K-State fell to 2-2 with last week's 31-21 loss to Texas. The Wildcats have now played four games, have rotated between two quarterbacks, and still haven't figured out who or what they are. Other than not having a good defense, that is.
Part of K-State's problem was the hole it dug itself against Texas. The Wildcats trailed, 17-0, before getting on the board just before halftime. The two teams played to a 14-14 draw in the second half after K-State settled on quarterback Jake Waters, but the first-half hole proved too deep. Like the North Dakota State loss, K-State's loss was all the more frustrating because a slightly different result on two or three plays could have changed the outcome. It's like 2011, but in reverse.
How did Jake Waters play? K-State fans are proving that there's no more popular person on campus than the backup quarterback. That's perhaps a little more understandable when that backup is Daniel Sams, and also when we still don't know how good Sams can really be, because he hasn't been given the chance to throw the ball yet.
But Waters, buttfumble turnover aside, played pretty well against Texas. He threw for 263 yards (including sack yardage) on 19-29-0 passing. That's 8.8 yards per attempt and a 42.8 percent Success Rate. That's not a great Success Rate, but it was a little better than K-State's overall 39 percent Success Rate. And if Sams can complete this kind of pass consistently, well, then why aren't we seeing it?
Playing right into Texas' hands: K-State's primary problem on offense is that it won't commit to an identity that fits either quarterback. Based on the game film from Texas' losses to BYU and Ole Miss, K-State's coaches likely thought quarterback Daniel Sams could run wild on Texas, defensive alignment be damned. But keep in mind that Texas fired Manny Diaz, its defensive coordinator to start the season, after the BYU game. While Greg Robinson is much maligned, and for good reason, he has his strong points.
Robinson did exactly this against K-State. He played mostly man coverage against our wide receivers and consistently used an eight-man front to stop K-State's rushing attack, conceding a record receiving day to Tyler Lockett to make sure Sams, Hubert and others didn't gash Texas for easy ground gains. It worked, and K-State played right into his hands.
Daniel Sams took eight snaps and started strongly, picking up 41 yards on his first four carries. Texas came around to the idea that he wasn't going to throw at about that point, and his next four carries netted only seven yards. On the first play of the second quarter, K-State had a first down at its own 39 yard line. Sams kept the ball on a read option and was stuffed for no gain. This would have been the perfect time to take a chance off play action. A deep throw would have caught Texas off-guard. The worst-case scenario is an interception, which would've been no worse than a punt. If we're not going to trust Sams to throw the ball in the middle third of the field against a defense that expects nothing but run, then when will we?
While we're talking about adjustments... We made none on defense when Case McCoy replaced David Ash for the second half. Zero. This would be understandable if McCoy were an adequate replacement for Ash. He's not. His own fans recognize this.
Sadly for Texas, Ole Miss did the halftime math. Turns out that 8 in the box + zero slack given on short throws = no chance when your QB doesn't have a D1 arm. Nkedimeche and a collection of 3-star recruits and white DBs clamped down on a punchless Texas O in the second half as Mack's gross mismanagement of the QB position came into razor-sharp relief.
Or how about this from Barking Carnival's Ole Miss full postgame recap?
Ole Miss' early treatment of the Texas offense played right into our hands as they allowed Case to do what he does best, quickly read the defense and make short throws and hand-offs to fantastic athletes operating in space. They played a lot of very basic Quarters coverage with soft cushions on all our receivers.
Nope. We had no clue.
After Ash was re-injured, McCoy entered the game to hand the ball off and throw for a couple of easy conversions against KSU's passive defensive alignments. As with Ole Miss in the first half in Austin, I'm not really sure why opposing DCs don't implement the Case Rules the minute #6 jogs on to the field. Do these dudes scout at all? Presumably, Iowa State will do that? Because I don't expect to see David Ash against them.
Dorrian Roberts is fast developing a reputation as the easy mark on the playground. He was burned deep on Ash's first-half play-action strike to Kendall Sanders. Either he never recovered from that trauma, or our defensive coaches didn't scout Texas. Given that McCoy played the entire game against K-State in Manhattan last year, you'd think we know what he doesn't bring to the table, but we didn't.
It's third and 10 and we're playing not to get beat deep? What in the hell is this?
I give up. We're just conceding first downs at this point.
