Charting the Waters: K-State vs. Massachusetts

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

K-State built a big lead and cruised to a 37-7 win over Massachusetts. Not much can be learned from a game like this, but we'll do our best in this beyond-the-boxscore review.

On Saturday afternoon and evening, I was at a wedding in Omaha. This prevented me from watching the game live on K-State HD.tv, and I'm not the type to sit in a church with headphones to listen to a football game. Fortunately, Panjandrum and BlackCats kept me updated as the reception progressed.

Later, I had a moment to check the stats after the game ended. Upon seeing Jake Waters' passing stats, I texted Black to see if his 5-10-1 line was accurate. Black's response: "Sure didn't seem like it, but could be."

Nothing from this game seemed right, but in the end, it was an easy win.

Massachusetts played ridiculously conservative on defense: K-State is the type of team that's accustomed to seeing opponents line up with eight men in the box to stop the run. Teams that want to take away a strong rushing attack will bring an extra defender up near the line of scrimmage to gain an advantage.

Massachusetts did the opposite. Apparently terrified of getting beat for big plays by Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, the Minutemen blitzed only twice by my count. At least once, they rushed only three and dropped eight into coverage. Massachusetts apparently had no confidence in its defensive backs to match up with K-State's receivers, so it chose to use numbers to its advantage.

Mostly, it worked. For the game, K-State was only 7-12-1 for 127 yards, though they did have two passing touchdowns and averaged 10.6 yards per attempt. But while it may have taken away what Massachusetts was most worried about, it didn't end up being effective. K-State ended the game with a 65 percent Success Rate.

In addition to Massachusetts' blanket defense, K-State didn't exactly flood the field with receivers: In 13 passing attempts, including a play negated by penalty, K-State split out four or five receivers only four times. Five times, K-State only lined up with two wide receivers. Even though Massachusetts isn't very good, it's not that difficult to defend two or three receivers with seven defenders.

So what do you do when your opponent commits to taking away one aspect of your offense? You exploit the other, of course. With only six men in the box on a lot of plays, Massachusetts was vulnerable to the run. Four different players -- Waters, Daniel Sams, Robert Rose and Demarcus Robinson -- averaged more than seven yards per carry. And John Hubert averaged 6.6.

In particular, K-State's last drive of the first half illustrated how to attack this type of defense even if you want to pass. In six plays that covered 62 yards, K-State lined up with four wide receivers three times and five wide receivers three times. The Wildcats called passes on all six, though Waters took off twice on scrambles, gaining 22 yards. Four passes were attempted, three complete, and Torrell Miller dropped the other. With Massachusetts keying on the wide receivers, K-State lined up with an empty backfield and snuck John Hubert across the middle for the 43-yard touchdown reception that put K-State ahead, 27-7.

One step forward, one step back with Daniel Sams: Wildcats' offensive coaches twice brought Daniel Sams into the game on third down and short yardage in the first half. On both plays, K-State faced third down and one yard to convert. On both plays, Sams converted on quarterback draws, running for three and 15 yards, respectively. It was nice to see the coaches admit that running on short-yardage downs better suits Sams.

Of course, once again we saw little or nothing out of Sams other than the quarterback draw and the quarterback lead. My chart isn't as complete as it should be, but I show Sams getting 17 snaps. He threw only two passes, ran 10 quarterback leads or draws, and handed off three times and ran the option once. The other play was a quarterback sneak. If you're still expecting the coaches to unleash Sams in a big way in Big 12 play, it looks like you're in for disappointment. That said, I still think he should start against Texas and run read options until Texas proves it can stop it.

K-State really slowed down the pace: After speeding up against Louisiana-Lafayette, to the tune of 74 plays run on offense, the Wildcats hit the brakes on Saturday. K-State ran only 60 plays, and spent most of the second half doing everything it could to get the game over. Of K-State's 28 second-half plays, 22 were runs.

The Wildcats still weren't very good on defense: Somehow, K-State managed to allow Massachusetts a 54 percent Success Rate. This was a classic bend-but-don't-break performance in the first half, as Massachusetts put together a 15-play drive and weren't held to a three-and-out, but only managed seven points. Forming a cloud and swarming to the ball has been mostly sufficient thus far. And the two interceptions against Massachusetts didn't hurt anything. But the competition level is about to ratchet up significantly. Bend-but-don't break can work, as long as you bend gradually. Whether K-State can prevent big plays against Big 12 offenses will determine whether this season is a success.

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