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Kansas State Football: Creating Match-Ups

The Texas Bowl still has some things to teach us about what Collin Klein can do with his offense.

NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-LSU at Kansas State Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, the high in Athens, Georgia on Wednesday is going to be 78 degrees. That’s been the low most of the summer. My summer of sweating 24 hours a day has almost reached its conclusion, and that means college football is right around the corner. If you need another sign, it took me 30 minutes to get across town today instead of the 15 minutes it has taken me the last three months (40K students hitting town at the same time isn’t ideal for traffic). For some, that would be distressing, for me, it’s another sign that my Saturdays will be exponentially more enjoyable in the near future.

In celebration of the imminent breaking of our college football fast, let’s look at some more film from the LSU game. Last week I showed you how Collin Klein used the versatility of Deuce Vaughn and Sammy Wheeler to help create space for a crucial Phillip Brooks 4th down conversion. The play I’m looking at today is the touchdown pass from the same drive.

What I enjoyed most about Klein’s play-calling in the Texas Bowl was his ability to create and exploit favorable match-ups all over the field. The offense featured Deuce Vaughn, but it wasn’t completely Vaughn-centric. Deuce is an elite talent for certain, but Klein’s willingness to spread the ball around, and not continually force the ball to Deuce, should create more space for him in the long run. If teams want to deploy their resources to stop Vaughn, Klein is willing to use his other play-makers.

This is a much appreciated change of philosophy.

Finding Match-Ups


Black Circle: WR - Malik Knowles
Blue Circle: WR - Phillip Brooks
Pink Circle: RB - Deuce Vaughn

Blue Box: Defensive Line
Purple Box: Field Linebacker
Orange Box: Boundary Linebacker
Yellow Box: Boundary Slot Corner
Red Box: Boundary Corner
White Box/Black Box: Free Safety

*Note: I messed up the free safety box colors. It’s a PITA to go back and fix them in the new editor, and it’s not that important to the play.


This is a creative and unexpected formation from Klein. You don’t think of Kansas State as a 4 wide team, but they are lined up 4 wide in 10-personnel (1 RB, 0 TE) on 2nd and 10. On the previous play Sammy Wheeler was lined up as a detached tight end on the field side. Now he’s lined up as a wide receiver on the boundary. Kansas State transitioned from 11-personnel to 10-personnel without having to substitute. They have two wide receivers stacked to the boundary (short side) and two stacked to the field (wide side). The quarterback is in the shotgun, with the running back lined up next to him on the boundary side.

LSU is in a 3-3-5 defense. They are playing man coverage across the board with a single deep safety (white box). They are walking the field side linebacker up to the line of scrimmage to blitz and holding the boundary linebacker to cover Deuce Vaughn (good luck with that).

The conservative offensive philosophy in the past would usually dictate a hand-off on this down and distance. Pick up what you can on 2nd down, keep the team in field goal range, and try and try to convert on 3rd down. The worst that can happen is you have to attempt a field goal.

This is not the previous offensive philosophy, this is pure play calling aggression.

Post Snap

On this play, I’m mainly focusing on the field side receivers (blue circle, black circle) and the running back (pink circle). The boundary receivers are important, because they are holding the safety (black box) on the boundary side of the field, but they are decoys. The action I’m interested is going down on the field side.

The wide receiver stack at the bottom allows Klein to dictate his match-up. He wants LSU’s big corner (red box #25, 6’2”) matched-up with smaller and quicker Phillip Brooks (blue circle, 5’7”) and the slot corner/safety (#4, 5’11) matched up on the more physical Malik Knowles (black circle, 6’3”). They achieve this by crossing the trail receiver in the stack (Knowles, black circle) behind the lead receiver (Brooks, blue circle).

The defense is blitzing two linebackers on this play. The middle linebacker, and more importantly for Kansas State, the field side linebacker (purple box). This means the middle of the field is wide open.