More max protect: Our coaches apparently have little confidence in our five down linemen to protect Waters on passing plays. On 18 passing plays, we utilized seven blockers. On those plays, Waters was 10-15-0, 123 yards. That's the good news. The bad news is we still managed to give up three sacks even with that many blockers. Andre McDonald was repeatedly clowned by Jackson Jeffcoat, although why we had a tight end blocking one of the Big 12's best defensive ends is something else that defies explanation. There were times when it appeared Cornelius Lucas was tasked with helping McDonald against Jeffcoat, but Lucas played about as well as he has all year.
A new alignment! K-State debuted the Diamond formation against Texas. On six plays, K-State ran three times for 15 yards and passed three times, with one completion for eight yards. Waters picked up 14 yards on a quarterback lead on first down and completed a pass to Lockett for eight yards in the third quarter, also on first down. In this small a sample size, a 50 percent Success Rate probably isn't very useful, but it may be worth keeping in mind.
The quarterback running game: We've had a lot of discussion about the quarterback running game since this game ended. But let's evaluate Jake Waters based on real numbers, not the box score.
The box score will tell you Waters carried the ball 18 times for 26 yards. As usual, that's misleading. Four of those carries were sacks, and we've already counted them against the passing yardage. Three of those carries were scrambles, so they were called pass plays in which nobody was open or a rushing lane opened up. On these three carries, Waters gained 15 yards. And one was a quarterback sneak, which we'll also disregard for obvious reasons.
Even with this culling, Waters' stats aren't impressive. The coaches called 10 run plays that resulted in Waters carrying the ball*, and he gained 22 total yards. And 17 of those yards came on one carry. Our Success Rate on these plays was 30 percent.
*Stated that way because read option and speed option plays aren't necessarily designed runs for Waters. If we want to ensure that we cut down on Waters' carries, we'll need to call more straight handoffs or pitchouts to the running back. That eliminates the numbers advantage of a quarterback rush, but it's not like the alternative is setting the world on fire.
Before the season, we read that K-State wouldn't have to adjust its offense at all for Waters. What we've seen on the field confirms that the offensive coaches think they can pretty much run what they ran last year, with a slightly higher percentage of passing plays.
My observations tell me that Waters doesn't look comfortable on designed runs. He doesn't look comfortable carrying the ball in traffic. The primary basis for this observation was the buttfumble play, which looked like it would be a successful play -- even if it was a boneheaded call by the coaches at that point in the game -- until Waters lost his balance and fell into Cody Whitehair's ass.
Burnt Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts is a student of the game, so I asked him if he had observed the same about Waters. He disagreed that Waters seems especially uncomfortable with the quarterback run game, and believes he's athletic enough to keep defenses honest. But Wescott noted that he's not suited to running an offense with a lot of designed quarterback runs. Basically, Waters is best utilized as an off-schedule runner, catching the defense by surprise when they expect a pass and drop back into an umbrella, or on a read option when the defense overcommits to John Hubert.
Though the examples below are from a speed option rather than a read option, they illustrate this point. On the first play, Waters does a good job of making the defender commit to his assignment before pitching the ball to Hubert.
But on this play, Waters doesn't force the defender to commit to his assignment on the option. It would've been a perfect place for a fake pitch before Waters turned upfield. He still would've only gained a couple yards, at best, but it would've been better than the six-yard-loss that resulted.
Conclusion: At this point, the defense pretty much is what it is. We're not going to get any pressure with our front four, and we don't have a ton of athleticism in the secondary. So we're going to have to try and form an umbrella, swarm to the ball, and hope we can force our opponents to beat us with long, sustained drives. Death by a thousand paper cuts. Yay.
This strategy could work if it prevents big plays and our offense commits to an identity. At this point, I couldn't care less whether we go with Waters or Sams at quarterback. What matters is that the coaches commit to an offensive system that actually works for whomever they choose.
Daniel Sams is an awesome athlete. But he's not going to consistently beat any Big 12 defense that commits eight defenders to the box and isn't concerned in the least about him throwing the ball over the top. If the choice is Sams, then K-State can stick with a more equal run-pass distribution, but it will have to pass the ball.
If it's Waters, then we need to commit to a 2:1 passing-to-rushing ratio, and only use Waters in the running game as a change of pace. Waters shouldn't carry the ball on designed runs more than five times per game. The preseason belief that Waters could be a consistent rushing threat was apparently built by looking good against our defense. As we've seen, that isn't much to write home about.
Thanks as always to BOTC's Derek Smith for creating the GIFs for this post.