This won't be the most exciting Charting post ever. How's that for a lede?
Derek is tied up with a special project for BOTC -- make sure to tune in next Friday -- so he doesn't have time for GIFs. And just this week did I finally get caught up on charting. So we're going to do our best here, but a lot of this is going to be more based on observing the game a second time rather than a really deep dive into the advanced stats.
I wouldn't have thought I'd say this five weeks ago...but this defense is a joy to watch. Seriously. We'll pull together a few GIFs after this big project is over, but Tom Hayes' defense is executing as well as it did last year. Here's what they're doing.
Against a spread passing attack like Texas Tech's, K-State pretty much employs a base 4-2-5 (nickel) alignment. Often this entails aligning the corners and safeties in what amounts to a five-deep alignment before the snap. On passing plays, the linebackers take away underneath routes for the slot receivers or drop into deep help. K-State's corners generally shuffle backward to take away deep routes, and read and react to slants and stops. The safeties also provide deep help, but especially against nickel-and-dime passing attacks are quick to come up to provide underneath help.
Obviously, K-State isn't like Alabama. With elite talent at corner and safety, the Crimson Tide can tighten up coverage on wide receivers, taking away even easy completions without sacrificing very many deep throws. K-State doesn't have those athletes in the secondary, so they have to accept that opposing teams with accurate quarterbacks will get some easy completions short. The key is to keep those short receptions short.
Against Tech, K-State was successful in this regard. Tech's longest run after catch was 27 yards, and in 47 completions on the day, Tech receivers gained five yards or fewer after the catch on 28 of those receptions. Look, forget about completion percentage against K-State's defense. Tech quarterbacks completed 73 percent of their passes on the day. But they gained only 5.5 yards per attempt and threw two interceptions.
Here's what K-State does. By layering their coverage as they do, they create small windows for quarterbacks to throw passes through. The gamble is that most quarterbacks aren't accurate enough to consistently hit those windows. Even if they are able to do so, the receivers are generally not catching the ball running downfield with a head of steam. This allows K-State's off-and-soft defenders to swarm to the ball.
Another obvious key to this...is Ryan Mueller's excellent play. The junior defensive end had 3.0 sacks against Tech, and should have been credited with at least one hurry. Against a defensive secondary like K-State's, a quarterback who has all day to stand in the pocket and survey the field will pick them apart. The linebackers and secondary simply can't cover four or five receivers for very long. But if the quarterback has only a couple counts to get the ball out, the blanket philosophy is much more effective.
Possession time was almost equal for the game...and that was perfect. Usually, K-State would be looking to win possession time by a significant margin to keep an explosive offense off the field. But in a truly effective bend-but-don't-break scheme, the other team can hold the ball for a long time as long as they don't score touchdowns on all their drives. Three-and-outs are obviously preferable, but long drives that end in field goals are just fine, too.
Here is the length, in plays (and time), of Tech's scoring drives: 14 (3:18), 15 (4:06), 13 (4:26), 11 (4:01), 8 (2:45)
So to score 26 points, Tech needed 61 plays and 18:36 minutes in five drives. Tech somehow ran 104 plays on the day -- to only 61(!) for K-State -- but most of those plays didn't gain much. Tech scored exactly 0.25 points per play it ran; K-State was at 0.80.
How about those wheels for ... Waters? Jake Waters ran seven times for 45 yards, a respectable 6.4 yards per carry. And his run on the second play of the second quarter, where he turned Tech's safety completely around with a juke, and his 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter were nice to see. He's developed into an above-average runner.
While we're talking about running the football...Tech is not very good at it. Even adjusted for sack yardage, Tech only ran the ball 27 times for 135 yards, or 5.0 yards per carry. Of those 27 rushes, 19 of them were straight up the middle. With little imagination, variety or commitment, Tech couldn't establish a credible rushing threat. And by doing so, they were unable to take advantage of K-State's true defensive weakness: play action. Tech used play action on 13 passing attempts. On those 13 attempts, the Red Raiders were 10-11 with one sack, for 64 yards, plus a six-yard scramble by Baker Mayfield. In other words, they basically equaled their average passing output on plays where you usually look to pick up big chunks of yardage.
Overall: This was clearly K-State's best performance of the season. No, the third quarter wasn't great, but I can deal with a mediocre quarter when the Wildcats are already up 35-10 and don't give up any big plays. This week, Texas Christian shouldn't present much of a big-play threat, either, but we'll get into that more in Kicking the Tires.