A few months ago, BOTC's Derek Smith emailed me about writing a post celebrating the 10th anniversary of K-State's 2003 Big 12 championship. He ran with it, and you'll see the outstanding result of that idea tomorrow.
Earlier this week, Derek suggested that I apply the Charting concept to the 2003 game. So I did. On Tuesday night, I sat down to watch and chart the first half of the game I had attended in person nearly 10 years ago. In doing so, a realization hit me.
I have never watched the replay of this game.
This game was the biggest sporting highlight of my four years at K-State. I stood between my roommate, Dave, and a 65-year-old school superintendent from a small town north of Manhattan and watched K-State destroy the undefeated Oklahoma Sooners. At the time, I was a 20-year-old kid who understood the basics of football and little more. Now, I'm going to take what I've learned from reading and writing about football extensively over the last five years to see if there's anything interesting to learn about the 2003 game.
As you might have guessed, the game has changed. Earlier this year, we argued at length over whether Jake Waters or Daniel Sams should play quarterback. Those supporting Waters pointed to Chad May and Bill Snyder's prior success with a passing quarterback. The opponents pointed out that the game has changed too much since the early 1990s to make a valid comparison.
Oklahoma showed some flashes of the modern offense that is commonplace today. The Sooners lined up with five wide receivers eight times, and with four wide receivers another 28 times. Of course, a good part of that was because the Sooners trailed by at least two touchdowns for almost two-thirds of the game. And late in the game, when Paul Thompson replaced Jason White, Oklahoma ran a couple zone reads.
For its part, K-State lined up with Ell Roberson under center three-fourths of the time. The Wildcats also ran a play I'd almost forgotten about, which was basically a quarterback trap with Roberson taking the snap under center and then running a sweep around end.
Imagine a zone read play with Roberson and Darren Sproles, running behind that K-State offensive line. That would be just about unstoppable
The pace was surprisingly similar to what we see today. K-State ran 61 plays in the game. Oklahoma ran 83. But both teams huddled before every snap.
Speaking of similarities...K-State's 2003 defense has a lot more in common with the 2011-13 K-State defenses, at least philosophically, than it does with the late-1990s K-State defenses. In 2003, K-State had a lot of solid athletes that fit perfectly well into its defensive system, but were not future NFL stars like Mark Simoneau or Terence Newman or Darren Howard.
Consequently, K-State ran probably the most aggressive bend-but-don't-break defense ever seen. Linebackers like Ted Sims and Bryan Hickman could take the beating dealt out by teams like Nebraska and Colorado and their punishing rushing attacks, while Josh Buhl had the speed to cover the field against spread teams like Texas Tech. That's not to say that Buhl wasn't one tough hombre. He could play the run, too.
But more on point. Re-watch the game sometime (it's available on YouTube if you don't have a DVD). There are plenty of examples, but we'll just stick with one. In the second quarter, Oklahoma drives to K-State's five-yard line. Jason White has Will Peoples open in the back of the end zone and floats a pass toward him. But K-State linebacker Ted Sims gets a hand on it, deflecting it incomplete. That was huge, because on the next play, James McGill intercepted White in the end zone.
This is what we mean when we talk about windows. It's not just whether there's a defender running stride-for-stride with the receiver. It's about the defenders between the quarterback and the receiver, over whom the quarterback has to throw. It's about the defenders behind the receiver, in front of whom the quarterback must place the throw. And it's about the defenders to the receiver's sides, who can slide in and defend the pass.
By making those windows as small as possible with seven defenders, you force a quarterback to throw very accurate passes repeatedly. Most quarterbacks can't do it, and it leads to drive-killing incompletions and the occasional interception. K-State defensed 11 passes against Oklahoma, and intercepted White twice.
To quantify the bend-but-don't-break principle ... Oklahoma had two sustained drives in the game. In the second quarter, an 11-play drive covered 85 yards and almost four minutes on the clock. And 21 of those yards were on K-State penalties. That drive ended with McGill's interception.
In the third quarter, it got even worse for Oklahoma. The Sooners started with the ball on their own 10-yard line. The drive covered 14 plays. So it ended in a touchdown, right? Wrong. Those 14 plays covered only 79 yards, and Trey DiCarlo missed a 28-yard field goal attempt. Even worse, with the Sooners already trailing, 21-7, the drive ate up almost exactly seven minutes. While Sims' interception was the metaphorical dagger, this drive and K-State ensuing touchdown drive -- nine plays, 80 yards, almost five minutes, and a touchdown -- sealed the Sooners' fate.
By not giving up big plays and forcing Oklahoma to patiently drive the length of the field, K-State maximized its chance of beating the Sooners.
Of course, that defense was flat-out stout against the run. Excluding sack yardage, K-State held Oklahoma to 64 yards on 20 carries. Take out Kejuan Jones' 42-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the game, and that's 22 yards on 19 carries.
K-State was almost shockingly inefficient on the night. The Wildcats' Success Rate against Oklahoma was only 27.9 percent. To put it mildly, that's not very good. And yet, K-State won by four touchdowns. How? Big plays and a defensive score. Sproles had four plays go for 55 or more yards, Roberson threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to James Terry, and Ted Sims intercepted a pass and took it to the house. That will make up for a lot of inefficiency.
The Wildcats were also very conservative. Gary Danielson mentioned on the broadcast how Snyder was not going to take chances on Roberson making a mistake deep in K-State territory. It showed. K-State attempted only 17 passes in the game, with only five thrown when the Wildcats were inside their own 30-yard line. Four of those five passes were thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. The only exception was Roberson's 33-yard strike to Antoine Polite, and that was in the fourth quarter with K-State already ahead 28-7.
A stat I had completely forgotten about. Ell Roberson's passing line on the night: 10-17-0, 239 yards, four touchdowns. That's 14.1 yards per attempt. And four of those completions were for less than 10 yards.
This isn't (necessarily) statistically based, but ... the next person who compares any incoming K-State recruit to Darren Sproles, even with the "poor-man's" modifier, will be banned immediately. There is nothing like Darren Sproles on this earth. His feet, vision, balance, and burst are not traits you'll find in anyone else. Even if you're a poor-man's version of that, you're not that.
Take some time in the next few weeks to enjoy that cold December night. Maybe you were lucky enough to be there, like I was. Maybe you were in Aggieville, or at someone's house in Manhattan. Maybe you were with friends in Kansas City, or Wichita, or Smith Center. Or Texas or Florida or California. Whatever the moment was to you, it was the greatest single night in K-State sports history. Watch the game replay. Watch the highlights. Watch any one of the great video tributes to Bill Snyder and K-State's football renaissance under his guidance.
This is one of those moments that will always be special to K-State fans. I got to experience it that night with one of my best friends and an old man who had watched countless K-State losses, and who, for decades, couldn't have dreamed of K-State even playing for a Big 12 championship at Arrowhead Stadium, much less destroying a team like Oklahoma.
For whatever reason, I have never gone back and relived that moment. This being before cell phone cameras and widespread digital cameras, I don't even have a picture from the stadium that night. Yet it's one of the few things in my life that I will always remember with the clarity of something that just happened yesterday. Maybe I just didn't feel the need to relive something like that.
But I can tell you that when I did relive it, I loved it. I got chills all over again. I laughed at what Bill Snyder said in his postgame interview. So whether you've seen it one time or more than 100, go see it again.