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Charting the Waters: K-State vs. Oklahoma State

K-State fell to 0-2 in Big 12 play with a 33-29 loss to Oklahoma State. BOTC goes beyond the boxscore to break down what happened.

Richard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

Over at Football Study Hall, Bill Connelly gave this game the beyond-the-boxscore treatment. The result showed a game whose Success Rate and Points-Per-Play margins were amazingly close. Oklahoma State tallied 30.7 EqPts, to 30.4 for K-State. That breaks down to a per-play rate of 0.47 for Oklahoma State and 0.46 for K-State.

And yet, the projected points margin based on the advanced-stats boxscore was Oklahoma State +24.4. Why is that? In a word, turnovers. K-State was -24.2 in Turnover Points Margin. And that included a turnover by Oklahoma State that was worth 4.2 EqPts.

So how did K-State hang close in this game? Two things. Good defense for the first 54 minutes of the game, and a little good luck. And by good luck, I mean the blocked field goal that flew right into Kip Daily's hands, enabling a long return for a touchdown. The close result certainly wasn't based on anything K-State's offense did. The Wildcats scored only 22 points on offense.

K-State is lucky it didn't get buried in the third quarter. After starting the second half with a solid touchdown drive we'll discuss later, K-State turned the ball over on three straight possessions. Two of these turnovers came in K-State territory. The Cowboys scored six total points off these turnovers, which allowed K-State to hang in the game, down 23-21 going to the fourth quarter.

Zone read to start the second half. K-State went 79 yards on 11 plays to score a touchdown on its first drive of the second half. Four of those plays were zone read or variations thereof (zone stretch). Those four plays, three of them handoffs to John Hubert, picked up 24 yards. That's nothing gamebreaking, but it shows the potential effectiveness of the zone read with Daniel Sams and John Hubert. If Sams makes the proper read -- and most defenses will key on Sams -- then the zone read to Hubert can be effective in keeping K-State on schedule.

Mostly a solid defensive effort. For 54 minutes, K-State held Oklahoma State to 26 points. While the Cowboys are suffering a talent deficiency on offense, K-State pressured Walsh, forcing two passes that could have been intentional grounding, tipping three passes at the line, and sacking Walsh once.

One area where K-State has struggled on defense this year is against five-wide sets. This isn't a huge surprise, because it forces our linebackers to play pass coverage in space, which is not their strong suit. Several times this season, teams have motioned to five-wide formations shortly before the snap, pulling K-State's middle linebacker out of the middle of the field, then attacking the vacant middle of the field to convert on important downs.

Against Oklahoma State, K-State adjusted and kept a linebacker in the middle of the field against five-wide formations. The results were solid. On 11 plays out of 00 personnel, Oklahoma State was 5-11-0 passing for 72 yards (6.5 yards per attempt). K-State needs to sustain this improvement against Baylor, who will most certainly spread the field.

Guess who got beat on the Jake Waters sack/fumble? I'll give you a hint. He wears No. 78.

What can we really expect from Daniel Sams? One game is still too small a sample size to draw any definite conclusions. Let's start with factors that mitigate in his favor.

First, Oklahoma State has a solid defense. The Pokes rank ninth nationally in defensive S&P+, and 25th in Passing S&P+. It's the best defense K-State has faced this year.

Also, Sams completed a reasonably high percentage of his passes without Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. There's reason to believe having those two on the field will help Sams complete more passes and for more yards per attempt.

Now, all that said, Sams' performance was not outstanding. It wasn't great. It wasn't even all that good. K-State scored 22 points on offense, gained 336 total yards, with a 39.4 percent Success Rate and 0.46 points per play. Even assuming the Wildcats should score more against most teams because they have worse defenses, that's not going to get it done. It wasn't enough to get it done against an Oklahoma State team that's a mess on offense right now.

It's pretty clear why Sams didn't earn the starting job before the season. He isn't bad throwing the ball underneath, but it doesn't look like he's very good at reading coverage, going through progressions, and throwing the ball downfield. Here are his pass breakdowns by yardage the ball traveled in the air:

  • Behind line: 2-2, 4 yards
  • 0-10: 10-11-1, 137 yards, 1 TD
  • 11+: 3-8-2, 40 yards, 1 TD
Not a single one of Sams' passes that were intercepted was thrown into less than double coverage.

Beyond that, Sams turned the ball over four times, three times on interceptions and once on a fumble. In fairness, I've disregarded Waters' interception that bounced off Torrell Miller's facemask, so I'll disregard Sams' fumble that should've been overturned by replay. Even given that, K-State was -18.41 EqPts on Sams' turnovers. Jake Waters' worst game this year in Turnover Points Margin was -9.86, against Texas.

While I've resigned myself to K-State turning over the offense to Sams and letting him learn from his mistakes, I'm far from thrilled with it. A few relatively simple adjustments could make Jake Waters effective in this offense. Furthermore, if we're going to assume that Sams will learn from his mistakes and eventually limit his turnovers, then there's no reason to believe Waters can't do the same.

I disagree with Pan on this point. Waters is in his first season at this level, and there's nothing inherent about K-State's offense that causes him to turn the ball over. As he gets more comfortable with the speed and reading the defenses at this level, there's reason to believe he'll make better throws and turn it over less. Notice I'm disregarding Waters' fumbles here. That's because we've already conceded that he shouldn't run the ball more than five times per game, plus scrambles, and because I think fumbles when a quarterback is hit while throwing are not completely the quarterback's fault.

The counterargument is that Sams could become Ell Roberson. That, in fact, Sams in 2013 is like the 2001 version of Roberson. Both are/were sophomores. Both were athletic, but prone to making costly mistakes. Fair points.

But a word of caution to those who believe Sams can turn into Roberson, Roberson I tell you. Statistically, Roberson wasn't really all that good. In fact, statistically Sams is already better than Roberson in 2003, turnovers aside. Even in 2003, Roberson barely completed more than 50 percent of his passes. Those passes went for 8.1 yards per attempt, which would be less with sack yardage subtracted. He managed a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, which brought his career ratio all the way to 1.4:1. And Roberson ran for 975 yards that year on 227 attempts, which is 4.3 yards per carry. That would increase by controlling for sacks, which I can't do.

Roberson did all this running and passing behind a line that included Jeromey Clary, Nick Leckey, and Ryan Lilja. These guys have played a combined 25 years in the NFL thus far. Leckey was a Rimington Trophy finalist. He had some guy named Darren Sproles at running back. Yeah, the Darren Sproles who gained almost 2,000 rushing yards in 2003, and nearly 5,000 for his career, has been in the NFL for 10 years now, and is considered one of the most complete offensive threats in the NFL. And defensively, there's only one member of the current defense -- safety Ty Zimmerman -- who I'm confident would start on that 2003 defense.

Look, I love Ell Roberson. He was fun to cheer for, because he was cocky confident, and on every snap there was a chance he'd make a big play. But don't forget that there was also a good chance he'd make a terrible play that resulted in a turnover. The point is that, from a results perspective, the only obvious difference between he and Allen Webb was the supporting cast.

All that probably brings us back to the same point. Jake Waters faces the same personnel limitations on this team that Daniel Sams does. Neither one by themselves is going to lift us above 7-5 this year. So if you want Sams to play because you like an exciting running quarterback and believe he could be the next Ell Roberson, then that's fine. But remember that, statistically, he's already as good as or better than Roberson. The person playing at quarterback is about fourth or fifth on the list of things that are concerning about this year's team.