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Midweek Quarterback: K-State vs. Texas Tech

Welcome to what may or may not become a regular feature here at BOTC.  We gathered TB, Panjandrum and EMAW from BOTC and Seth from Double T Nation for a discussion of what we'd like to see out of our teams on Saturday.

A quick note.  None of us are football coaches and none of us are arrogant enough to think that we should actually coach our respective favorite teams.  We are merely discussing what we think would work best in the game Saturday.  Feel free to express your thoughts in the comments.

Seth: Offensively I'm somewhat torn as to what Captain Leach will do.  I will say this, he has shown extreme patience during non-conference play as both he and Graham Harrell have deferred to running the ball when the defense allows for it.  Harrell essentially calls his own plays at the line of scrimmage and if the defense is dropping 7 or 8, then he calls a run, and he's done it with more frequency this year than in previous years.  In fact, last year Leach and Harrell ran the ball only 24% of the time and this year, it's over 30% and against UMass, Leach and Harrell ran the ball 37% of the time.  Texas Tech fans have been begging for this type of change for quite some time because it makes the offense that much more difficult to defend and you're not so dependent on one player, the quarterback, to produce.  If I'm Leach and Harrell, I just keep taking what the defense gives, don't make it harder that what it actually is.

Defensively, thus far Ruffin McNeill has decided to play it safe the entire non-conference slate.  Very little blitzing, very little movement, just a very vanilla defense with their only job being to keep the opposing offenses in front of them.  I'm thinking that this week against KSU it's not going to be that easy.  If I were McNeill, I'd be a little more creative because I think that Josh Freeman will punish Texas Tech if he doesn't.

TB: Good, maybe the "look" we give on defense, where we often bring a lot of guys up around the line of scrimmage, will fool Harrell into calling a lot of passing plays and he won't exploit our Achilles heel, stopping the run.  Oh, we could only be so lucky, but I'm not betting on it.
As far as K-State's defensive alignment, in lieu of scrapping the 3-4 and learning the 4-3 this week, I'm going to hope to God we can figure out a way to get pressure on Harrell.  Tech's offense puts defenses in a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario.  Bring pressure extra rushers, and you don't have enough guys in coverage and Harrell finds someone open.  Drop seven or eight into coverage and he'll be able to do his nails before he has to worry about getting rid of the ball, and someone will be open by then.  The kicker is if you can actually get pressure on him.  Preferrably, you'd do that with four rushers max, but against Tech's line that's not going to happen.  So we need to get creative and find a way to put some pressure on him.  Given that our blitzers often run into double-teams because everybody on Earth sees them coming, I'm not confident we can figure out how to do so.
Offensively, I'd really like to see us establish the running game.  I don't think we're particularly good at running the ball, but if we can average 4.0 yards per carry, we shorten the game and take a lot of pressure off Josh Freeman.  If Freeman has time in the pocket and can go through his progressions and step into his throws, he's incredibly dangerous, and a running threat makes that much more likely.

Panjandrum: According to Ron Prince, this defense was constructed to combat the spread.  Now, I'm not a football genius or anything, but other than having a 'light' defense, I'm not sure exactly what they are doing (or have done) to make this a reality.  Sure, they held North Texas, but really, how hard is that?  Also, Mike Leach's offense has consistently been the most feared in the country the past several years, and my greatest concern is that he may end destroying what little hope Kansas State fans have left in the defense (i.e. pass defense).  If Tech puts up more than 50 points, things will get really, really ugly in Manhattan very quickly.

That said, defensively, I think K-State has to bring the house on nearly every play.  As Seth mentioned, Leach and Harrell are making a more concerted effort to run the football, and that spells trouble for KSU.  The defense is already lost every time the ball is snapped, so any complex playcalling by Tech will simply flummox them even more.  The only way, in my opinion, that the Wildcats have to beat Tech is to K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid.).  Go after Harrell.  Blitz like crazy.  Man up on the receivers and bump them at the line to disrupt their routes.  If they give up the big play, big deal.  Keep a safety back in Cover 1 to prevent the home run and buckle down in the red zone.  KSU is going to have to win in a shootout anyway, so it will take T.O.P. away from Tech, and it will give our offense more time to score.  If we're lucky, Harrell may fumble, throw a pick, or get rattled in front of a hostile crowd.  Honestly, that's the only hope that we have, in my opinion.  If we sit back in zone coverage, we'll get gashed for 250+ on the ground and 400+ in the air.  It will look like the thrashing KSU took in Lubbock back in '05.

On offense, KSU has to run the football, and they have to commit at least 50 carries to the run game.  Lamark Brown, our man-beast wide receiver turned running back, needs to carry the ball at least 25 times.  Logan Dold, a true freshman with a north/south propensity, will probably need to get at least 15 carries to change the pace.  Josh Freeman will need to carry the ball ten times as well to keep the defense honest and force the linebackers and safeties to hit a 6'6", 250 lb. man-mountain.  K-State has to win the T.O.P. battle significantly to keep the Tech offense off of the field.  Considering that the Tech defensive line averages 262 pounds, it may be a bear for them to stop a bevy of running backs (and quarterback) that as a trio average out to be 6'3" 223 lbs for a full game.  Freeman is at his best when he can work from play action, so if Tech has to commit a safety to the running game to stop the 'Cats, Freeman can go over the top to Banks or Quarles. 

