...is not that he isn't talented
...is not that he didn't play well on Friday.
...is *not* that he is the reason the Wildcats lost.
He is talented. He played pretty well and should improve. He gives all impressions of being a very good college QB and he has pro potential.
So what's the problem? He may not be a good fit for this team and this coach.
We've been doing a fair amount of yelling back and forth on other threads on this form since Friday's debacle. Some are convinced that others don't seem to understand that the defense was the main problem that night. Others of us can't understand how the problems on offense aren't also drawing concern.
Here are my impressions in a nutshell. I had these worries before the game and nothing I saw on Friday has diminished them at all.
First of all, both Sams and Waters have the potential to be very, very good. Waters was astounding at the JUCO level last year and he looked to be a stunningly accurate passer. We've seem glimpses of Sams' explosiveness and that he seems so similar to the young Michael Bishop and the young Ell Roberson, it's hard not to recognize the potential.
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 what he's fielded in nearly two decades. And, in fact, I even think it's possible that to be effective, the offense might have to look quite a bit different than any he's ever used as a head coach.
For me, there is some real danger in this. It's been argued that he knows plenty about the passing game, and that being around Varnier for the Freeman seasons means that he won't have any problems with this. I'm not so sure. 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.
Look, I'm aware that Jonathan Beasley wasn't a pure "dual threat quarterback". And though I don't understand the intricacies of the zone read and exactly how it differs from the planned runs that Bishop, Beasley, and Roberson used, the point I'm making is that since 1997, *every* Bill Snyder offense has been predicated on a run-first philosophy. (Actually, there is a partial exception to this: The 2005 Evridge/Webb duo was the most pass-happy of any Wildcat offense since 1994, gaining almost sixty percent of its yards through the air. But we have to ask ourselves--is the 2005 offense a model for anything we want to see again? And Evridge, the passer of the two, was the far less effective of the two that year.)
Combining my naturally obsessive tendencies and a disappointingly dull new existence in Surabaya, Indonesia, I devoted a couple of hours the other night to tracking the run/pass splits of Snyder's offenses from the Chad May days of 1993-1994 to 2012. The results can be viewed here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AqHuk4kSjnPCdHhGdXUzckVfXzFVN0kzY2x1YUFrWXc&usp=sharing)
A caveat about the numbers: in some cases, I estimated a little. This is mostly true because of the way that QB sacks and scrambles are conflated with intended rushes, when, in reality, they are at least as much a reflection of the passing game. Although they were certainly sacked, quarterbacks like Bishop, Beasley, Roberson, and Klein (and also, for reasons that will always remain mysterious, Coffman) certainly got a decided majority of their carries on designed runs, and even many of their scrambles were a desired part of the offense. On the other hand, both Chad May and Brian Kavenaugh had sixty or seventy rushes a year and lost a couple hundred yards each. I'm thus assuming that most of their rushes were not designed and I took most of those rushes (and the lost yardage) out of the team rushing totals for that year.
Here's a summary of what I found:
1. In 1993, 1994, and 1996, the Wildcats attempted the ball on roughly 50%, 50%, and 45% of all downs. All subsequent Snyder teams did so between 30% and 38% of the time except for the Meier/Webb/Evridge offense, which averaged 42% over those two years. It's fair to say that those offenses weren't good and are not a positive sign.
2. The Chad May offenses got about two-thirds of its yardage through the air. Because the Bishop to Roberson years featured QBs with strong arms (and sometimes wavering consistency) and some very talented receivers, those offenses were able to rack up some big yards in limited attempts through the air. Still, the 1998 Bishop team led the pack for *good* Kansas State teams with 54% of the yardage coming through the pass. The prior year, it was 41%. Beasley's teams were just over 50% each year. Roberson's rose steadily from 25% as a sophomore to 48% as a senior. The Klein teams finished just a hair under 50%. (The one outlier? The 1995 Evridge/Webb duo picked up nearly 60% of its yards through the air. But again...that wasn't a good offense, or a good team.)
I think these numbers show pretty clearly, that every Snyder team since 1996 (save the forgettable 2005 aberration) has been run-focused. Those teams collectively ran the ball nearly 2/3 of the time and just over half the yards these teams gained came on the ground. Bill Snyder has spent twenty years designing teams built to run the ball.
(To take this a step further, even the pass-first Chad May teams were not offensive dynamos. They were regularly shut down by good defenses--NU and Boston College--and they ranked #67 and #56 in total offense and #40 and #35 in scoring offense those years. A big part of those teams' success was the #35/#23 total defenses and the #23/#5 scoring defenses. I don't think the 2013 Wildcats have much hope of matching that production.)
