This Year, Let's Party Like It's 1999

Look back farther if you want to compare Bazooka Joe to another KSU Quarterback - Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Joe Hubener took the backup quarterback spot last year, everyone assumed that Kansas State would revert back to the 2011 offense, which was highlighted by Collin Klein ramming into the back of his offensive line around twenty-five times a game.

It's fair to make that assumption for a couple of reasons. First, Hubener physically resembles Klein in a lot of ways. They're both tall, lanky, and good North/South runners. Second, up until Saturday nightt, we've seen KSU use Hubener in a similar fashion; a lot of power QB draw plays designed to chew up small chunks of yards and large amounts of clock simultaneously.

However, if you look beyond the physical comparisons (which is really the laziest thing we can do), and see how the 2015 offense shapes up, it looks more like a version of the 1999 K-State offense that featured Jonathan Beasley, an assortment of running backs, and a couple of athletic receivers complimented with a few "hands" guys to pick up the slack.

In 1999, Beasley took over for Ring of Honor inductee, and arguably the greatest player in KSU history, Michael Bishop. Bishop had a bevy of physical talents that you simply couldn't dream of replicating in succession, and the offense that the Wildcats were able to run in 1998 wasn't feasible with a less athletic, albeit more heady quarterback. Therefore, KSU went from a dynamic, multi-faceted attack that featured an electric, dual-threat rushing/passing offense, focused on the trio of Bishop, Darnell McDonald, and Eric Hickson, to a more dispersed offense that featured four running backs, two primary receivers, and a dual-threat QB who didn't really run for a lot of yards or throw for a very good completion percentage.

When people remember Jonathan Beasley, they think of someone that had a strong command of the offense, a big arm, and the ability to gain yards on the ground. However, in 1999, his stats were very underwhelming by today's standards:

  • 90/203 (44.3%), 1805 yds, 8.9 Y/A, 14 TD, 7 INT, 134.9 pass rtg
  • 105 rushes, 227 yds (2.2 avg.), 8 TD
Most people would look at that line today and consider it a failure. However, the KSU defense was so good, and the special teams so exceptional, that KSU was still able to make it to a 10-1 regular season with a win against Washington in the Holiday Bowl to wrap up another eleven win season.

So, why am I making the comparison between Beasley and Hubener (specifically), and the 2015 KSU Wildcats as a whole?

Well, it's easy.

So far, after one game, it's fairly apparent that Joe Hubener has two things: a big arm, and the ability run with the same sort of effectiveness as Jonathan Beasley.

Hubener, in his limited career, has not been known for pinpoint accuracy. It's very clear when watching him that he puts a ton of smoke on his fastball, but he has challenges when asked to place a ball in a small window. Saturday night, he was 9/18 for 147 yards. In his defense, a couple of easy gains were dropped by Kyle Klein and Kody Cook, the latter of which would have been a long TD pass. However, some of that can be attributed to his line drive throwing style. While more nuanced deep ball throwers know how to put just enough under the throw so their receivers can more easily catch it, Hubener's velocity and straight line passes make it more difficult for the receiver to pull it in, which is similar to Beasley's challenges back in his early days.

To be clear, this isn't a knock. If you look around college football, and the Big 12 in particular, I'd challenge you to find 15-20 more QB's that can throw a far hash out route with more velocity than Joe Hubener. But Kansas State can't build an offense around just line drive throws, especially when the wide receiver corps isn't going to be confused for an all-hands team.

So, what can be done about this? Well, if you look back to 1999, one of the key components of the offense was to stretch the defense with Beasley's arm on deep throws to Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett, where pinpoint accuracy was less important, and then continually gut punch defenses with a five-headed rushing attack of Joe Hall, Beasley, Frank Murphy, David Allen, and Eric Gooden. All of these rushers had over 37 carries on the year, with Joe Hall getting the lion's share of 121 carries. On average, this meant that each of these rushers averaged between 3-10 carries per game. Not one single rusher took the reins, but each of them took turns in various formations to help KSU gain 2,038 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns during the 1999 season, which contributed to scoring 38.1 points per game.

If you compare the rosters, you won't see another Quincy Morgan, but Deante Burton has the speed and athleticism to help stretch the field. His acrobatic touchdown catch in the endzone proves that he can get separation and make a defense pay. It's way to early to compare Dominique Heath to Aaron Lockett, but there are some similarities there. In 1999, Lockett was a sophomore, and while undersized, he had tremendous speed and elusiveness to help get strong yards after the catch and stretch the defense because you had to respect his speed. Heath is shaping up to be the same kind of receiver, and his strong showing on Saturday night is proof that he will be a key component of this offense in 2015. The combination of Kody Cook, Kyle Klein, and Stanton Weber is relatively comparable to Martez Wesley, George Williams, and Brandon Clark. None of them had memorable numbers (17 catches between them in 1999), but they did provide some diversity in an otherwise limited passing attack where it was clear that two receivers were head and shoulders above the rest.

As far as rushing is concerned, if you take out the QB rushes of Ertz and Delton (who came in as the backup QB after the game was far out of reach in the fourth quarter), KSU spread 36 rushes between Hubener, Justin Silmon, Charles Jones, Glenn Gronkowski, and Winston Dimel. A five-headed rushing attack where no one had less than two rushes, but no more than nine. Sound familiar?

Beyond that, if you look at Hubener's stat line from Saturday night, and combine that with last season, a pattern begins to emerge:

  • 18/31 (51.4%), 382 yds, 10.9 Y/A, 2 TD, 1 INT, 156.3 pass rtg
  • 38 rushes, 185 yds (4.9 avg.), 3 TD
Hubener can shoot for a 50% completion percentage with a high yards-per-attempt to stretch the defense and let the stable of rushers try to body punch the opposition, hoard time of possession, and attempt to take advantage of good field position provided by the defense and special teams, while letting a potential All-American kicker clean up whatever they can't convert into touchdowns.

So, in closing, the 2015 KSU Wildcats will most likely not win eleven games. The 1999 version had a top 5 defense and David Allen returning kicks. However, this year's team does have a solid defense, two excellent specialists in Nick Walsh and Matthew McCrane, and a strong kick return game that will keep them competitive in nearly every game that doesn't include TCU or Baylor. As long as the offense sticks to a diverse offense that utilizes the deep ball, focuses on their primary athletic receivers, and continues to distribute the ball on the ground to a committee of running backs in their appropriate formations, KSU shouldn't have any problems getting back to a bowl game and setting themselves up for another strong season in 2016.

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