Also, to win, KSU is going to have to score on special teams.  They need to block a punt, return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown...something.  Nothing will get Bill Snyder Family Stadium rocking like a special teams score, and KSU has to get the crowd into this game.

If KSU can win the turnover battle, score on special teams, and win time of possession, they've got a chance.  Yes, that particular formula will win 95% of all games, but when a team has a horrible defense, and there is a significant gap in coaching ability, it's what has to be done to even the playing field and give the inferior team a chance to win.  KSU just needs to take the risks to make those kinds of opportunities happen.

In short, Ron Prince needs to get BOLD and DARING, as per his mantra.  Playing it safe will result in a sure loss.

EMAW: Statistically, this game sets up like the Chiefs/Colts game a few years back when both were at their offensive primes. Neither team punted until late in the fourth. Considering how strong both K-State and Tech's offensive numbers are, I wouldn't be surprised if neither team's punter saw the field more than 2 times each. However, I don't feel our offense will keep up as well.
PJ and TB pretty much took the words out of mouth by stating that KSU will need to blitz Harrell like a pack of dogs on a three legged cat. I don't feel the K-State defense will win by sitting their linebackers and waiting for Harrell to throw an incompletion, interception, or a 3 yard pass. As we've found from Mike Leach's system, he uses the short 3-4 yard pass the same way another team would use a fullback dive up the middle. Ron and Tibesar (update your resume!) will have to bring at least 5 defenders every play. And this can not be the same type of effort that we saw against Louisville where it looked like our guys were hitting a brick wall. Maybe they've been working on some different blitz schemes that will actually force Harrell to make a quick decision.
K-State's cornerbacks will be hindered by the suspension of Gary Chandler, but this squad can still man-up and try to shut down a strong Tech receiving corps. I would do as PJ stated, man up on the receivers and put one safety back to defend the deep ball.

Offensively, the Cats just have to find a way to run successfully on 1st or 2nd down. They need to establish the run to set up the 3rd and short situations in order to keep drives going. They will run the risk of getting blown out by 40+ if they are left with 1 minute possessions after a quick 3 and out, which will put the dangerous Tech offense out on the field too many times for us to keep up.  A big play here and there will also be needed (defensive or special teams most likely) as we've seen from the previous Texas miracles.

TB: A couple things I noticed in the replies.  First of all, PJ brought up Prince's "bold and daring."  I've noticed that what we typically have associated with the B&D strategy, notably trick plays, has been conspicuously absent this year.  Yes, we've faked two punts at absolutely insane times -- both in our own territory, one right before half, the other in the fourth quarter -- but the double reverse, the running back lined up at quarterback, and of course the halfback pass have been MIA.  I don't want the halfback pass to become a regular part of our offense, but having Lamark Brown throw the ball at some point might be a good idea.
I'd also like to see Freeman running the ball a few times.  Put him back in the shotgun and run a QB draw.  Run a QB draw from under center.  Run the option with Lamark.  It forces the Tech defenders to tackle a big guy and their DC to plan for something else.  One of those "little wrinkles" that can be very effective.
As far as Tech's offense, Shannon Woods scares the bejeebers out of me.  Like, literally, in the sense of I have nightmares of him running around the field in Bill's House without anyone near him, a one-man procession to the end zone.  Our linebackers absolutely have to tackle well, or at least the first guy needs to hold up the ballcarrier until he can get some help.  Our guys may not, well, are not very good tacklers, but once you get four or five guys trying to tackle one guy, the odds turn in your favor.
Finally, a word about PJ's proposed defensive alignment.  I love it in the sense that I think it's our only chance, but I think the safety who is in "Cover 1" should be given specific orders not to let Michael Crabtree get behind him, ever, under threat of scholarship removal (kidding, of course).  As good as Josh Moore and Blair Irvin are, Crabtree will abuse man coverage, even if they do a good job of jamming him at the line of scrimmage.

PJ: If you yank away the safeties scholarship, it's not a big deal; most of them are walk-ons turned scholarship players (i.e. Andrew Erker).

Regardless, reverses need to be run this game.  To Deon Murphy, Brandon Banks, and Hell, line up Lamark at wide receiver and let him run one.

Also, I like the idea of running the option with Freeman and Brown.  That's almost five hundred pounds out on the edge against a linebacker or safety in contain.  I like the odds there.

Tech is going to get their yards, and I still think any field goal that they are forced to kick is a victory.  We're going to need to make our stand in the red zone more often than not.  The key is to keep Tech from scoring outside of the red zone, and do our best to force turnovers and hope we can respond in kind when Tech scores.

EMAW: he optimistic part of me thinks (hopes?) that Prince has held back a few plays until conference play. Yes, he could have pulled out a one or two when we needed them against Louisville, but I think he knew he still had games against an unproven Tech team and the juggernaut that is OU. I wouldn't be surprised to see a double reverse to Murphy, Lamark throw the ball down field, or any number of other B&D plays. Honestly, though, I don't think one or two of those plays will turn the tide for us unless it happens to come at a pivotal moment when we need momentum, or late in the game.

