All season long, people have suggested that K-State develop more of a vertical passing game. I could never argue that it wouldn't be a great addition to an often predictable offense, but I was more skeptical than most about even trying it when we had a quarterback who couldn't seem to find any accuracy on deep throws.
If you would have asked me before the game last Saturday, the only positive thing I could have said about the Honey Badger's long bombs was that he was prone to overthrowing more than underthrowing, and as a result almost never got picked off. If you're going to make a pass uncatchable for your receiver, it's nice to at least make it uncatchable for the defender, too.
Then late in first half Saturday, something weird happened. For the first time all season, the guy
running throwing the football for Kansas State made two downfield throws in a row that were caught by his receivers.
For the season, Klein had thrown more than two completions for 23+ yards in a game only once against a real defense, and against an admittedly weak-but-not-awful aTm secondary, he did it on back-to-back plays. By the end of the day, a quarterback who had thrown 9 passes of 23+ yards all season (3 vs. KU) had five of them on one windy afternoon, and I found myself wondering yet again if perhaps Snyder was right all along.
The most incredible part of the performance, in my mind, was that he needed every one. Snyder's turnover voodoo apparently ran out, and his special teams voodoo was injured (we miss you, Tyler). But thanks to Klein's usual running heroics and stunning passing performance, K-State managed to overcome a -2 turnover margin and getting outgained by 71 for yet another improbable win as an "underdog."
Is there any way Bill Snyder and his coaching staff didn't smile when Vegas made Texas 9-point favorites this week?
As a disclaimer, I should note that not all of my skepticism about Klein's arm has been erased, as I still believe in small sample sizes. Plus, he still has a troublesome inability to convert quick outs and slants, which the coaches seem almost afraid to call at this point because of his bad habit of staring down his primary receiver.
Not even Saturday's deep balls were great, though some more could have been if aTm's defensive backs hadn't been cheating so much. If Klein had hit a wide open Sheldon Smith late in the fourth, overtime never would have happened, and he should have had his longest touchdown pass of the season to John Hubert in the fourth quarter had he not.....oh, right, that pass was so perfect Hubert decided to let it bounce off his chest.
Nonetheless, to call this performance encouraging would be like calling ESPN's ongoing college basketball marathon a kind of cool idea. K-State already averages 208 rushing yards per game. Can you imagine what it could do if defenses have to respect a deep threat?
In fact, it was so enjoyable to watch the ball sail through the air and actually land in the hands of Wildcat receivers that I've taken the time to chronicle each pass and give it a letter grade. Hit the jump if you're interested in following along.
The 23-yard completion to Tramaine Thompson on 1st and 10 from the KSU 40 wasn't really all that impressive and didn't seem like a harbinger of things to come at the time. Sure, Klein did a decent job of lofting it in between the two defensive backs on the corner route, but the pass was thrown at least half a second too late.
Perhaps the best part of this play was that Thompson, who hasn't been heard from much this season, read the zone and the pass well enough that he was able to stop and make a decent catch at a time when K-State's offense was just getting warmed up. GRADE: C-
Whatever was lacking from the previously play, Klein made up for it with this astonishing 34-yard completion to Travis Tannehill on 1st and 10 from the aTm 37. Other than his poor accuracy, Klein's biggest problem this season has been holding onto the ball too long and as a result, getting sacked even more frequently than poor Sam Bradford this season.
He has made some more accurate throws than this one for the season, but none of them came while running to his right after he eluded what looked to be a sure sack. Tannehill was in the right spot along the sideline, and suddenly we had a new highlight for the end-of-season package. GRADE: A
Klein's third deep ball of the day was a fairly routine 46-yard completion to Chris Harper on 2nd and 14 from the KSU 24, taking advantage of a 1-on-1 matchup with a receiver who is really good at outjumping or outmuscling defenders. The only thing was, it's a pass he hasn't been able to throw accurately all year.
When he hit Harper down the sideline with a pass so good that even a blatant pass interference couldn't stop it from being caught is when I first started to realize this was going to be a special day for Klein's arm. GRADE: A-
K-State's deep stable of solid wide receivers started to show itself here as Curry Sexton caught a 27-yard pass on 3rd and 10 from the KSU 20 on a play where anything less than a first down would have been unacceptable. The accurate throw over the middle showed Klein and the coaches were really getting comfortable with the vertical passing game, but somehow didn't alert the aTm defensive backs that they should be aware of the deep ball. GRADE: B+
As a result of the Aggies inexplicable indifference, Harper ran right on by everyone for a 53-yard touchdown on 1st and 10. The pass was far from perfect, but that's probably because Harper was so open Klein had the ability to be a little careful and still be assured of an easy touchdown for his top receiver.
It was truly beautiful that Klein's longest pass of the season went for probably his most important passing touchdown, at least since the Eastern Kentucky game. GRADE: B