Does this mean that Jake Waters won't be better than Chad May or Brian Kavenaugh (or Alan Evridge). 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).
A valid question that many are posing: "Why assume that Snyder will need to dramatically redesign this offense." And perhaps he won't. But here's why I think he will.
I know it's only one game and I know that the play calling was dreadfully unimaginative. And that it was Waters' first game. But I saw a lot of things that made me think that a Waters-led attack just won't be able to run the ball effectively.
Firstly, Waters' 40 time may be pretty good. But he looked too slow to find creases. Klein was not only obviously faster, but was almost unique in his ability to sit patiently in the backfield for a seeming eternity and finally find the hole and break a big run. I don't expect Waters to be able to do that anywhere near as effectively.
Secondly, I think our line was exposed. And, to be quite honest, I think it was exposed last year. They were outmatched by both Baylor and Oregon. Further TCU held the Cats to 3.4 yards per carry, and they running game was also bottled up for a half against Texas before the wheels came off (again) for the Longhorns. The line hasn't really been dominant in the last half-dozen games. In retrospect, they may have benefited more from the Klein Magic, than from being a truly elite blocking force. I see reasons to suspect that these guys just aren't as good or as deep as the Ryan Young crew of 1998 or the Ryan Lilja and Co of the Roberson years.
Thirdly, John Hubert is, as was aptly put, a "tough SOB". He's a nice piece and has put up some big games. But I was very suspicious of projections that he might erupt this year without Klein "in the way". Our eyes tell us that he's not terribly fast and not very explosive. His determination is remarkable, but he's still a "little" back and not a guy who can regularly overpower tacklers. In short, he's probably pretty close to Mike Lawrence/Eric Hickson from the Bishop years. They were good backs. They were solid. But they weren't centers of the offense, nor should they have been.
The reality is that over his last eight games, John Hubert has netted a high of 64 yards and has twice been held to 23. Over that span--not a small sample size--he's averaged about 50 yards a game and a little over three and a half yards per carry. I don't see reasons to assume that this will change dramatically over the next eight (or eleven).
If I'm right about all of this (and I do believe all of it, but am fully aware that there's a lot of conjecture involved), a good Waters-led offense will have to be overwhelmingly pass-oriented. I'm thinking it has to at least match the Chad May-era standard of 50% rushes and two-thirds of all yards coming through the air. But, quite honestly, I am of the mind that to have a chance of being effective, it may have to be far more pass-happy than that and Waters will have to prove to be significantly better than May was. Again, remember...with an average or suspect defense, the Chad May teams may have struggled to get to six wins.
And I'm just not convinced that Bill Snyder is going to let himself run a true West Coast offense and only use the run as a change of pace. We are all creatures of habit and none more so than Bill Snyder. And at the same time, he's got a roster full of offensive players who have never played college ball with that kind of offense.
In the end, I see three likely possibilities. One, Snyder commits all out to the fast-strike, big play, pass-heavy offense (with a half dozen attempts per game to get Sams alone with space to run) and it *might* work really well. (Again, it was only one game. But look at the offensive output. The Cats scored three times on big plays averaging forty yards each and the "drives" averaged a total of two minutes each. On the other seven possessions, the offense was generally able to move the ball fairly well via hitch passes over the middle before finally stalling out. It looked frighteningly like....most teams that the Wildcats have beaten over the past two seasons. Any attempts to play ball control with Waters at the helm could create a series of defenses that effectively bend, but don't break.)
Which is 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 (and last year's team averaged 40 runs per game while being the most balanced in run/pass split since 1996--aside from the two awful Webb/Meier/Evridge teams), I can seriously see a 4-8 or 3-9 season. The defense might get better, but I don't sense it will be very good. This offensive will need to be top flight to get to 7,8, or 9 wins.
The third possibility--Bill decides that he built his program on quarterbacks like Daniel Sams, and that Sams has the potential to be as good or better than any of them. He also decides that it may take a full season to retool this offensive to take advantage of what Jake Waters has to offer, and realizes that this leaves him one "good" season before Waters is gone. So he makes the switch, knowing that Sams and this team might struggle to be the 2001 Wildcats, but thinking it a real chance that Sams will follow in Ell's footsteps and become a Wildcat great during his junior and senior seasons.
In closing, I'm not slagging or blaming Jake Waters. I'm also not pretending to know enough about what each guy is showing in practice to even have an opinion over who should be the quarterback. I'm merely expressing my doubts that this team and this coach are going to be able to make the quantum leap (and above I've indicated why I think the shift would have to be that dramatic) from an offensive that lives and dies with the run, to one that throws the ball two-thirds of the time. If Waters remains the starter, I would love to be proven full of rich, creamery butter and see him lead the team to a 9-3 season and a good bowl.