Two quick points after reading PJ's post.
1.) The QB draw out of shotgun (with Lamark lead blocking, yikes!) should become a staple in our play book that is run 5-7 times a game (if not more, if it's successful). Freeman isn't the quickest cat in the litter box but he is tough to tackle and could at least get back to the line, especially with LB meeting an LB in the whole.
2.) The long scoring plays could spell doom, ala '05. I still have nightmares of Tech receivers out-jumping our CB's for a 40 yard gain or score.

PJ: I'll concur with EMAW about Freeman not being the quickest guy on the field, but I wholeheartedly agree; he should have at least 5-7 engineered draw plays a game with Brown in the backfield.  However, I still think they should run the option at least 3-5 times a game.  The combined size of those two is enough to at least get 3-4 yards provided someone doesn't completely blow their assignment.  If you get a guard pulling with them to the play side, you're looking at 800 pounds of force on a linebacker/safety/corner combo.  That's size you can't ignore.

I'm going to just concede that Tech will move the ball at will.  This defense just isn't good enough to dictate what Tech can and can't do.  I mean, honestly, there are a handful of teams (if any) that can do that.  They just need to keep them from scoring touchdowns.  Be it via turnovers, forcing field goals in the red zone, etc.

Kansas State has to win the turnover battle to win this game, and I think it has to be at least +2 for that to happen.  K-State needs to turn mistakes into points, and they need to score on long, sustained drives.  We can take points on quick strikes, but Tech is just going to respond in kind.  KSU really has no choice but to run, run, run the football and hope to God that they drain enough clock to prevent Tech from scoring 40+ points.

To me, forty is the magic number this week.  If KSU can keep them under forty, they have a chance.  If they allow Tech to score more than forty, I just don't think they can hope to win an old-fashioned shootout.  I can see a 42-38 win or something like that, but there's just no way KSU can win a 49-45 game or something like that.  They just aren't talented enough, and they aren't coached well enough to get into a back-and-forth with Mike Leach and Texas Tech.

This has to be the most disgusting mismatch in the entire conference season.  Mike Leach vs. Tim Tibesar is a tragedy waiting to happen.  It's like watching watching Albert Einstein debate physics with Homer Simpson (if such a thing could happen).

Seth: This is a short question and is a result of my ignorance of K-State's offensive scheme more than anything else, but last year, Texas Tech had an awful time covering the Oklahoma State tight end, Pettigrew I think.  In any event, KSU's tight end has shown to be a fairly capable receiver.  Is he the type of guy that can do some damage in the passing game?  OSU exploited the linebackers and Texas Tech paid dearly.  Is that something that KSU regularly does, utilize the tight end under the middle and does the KSU have the ability to break a few plays.

It will be interesting to see if the blitzes work.  I thought that last year in the Gator Bowl, Virginia (back when they were pretty good) was a 3-4 team that brough some serious pressure (i.e. Chris Long) and the Texas Tech offensive line held, for the most part.  The problem that I've always thought that team have in getting pressure, unless the linebacker or end is incredibly fast, is that because of the wide offensive line splits it's awfully hard for a speed rusher to get to Harrell before he can get rid of the ball. 

Texas Tech will not kick field goals, which will make for an exciting game.  The Texas Tech kicker is a freshman and he has ssstttrrruuugggllleeeddd.  If the ball is inside the 25 yard line then he might try a field goal, but anything beyond that, he'll go for it on 4th down.  It will be 7 or nothing for this offense.

TB: Yes, Freeman will look for his TE, Jeron Mastrud.  Mastrud is no Pettigrew, but he's a solid option catching the ball.  Somehow he got loose in Louisville's defensive backfield and turned a short catch into a long touchdown.  It is something, along with commitment to the running game, that could help K-State put some points on the board.
Our blitzes probably won't work very often, but we just don't have a choice.  We simply won't get any pressure on Harrell with three down linemen, so we have to take the chance.  Our victories over Texas the last two years were built, in (large) part, on beating the piss out of Colt McCoy to the point where he was either hurt or didn't want to stand in the pocket anymore.  Harrell's an experienced QB, and our crowd is not what it used to be.  Bill's House by itself will not intimidate him like it might have in 2003.  We have to knock him down.

PJ: I'll second TB's thoughts on Mastrud.  He's a big, sure-handed target that won't get behind you unless there's a serious coverage breakdown.  I can only think of a handful of occasions where he actually got behind the defense and gained heavy yardage.  If Mastrud is accumulating significant yardage, it's because Freeman's gone to him about ten times.  In 29 appearences for Kansas State, he's had 50+ receiving yards three times.

If what you're saying about the kicker is true, this inspires more hope for me.  I honestly think that KSU has to make their stand inside the 20 for most drives, and if the kicker loses some confidence at the start of the game, things could get interesting.

On the flip side, and I hope I don't jinx him, but our kicker, Brooks Rossman, is nails.  If he's inside the 40, nine times out of ten (or more) it's money.