Bringing Knowles (black circle), behind Brooks (blue circle) has the desired effect. The slot boundary corner (yellow box) picks up Knowles and the boundary corner (red box) picks up Brooks. Klein has created a size advantage for Knowles and a quickness advantage for Brooks. This isn’t what LSU expects from these two receivers, in general, Knowles is the guy running deep, and Brooks is the guy working the short middle from the slot.

Deuce (pink circle) steps up into the pocket, in what looks like pass protection. LSU’s boundary linebacker stays at home. In some defenses, he would be allowed to blitz once the running back steps up into pass protection, but Vaughn is too dangerous and can slip out of the pocket at any moment. At this point, Kansas State is picking up an extra blocker while simultaneously occupying a linebacker.

At the line of scrimmage, LSU is firing their middle linebacker into the line and isolating their field side linebacker on the K-State left tackle, in hopes of winning with a speed rush.

The deep safety (black box) is hanging out on the boundary hash.

Drag and ....

The key to this play is the open middle of the field. If LSU is playing zone with their linebackers, the boundary slot corner (yellow box) doesn’t have to worry about the drag route from Knowles (black circle), because he’s got help inside, and the receiver will be running into coverage. Since LSU is blitzing, he’s on an island with one of the most electric wide receivers (based on his kick return ability) in the nation, with the ball in his hands. He has to chase the drag route at full speed.

Brooks (blue circle) is clearing out the sideline by going deep. The boundary corner (red box) picks him up in man coverage. Brooks is responsible for running him out of the play.

The offensive line, from the left guard over, is in position to pick up the blitz. They’re forming a wall of humanity in front of Skylar. The left tackle (Cooper Beebe) is responsible for blocking the blitzing field side linebacker (purple box) on his own. He has to hold up to give this play time to work.

Deuce (pink circle) is in position to chip any LSU lineman that manages to squeeze through the wall. The boundary linebacker (orange box) is defending the boundary hash mark and hoping he doesn’t have to chase Deuce.

The deep safety is deep, and presumably (my kingdom for the All-22 video) still on the boundary hash.


I almost feel bad for the LSU defender (yellow box). Malik (black circle) slams on the brakes and runs a pivot route. The defender is chasing the drag route full speed because he doesn’t have any help at that level of the defense, and there is no way he can stop and restart as fast as Malik. This is now a footrace to the sideline, and Malik has a three step headstart.

Brooks (Blue circle) is still driving his defender deep. The boundary corner (somewhere behind the red box) is showing how much he respects Brooks and his ability to get deep by bailing hard in coverage. This means the sideline is wide open for Malik.

The field side linebacker (orange box) is still fixated on Deuce (pink circle) who looks to be leaking out of the backfield late.

Coop Beebe is pushing the speed rush from the field side linebacker (purple box) up the field and not letting him have the corner. That’s a 4*, 200ish pound linebacker he’s up against, and Beebe is shutting him down. The rest of the line is holding up fine 4-on-4.

The deep safety (black box) is still deep and on the boundary.

Burnt Crispy

The pivot route requires the wide receiver to pivot hard and face the line of scrimmage. Knowles (black circle) runs it to perfection. Notice how his defender (yellow box) is still facing the boundary sideline while Knowles is already squared up and getting ready to attack the open space underneath Brooks (blue circle), who is still pushing deep. His defender (red box) is out of the picture. Knowles pushing the drag route hard before the pivot is crucial on this play. The closer to the middle of the field he gets, the more room he’ll have towards the sideline.

Deuce (pink circle) is sneaking out into the flat, and the LSU boundary linebacker (orange box) is in hot pursuit.

Skylar is looking at the boundary, but he’s going to snap his head around in a second and find Knowles. It’s possible that Knowles is his second option, but I personally thing this is set up too well for Knowles not to be his primary. He’s set up just outside the boundary hash, which is holding the deep safety (black box) on the boundary hash.


Malik (black circle) has his defender (yellow box) in jail. He’s already turned and heading toward the sideline. His defender is still trying to put on the brakes.

