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Kansas State Football: Why Did The Wildcats Stick With The Inside Run?

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K-State uses the inside run game as their jab, even if it doesn’t land, it sets up the rest of the offense.

Arkansas State v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Hey y’all, I watched the replay this afternoon because I wanted to answer a few questions, concerns, and gripes from the comment section of my Snap Reaction post on Saturday. Let’s get right to it.

Why Continue To Run Up The Middle?

Watching Harry Trotter slam into the back of his linemen for .75 yards a carry was frustrating. I get this complaint about the game plan. At the same time, I’ve got bad news for you. Coach Messingham and Coach Klieman will continue to dial up inside runs this season, even if they yield minimal gains.

I wrote an article this summer about how Manhattan could become a mecca for high school running backs. One of my major points was backed up on Saturday. The Wildcats will steadfastly try and establish the run, even if the run game isn’t working.

If the Kansas State offense was a boxer, the inside run game would be a jab. Even if it’s not landing, it sets up everything else in the offense. Obviously, it’s great if it’s landing, if you can jab your opponent into submission, the game is easy. On Saturday the jab wasn’t landing, but it was still effective in some ways.

Take Skylar Thompson’s first touchdown pass as an example.

Pre-Snap

K-State is lined up in I-formation with a running back, full back, boundary, field and slot receiver.

Arkansas State is lined up in a hybrid 3-4-4.

I’ve highlighted the key defenders on this play.

Red Triangle - Outside Linebacker

Yellow Square - Corner

Green Circle - Safety/Linebacker

Purple Square - Free Safety

Post Fake

This is what running the ball inside gets you. Skylar didn’t even carry out a good fake, but the defense still bit. Now it becomes a quick math game.

The fake holds the outside linebacker (red triangle). If you look at the pre-snap still, he hardly moves on this play. If Kansas State hadn’t gone with play action, he would be free to either rush the passer, or more likely, slide outside in his zone, cutting off the short outside route (blue arrow). The Wildcat’s reputation as an inside run team, and the subsequent run fake, neutralizes the outside linebacker. The play fake has removed him from consideration, giving Skylar an easy read.

The corner (yellow square) is stuck. He has Phillip Brooks running behind him, and Chabastin Taylor wide open in front of him. Since the play fake held the outside linebacker, and he can’t get outside to disrupt the easy pitch and catch, the corner moves up to stop the easy first down to Taylor.

Now the hybrid safety/linebacker comes into play. He has also bit up on the play fake, giving Skylar an easy math problem. He has 3 receivers and they have 3 defensive backs. As soon as the corner bites up, he knows he has Brooks (purple circle) 1-on-1 with the safety (off screen) and an easy angle on the corner route. He also has Malik Knowles 1-on-1 with the corner on the other side of the formation.

Touchdown

Brooks (purple circle) gets the safety (pink square) on his back with the corner route and all Skylar need to do (easier said than done of course) is deliver a strike to the sideline (orange box). If he makes the throw, there is nothing the defender can do to influence the play. This is an easy pitch and catch for the opening touchdown.

Why Did Trotter Continue To Get Carries?

This is the second part of the game plan gripe from last week, and I don’t have the answer. It’s always tough to weigh in on personnel questions because I’m not at practice. This is doubly true this year because it’s hard to known who has been available to practice at any given point in fall camp. All I can tell you is I trust the coaching staff to make solid player evaluations, and they’re seeing something from Trotter in practice that separates him Tyler Burns. That may change, or it may not. This is the sort of behinds the scenes thing where you either trust the coaches to make the right decision or you don’t. I trust Klieman and Coach Anderson to make the right call at this point in their tenure.

I can tell you that Deuce Vaughn is on a pitch count. At the end of the day, he’s still a 5’5, 170 pound running back. He’s good at protecting himself, but he’s not going to be the lead back this year, because it would be irresponsible to hand him the ball 20+ times at this point in his career. He’s also extremely limited in pass protection, which limits the playbook when he’s on the field. I expect a healthy dose of blitzes whenever Deuce is on the field. Defenses are going to sell out to stop him and make him prove he can pick up the blitz on any play fakes.

He’s going to be a great back, but he’s not a complete back at this point in his career.

In Summary

The reason this play works, even this early in the game, is because Arkansas State knows the Wildcats are committed to running the ball between the tackles. While the inside run game didn’t garner returns, it set up this touchdown, and played a significant role in the passing game throughout the game. To go back to my opening metaphor. Arkansas State was so concerned about the jab, they didn’t see the left hook coming behind it off the fake. Don’t expect the Wildcats to quit jabbing, but we need some of those jabs to start landing.

After going back over the film, my new gripe is that Messingham didn’t play out of the I-formation more often. Good things happened when a fullback was on the field against Arkansas State, and they rightfully didn’t respect Skylar as a running threat in the shotgun read option, neutralizing the run portion of the RPO.