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Charting the Waters: Iowa State

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K-State needed a late touchdown drive to escape Ames with a 32-28 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones. BOTC goes beyond the boxscore to analyze what happened.

David Purdy

It looked like a promising early season would come crashing to a halt last weekend in Ames. K-State started fast, jumping to a 13-0 lead that easily could have been 21-0, as it looked like we'd see a repeat of last season's blowout win.

But Iowa State had other ideas. While K-State lost focus and racked up false start penalties and missed tackles, Iowa State hit the gas. Jarvis West hauled in three passes for 38 yards on ISU's next drive, Morgan Burns committed a bad pass interference penalty, and 85 yards later, the Cyclones were on the board.

Still, K-State was ahead a score and Iowa State hadn't come close to stopping the Wildcats offense yet. But after a first down, Jake Waters was sacked twice, threw an incomplete pass, and K-State had to punt. Approximately 21 Wildcat defenders overpursued West, who happily motored through empty space to put the Iowans ahead.

And then things got weird. Another scoring drive -- again aided by a 15-yard penalty -- and a double-reverse pass thrown by West to the back of the end zone put the Cyclones up two touchdowns, and K-State looked dazed. This was the point where worry set in with me, not because I didn't think K-State could score 30 on Iowa State, but because at that point the Wildcats hadn't done anything right for more than a quarter of game time.

But Jake Waters and the Wildcats offense calmly rolled 84 yards in 64 seconds for a score. The importance of this drive can't be overstated, and if K-State hangs another Big 12 championship banner this season, we'll look back at that drive as a big reason why. Admittedly, it was probably helped by a questionable call on Lockett's reception near the goal line, but you take a bit of good luck where you can (and remember that one next time you feel compelled to complain about the officials having it in for K-State).

While K-State didn't score in the third quarter, neither did ISU, setting the stage for K-State's fourth-quarter heroics. Let's get into the numbers, the takeaways, and the tactics.

The defense wasn't that bad. No, seriously. Yes, we gave up 14 more points and 66 more yards to Iowa State than did NDSU. But again, NDSU is pretty good.* But ISU scored a touchdown on a punt, another on a gadget play, and averaged only 4.6 yards per play. The national average last year, per Bill Connelly, was 5.8 yards per play.

*Pretty good, full stop. Not pretty good for an FCS team. Not pretty good with any qualifier. Pretty good.

That doesn't mean it's all roses with Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Auburn on the way to Manhattan. K-State's tackling was atrocious in the second quarter and only a little better in the second half.

Tackling is as much about focus and effort as anything, and K-State's coaches have shown over the last few years that they can teach fundamental tackling ability to their players. So I can write that off as losing focus after building an early lead. This is much more troubling:

Give Mangino credit. The guy can design and call plays. On ISU's last scoring drive of the first half, he knew K-State would drop back into an umbrella, so he had Richardson dump it over the middle to Aaron Wimberly for 18 yards. Then he went for the jugular with the gadget play. He has a good sense for when to do that.

Jake Waters saved our ass. And Collin Klein probably gets an assist. I won't impute the rantings of a few to the entire fanbase, but Waters still seems underappreciated considering what he's done. Here's his line from Saturday, then adjusted for sacks (removed from rushing attempts and yards, subtracted from passing yards), scrambles (removed from rushing yards, added to passing yards)

  • Passing: 16-29-0, 239 yards, 8.2 yards/attempt, 0 TDs
  • Passing (adjusted): 16-35-0, 259 yards, 7.4 yards/attempt, 0 TDs
  • Rushing: 20 carries, 138 yards, 6.9 yards/carry
  • Rushing (adjusted): 15 carries, 118 yards, 7.9 yards/carry

Fifteen is still more carries than I'm comfortable with Waters averaging per game. We need to find a chance to rest him when possible, but that's not going to happen with Auburn coming up. The vanilla offense in blowout wins, if there are any left on the schedule, needs to involve as few carries and scrambles for Waters as possible.

But while that's too many carries, damn if Waters doesn't look a ton more confident running the ball. He's setting his blocks up more patiently and finding the creases really well. A lot like K-State's assistant recruiting coordinator/director of defensive quality control used to do. I'm sure there's no correlation there.

Wrinkles, we got wrinkles. Playing a tight conference game in Week 2 probably required the coaching staff to show more of its wrinkles than it wanted to. We'll take a look at a couple of them.

Iowa State was pretty disciplined against the POP pass K-State put on film a lot last year. The Cyclones jumped on the first one and Waters tossed it to Trujillo for a 32-yard gain. But after that, by my count, ISU forced Waters to keep the ball on four POP pass plays by staying back on the pass options.

So what do you do when the linebackers and safeties hang back even as Waters approaches the line? Use their hesitation against them. On designed QB draws, Waters is doing a good job of keeping his eyes downfield, giving the POP pass look, holding the linebackers and safeties and so his linemen can get downfield and give him room to run.

Also, we know Tyler Lockett is deadly with the double-move off Waters' pump fake, a play K-State used to set up its first score of the day. But Lockett is even more difficult to cover now after showing a double-move comeback route in the second half against Iowa State.

Lockett reads that the defender did not bite on the pump fake, so he turns back, knowing that Waters is looking at the same thing. With this kind of chemistry between Waters and Lockett, opposing defenses can choose to die death by the sword (big plays) or death by 1,000 paper cuts. Lockett was also instrumental in the late first-half scoring drive on similar concepts, using his big-play ability to force defenders deep, then settling down for an easy nine-yard gain along the sideline.

Wildcat usage. Morse requested an analysis of how and where K-State used the wildcat formation, and I have complied.

K-State lined up in the wildcat formation six times, ran each time, and gained 21 net yards. That's only 3.5 yards per play, but two of those were touchdown runs from only four yards out. K-State lined up in the formation on the following yard lines (numbers greater than 50 indicate K-State's territory), and the number in parentheses indicates the yardage gained or lost on that play: 4 (4), 52 (10), 85 (3), 51 (-1), 76 (1), 4 (4).

K-State also showed a sweep look from the formation, but it was not very successful. On four plays run between the tackles, the offense gained 21 yards. On the two plays run wide, we netted nothing.

One final point about the running game. K-State was more successful running the ball from "spread" formations. When I say spread formations, I'm using that a little loosely, because true spread teams don't use a fullback. With K-State, we can more or less consider the field spread when the combination of backs and wide receivers totals five (i.e., no TE). In true running plays -- no scrambles, no sacks, no QB sneaks, and no victory formation plays -- here are K-State's rushing numbers from tight and spread formations:

  • TE in game: 21 carries, 118 yards, 5.6 yards/carry
  • No TE: 11 carries, 92 yards, 8.4 yards/carry

The numbers aren't bad from the tight sets, but K-State makes more big plays by spreading to run.

If you're interested in anything else, let me know in the comments and I'll answer as time allows.