yards/attempt, 30 carries, 199 yards, 6.6 yards/carry, Success Rate 50 percent (21/42)
Jake Waters: 6-14-0, 64 yards, 4.6 yards/attempt, 8 carries, 56 yards, 7.0 yards/carry, Success Rate 40 percent (14/35)
No doubt Sams was the better quarterback against Baylor. Can he withstand the punishment of carrying the ball 25-30 times per game? If Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson return, does that take some of the burden off Sams? Can Sams take advantage of their return without throwing dickety interceptions? Is anyone still reading?
Thanks as always to BOTC's Derek Smith for the animated GIFs.