This is where having a veteran quarterback like Skylar is important. There is a clear running lane in front of him. Beebe has the field linebacker (purple box) still trying to turn the corner a yard behind the quarterback. The rest of the line has the LSU front blocked up. Skylar can take off and pick up an easy 10 yards, but he trusts the play and stays in the pocket for the potential of a bigger play. Adrian Martinez will need to show the same patience this year. I’m sure that’s something the coaching staff is working with him on in fall camp. He has protection for the first time in his college career, and he has to trust it.

Deuce (pink circle) has worked his way out of the pack and is heading to the flat on the boundary side. The boundary linebacker (orange box) is praying that the ball doesn’t go his way as he sprints to try and cover.

Wide Open Spaces (room for the LSU defender to make a big mistake)

This is a tough throw across the field by Skyalr, and this is a tough catch for Knowles. It’s important for this throw to continue leading him to the sideline, but if Skylar put too much on it, it’s going to be a well designed play that ends with an incomplete pass. Malik has to reach up and catch it while still moving towards the sidelines. A lesser athlete might trip over his feet on the catch, but Malik is an elite athlete. The corner is trying to close, but he’s still 2 yards behind and 4 yards up-field. At this point, he’s worried about making the tackle, not breaking up the pass.

Just a play-maker making plays.

Malik has the ball, he’s running full speed, and is getting his shoulders turned. He has nothing but open space down the sideline, and one man to beat.

Hit the Gas!

The LSU defender has a decent angle to try and make the tackle but Malik is accelerating. He erases angles on kick returns, and he’s about to do the same as a receiver. Again, this is Collin Klein getting his elite playmaker in a one-on-one situation and letting him make a play. That’s why I love watching this game film.

Angle Erased

All the LSU defender can do at this point is slap at an ankle and hope Malik trips. If he can keep his feet, Malik has nothing but green grass in front of him for 20 yards. The play design has emptied out the sideline. Brooks has pushed is man into the end zone and the deep safety is trying to run the play down from the opposite hash.

Into the Great Wide Open

You can catch a glimpse of the LSU boundary corner in the top corner trying to get and angle on Malik and take him down at the 5.

Subtle but Effective

This is what Malik Knowles lives for on the football field. He hits the corner with a subtle inside juke and throws him off balance. The defender makes the tackle if Knowles continues down the sideline, but the corner is worried he’s going to cut back inside because of the slight fake. As you can see, this isn’t the ideal body position to attempt to make a tackle.

Ready to Launch

The fake inside gives Malik enough space to take off from the 4 yard line and dive for the end zone. The defender is already committed to diving ankle grab while Knowles is still on his feet. The boundary safety is just flashing into the top of your screen. Normally he would be in a better position to make a play, but because Skylar was on the boundary hash when he threw across the field, the safety was also on, or outside, of the boundary hash. That’s a subtle aspect of this play that makes the difference between a good play and a great play.

Max Effort

This is a bowl game. Basically an exhibition. There are plenty of receivers that would step out at the 4, avoid contact, and be content with a big play. Malik didn’t come to make a big play, he came to score a touchdown. He launches himself down the sideline and extends the ball (which is always risky) to the goal line. If you’ve ever questioned Malik’s competitive desire, this play provides the answer. He’s willing to risk life and limb for EMAW, even though no one would blame him for stepping out of bounds.

This is how you finish a play and make a statement.

In Conclusion

The Kansas State wide receivers have taken some flak over the last few years, but if they can stay healthy, Knowles and Brooks could be one of the more dynamic combinations in the nation. We’ve seen what they can do on kickoffs, now it’s time to see what they can do from the line of scrimmage with more room to operate.

This play is also why I think Adrian Martinez will thrive in the Kansas State offense if he can remain calm. The blocking is going to hold up. For the first time in his career, he will be able to stand in the pocket, concentrate his attention down the field, and not worry about getting cut in half by a backside rusher.

You don’t have to take my word for it...

This K-State team is loaded with experienced, dynamic play-makers at the skill position. If you get them in space, they can turn a 5 yard pass into a 20+ yard touchdown. I can’t wait to watch it happen on the field.

See y’all soon. Stay safe. This is shaping up to be a fun season of football.