Welcome to the new era of Kansas State football. Smash mouth, grind it out, control the clock offense still has its place, but continuously playing in low scoring games keeps the opponent in the game, and puts your fate in the hands of outside forces. One tipped ball interception, one missed call by the officials, or one superlative play by the opponent, and a win can turn into a loss.
The Will Howard-led Wildcats are a pedal-to-the-metal outfit capable of scoring points in bunches...and if you told me I would be typing that sentence this time last season, I would be forced to stage an intervention. Coaches need to evolve. A ball control, grind it out offense got Chris Klieman the K-State job, but this season, he’s removed the governor down the stretch and let OC Collin Klein, Will, Deuce Vaughn, Ben Sinnott and the gang push the tempo and wear out the scoreboard. The offense you saw against Baylor is different than the offense you saw last year — in fact, it’s different than the offense you saw against Tulane and Iowa State. I’m not sure I’ve seen a team change their entire offensive identity over the course of a season, but that’s what I see when I look at the tape of the Baylor game.
1st Down, 5-Wide, No Huddle? Yes Please!
I could have selected any number of plays from last Saturday, but this one stood out to me for several different reasons.
First, it showcases the use of tempo and versatility. This play comes immediately after a Deuce Vaughn first down run. The Wildcats rush to the line, line up in a 5-wide set, and snap the ball 14 seconds after Vaughn is tackled. That’s takes incredible organization from the offense, and shows off Will Howard’s maturity as a quarterback. I assume Coach Klein called two plays in the previous huddle, and Will was able to relay that information to the team, get them lined up, and run back to back plays at lightning speed.
Red Circle - WR - Kade Warner
Blue Circle - WR - Phillip Brooks
Green Circle - WR - Malike Knowles
Yellow Circle - TE/WR - Ben Sinnott
Purple Circle - RB/WR - Deuce Vaugn
Orange Box - Middle Linebacker
Black Box - Field Linebacker
Purple Box - Corner
Ben Sinnott (yellow circle) and Deuce Vaughn’s (purple circle) versatility are on full display here. Vaughn rushed from the tailback spot on the previous play, gets tackled, jumps up, and heads out to play wide receiver. Sinnott led the blocking charge from his tight end position, crunched a linebacker, sprinted back, and lined up as a wide receiver in a 4-man bunch.
This is K-State’s empty or 00-personnel package (0 RBs, 0 TEs). 14 seconds ago they were in 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE). They didn’t sub anyone off, allowing them to play as fast as they want. If Baylor attempts to sub, they do so at their own peril, because the Wildcats don’t have to wait to snap the ball. Sinnott is lined up as the lead receiver in a 4-man bunch to the field side, Brooks (blue circle) and Malik (green circle) are the wings, and Deuce is the trail receiver. Warner (red circle) is isolated as the boundary receiver.
Baylor lines up in a strange version of a cover-4. They drop four defensive backs deep, in a typical quarters look (each DB is responsible for their quarter of the field), but they keep a corner (purple box) in man coverage with Deuce. They drop the boundary linebacker (I’ll show you that in a moment), and blitz the field linebacker (black box), leaving the middle linebacker in zone coverage.
Will’s first read is the field side linebacker (black box). If he drops into a zone, it changes the play completely (as shown by the arrows). If he blitzes, the play to Deuce is open. If he drops, he drops right into the slant, and Will has to look elsewhere (probably to Sinnott). He blitzes, opening up the slant for Deuce (purple circle).
Ben Sinnott (yellow circle) is the other player to watch on this play. His route is going to open up space for the underneath route. I’m going to assume that Deuce is the primary read, and Sinnott is the secondary on this play, because Will waits for Deuce, even though it appears that Ben is also open. No reason to come off your first read, when you’ve got exactly what you want.
I’ve highlighted a new player on the Baylor defense. This is somewhat of a zone blitz, they brought the field defensive end (black box) and dropped the boundary defensive end (green box). I assume his job is to undercut any boundary out route, essentially bracketing Kade Warner, which again, is not a sentence I thought I would ever type. They’re giving Kade WR1 treatment on this play.
One thing I want y’all to notice is the corner (purple box). He’s forcing Deuce to the inside with his body position because that’s where he’s supposed to have help from the linebacker, but Sinnott has that help occupied because he’s attacking the deep middle. The Baylor corner is pushing Vaughn into a giant hole in the defense. That’s not ideal, but that’s not on the corner, he’s playing this correctly, but the play design has removed his help.
Protection + Clear Out
Nothing matters on this play if the protection doesn’t hold. Baylor is trying to beat right tackle Christian Duffie with an outside speed rush while the rest of the line is stoning the Baylor front. Duffie doesn’t have any help, it’s one-on-one, and he has to beat the Baylor linebacker (black box) to the edge or Will is going to be in trouble.
Elsewhere, Ben Sinnott (yellow circle), is coming open on the on the corner route. Keep in mind though, this is a tough throw over the retreating linebacker and in front of the safety, just off screen. This could work, but it could also get Sinnott blown up by the safety. On top of that, the Baylor safety is in perfect position to pick off any sort of overthrow, and that’s a possibility because Will has to get it over the dropping linebacker.
The safe route is the underneath route. As I mentioned above, the corner (purple box) is ushering Deuce (purple circle) into the middle of the field, but his help (orange box) is bailing out to cover Sinnott. The slant is wide open.
This pretty much the same slide. I won’t spend much time on it because everything I said in the previous slide applies to this one. K-State is attacking the center of the field at two different levels with the Sinnott corner route attacking the space between the linebacker and safety, and the Deuce slant route attacking the space between the linebacker and the defensive line.
Easy Money / Great Protection
I doubt you’ll ever see Deuce Vaughn (purple circle) more open than on this slant route. The only player in position to defend the pass is the middle linebacker (orange box) but he has his back turned and is trying to cover Sinnott (yellow circle, out of frame).
Look at this pass protection. In fact, print this out, frame it, and show it to all your friends when they come over to the house. This is beautiful, a true work of art. Christian Duffie beat the end to the corner, and has pushed him past Will Howard. If Will wants to take off, he’s got plenty of room to pop out the backside and pick up 7 or 8 yards. Instead, he shows his experience, hangs in the pocket, and lets the ball do the work.
Again, this is pretty much the same shot as the previous slide, but Will has released the ball. Notice how no one on the Baylor line is anywhere close to him? That’s the way a 5-man line is supposed to block a 4-man pass rush.
Will delivers a perfect strike to Deuce (purple circle). This is tougher than it seems because Will is a 6’5” quarterback throwing to a 5’6” receiver. You can tell how much they’ve worked together in practice, because this could easily be an overthrow.
Deuce is contained after the catch, and gets taken down right at the line to gain by the trailing corner, but what I find funny is the rest of the Baylor defense. Klein has them so discombobulated, three Baylor defenders are protecting the same 5-yard box, while Deuce picks up an easy 10 yards in front of them.
You can’t draw up a better play against this defense, and you couldn’t call it at a better time. Folks, I think the Wildcats have something special on their hands in terms of play calling, and Klein is only going to improve with experience. Just as important, Coach Klieman is giving Collin the opportunity to transform the offense. None of this happens if the man in charge doesn’t allow it to happen.
Some coaches are stubbornly set in their ways — the great ones adapt as the game changes.