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Breaking Down the Breakdowns: K-State vs. Baylor

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K-State’s defense was solid again in a win over Baylor. But let’s take a look at Baylor’s two long scoring plays.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

K-State’s defense mostly powered the Wildcats’ win over Baylor last weekend. The Bears were held to a field goal in the first half and averaged only 5.3 yards per play for the game, which is approximately the national average.

But the Bears kept the game within one possession in the second half thanks to a pair of scores on explosive plays. Let’s take a look at what happened on those plays. It will illustrate both what K-State does well on defense, and how it can be attacked.

K-State 20, Baylor 6, Third Quarter

Baylor faced second down and 10 yards to go from its own 26-yard line, down two touchdowns with less than four minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Bears line up in shotgun, with 10 personnel and 2x2 receiver alignment. K-State is in its base nickel formation, with Jayd Kirby showing blitz to the strong side. Safety Kendall Adams is in coverage against Baylor’s slot receiver to the strong side.

Kirby blitzes and has a free run at quarterback Zach Smith and running back John Lovett. Baylor’s line is blocking down and washes out K-State’s front. Trent Tanking, at middle linebacker, is reading the line’s action moving to his right and preparing to cover the play-side B-gap.

Kirby plays the run outside-to-in, as he should. But with Lovett’s speed, he’s too far upfield to play the cutback. Notice that Adams’ eyes are on the slot receiver, not in the backfield. Goolsby, the single high safety, is 12 yards deep with eyes in the backfield.

This is bad. Lovett beats Kirby on the cutback, Tanking has disappeared into the abyss of the B-gap, the line is fully washed out, and suddenly Lovett has a lot of space. Goolsby sees what’s happening and comes up in support, but…

…yeah, that’s not a good angle. As Barking Carnival would say, Euclid wept. The rest is academic.

Note that this is why you attach RPO concepts to your run plays and require the quarterback to carry out the fake each time. K-State’s secondary can’t crash the party without the fear of Baylor hitting a receiver with momentum and space ahead. Not that they’ve ever done that to us before.

K-State 27, Baylor 13, Fourth Quarter

Not quite five minutes of game time later, K-State has extended its lead to two touchdowns again. Baylor faces second down and 12 yards to go from its own 30-yard line.

Once again, the Bears are in 10 personnel with 2x2 receivers. Denzel Mims is split wide to the boundary. DJ Reed lines up over him, five yards off the ball. Adams is the safety to the boundary and bails deep shortly before the snap. Kirby has the slot receiver.

Kirby sits down on the slot receiver’s dig route, while Reed releases Mims up to Adams. This is a basic high-low read for the quarterback…

…and Adams makes the read about as easy as possible. Mims has caught the ball 10 yards downfield and Adams is nowhere to be seen. He’s back defending the unoccupied 50-yard line.

Buh-bye.

Takeaways

These plays both illustrate what K-State does on defense and how it can be countered.

Lovett is a three-star recruit from New Jersey, who chose Baylor over offers from Iowa, Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State and Tennessee. He’s good.

K-State mostly did a good job bottling him up on Saturday, limiting Lovett to 21 yards on his other six carries (3.5 yards/carry). Our bend-but-don’t-break scheme is highly effective when run properly, but athletes like Lovett require exact and consistent execution over the course of a game. Any mistake can be six against a back like him.

On the touchdown carry, Kirby probably should have played more conservatively against the cutback. Tanking was a little overly aggressive about filling the play-side B-gap, but the cutback wasn’t his job. And Goolsby would have cleaned up the mess with a better angle. That will improve with experience.

The Cats also did a good job overall against Baylor’s passing game. Smith was 26-44-1 for 291 yards, which is only 6.6 yards per attempt (5.8 yards/attempt with sacks factored in). But as with the run game, Big 12 opponents will have the athletes necessary to convert mistakes into touchdowns, and it’s really difficult to execute your assignments consistently over an entire game.

The good news is that Texas doesn’t have the offensive line or running backs to consistently turn these types of mistakes into big plays. Neither Chris Warren nor Kyle Porter are anything like Lovett, and the Longhorns’ offensive line is a M*A*S*H unit right now.

On the pass to Mims, you see the passing windows concept I harp on all the time. Tanking is dropping into the deep middle, and Kirby drops after Reed passes off Mims, to shrink the passing lanes. Smith will have to get any deep pass over them and underneath the safety. Unfortunately, the “underneath the safety” portion of the window here is wide open because Adams is almost 20 yards off the line of scrimmage.

Expect to see more of this concept on Saturday. Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson bears a concerning resemblance to Mims. Let’s hope Adams tightens up the top of the window a bit.