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Kansas State vs South Dakota - Grading the Offense

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It wasn’t pretty, but at least it ended well

Cactus Bowl - Kansas State v UCLA Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

I’m in a bit of a unique situation. I’m writing about Kansas State, but I’m not a die hard fan. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy when K-State wins, but I just don’t have the emotional involvement. I haven’t lived and died with the Wildcats like I have with Clemson (my alma mater) or Purdue (my dad’s alma mater). I own 1 Kansas State shirt and only have a vague notion of the machinations involved in the Wabash Cannonball.

I hope I can bring a set of fresh eyes to the football coverage. I’ll try and tell you what I see, what I like, and what I don’t like. I don’t want to be overly critical, but at the same time, I have no problem being critical when it’s merited.

Here are my notes and grades from Saturday night,

1st Half

Offensive Line: C

Scott Frantz had trouble with DE #44 Darin Greenfield. Greenfield dipped the shoulder, got low and turned the corner on Frantz on several occasions. Greenfield is apparently one of the better defenders at the FCS level, but I wasn’t expecting him to dominate. Frantz had serious issues with the speed rush.

The rest of the blocking wasn’t consistent. It looked good on one play, and then South Dakota would get a big push on the next play. To be fair, South Dakota was showing no respect for the K-State passing game. I saw a few instances where they played press man on the receivers, put a deep safety in the middle, and essentially played a 7 man defensive line by the time the ball was snapped. The offensive line had a hard time figuring out what to do with the extra defenders and turned a couple guys loose. I’m not sure either quarterback helped out with pre-snap protections.

Running Back: D

Barnes had a tough first half. He looked sluggish to me. He was a step slow through the hole on a few occasions where I thought he had an opportunity for big yards. When he got a chance in the open field, he couldn’t make anyone miss. He also put the ball on the ground twice. Warmack looked more explosive on his one decent run.

Wide Receiver/TE: D

South Dakota’s defense thinks they match up well with the K-State receivers, and so far, they’re right. Dalton Schoen dropped 2 passes, including what would have been a beautiful touchdown pass by Alex Delton. Tight End Nick Lenners also dropped a wide open touchdown throw from Skylar Thompson. The inability to catch the ball has taken 8 points off the board and sucked the life out of the stadium. If Lenners and Schoen make those two touchdown catches, this is a totally different ball game.

Isaiah Zuber was the bright spot for the Wildcats’ receiving corps and appears to be staking his claim as the lead receiver. He hauled in 3 catches for 43 yards and more importantly, seemed to have the energy and enthusiasm lacking from the rest of the team. Zuber looked excited to be on the field.

Quarterback: D

Alex Delton: Yikes, if Delton wanted to come out and show his improvement as a pocket passer, he failed miserably. He locks on to receivers and doesn’t see coverage. He should have been picked twice on short routes where he just sort of looked at the primary receiver the entire time and threw the ball with no regard for the coverage. The Pick 6 at the end of the half has particularly egregious. He didn’t see the middle linebacker sitting in his throwing window.

Although his passing still leaves much to be desired, you saw flashes of what makes Delton at threat. His running ability is still elite from the quarterback position, and you saw that on the run he busted. He’s also much better in the zone read because the defense fears him as a runner. Unfortunately, he still took two hits that he should have avoided. He just can’t help himself when he sees a safety, he’s got to try and run him over.

Skylar Thompson: Thompson has not been good in the zone read game. South Dakota is crashing down, and he’s still handing the ball off. The Barnes fumble is almost a shared fumble because Thompson made a terrible read and handed the ball to Barnes even though the defensive end was keyed in on Barnes. Skylar just doesn’t look comfortable making decisions at the mesh point and is looking for any excuse to hand the ball off.

Skylar looks much more comfortable running quarterback power. He made a nice run to set up one of the field goals. He saw the blocks and made a decisive cut. He’s much better about not taking on the safety. Get what you can get and then get down.

Thompson’s throwing accuracy is generally considered one of his strong points, but he’s been a little off all game. He airmailed Schoen on one play and was low on a few other throws. While Lenners should have caught his pass in the endzone, Thompson could have made it easier by not throwing it behind him. Skylar needs to be significantly better in the passing game, and so far, it’s been mixed results.

2nd Half

Offensive Line: B

Much better in pass protection in the 2nd half. Both Thompson and Delton had ample time to get rid of the ball, even on deep routes. Frantz handled the speed rush much better in the 2nd half.

The line wore down South Dakota as the game went along. The interior of the line picked it up and started finding 2nd level blocks after being stuffed most of the first. Barnes was able to find more room to run and wasn’t having to fight through arm tackles at the line of scrimmage.

The only issue I saw was a lack of push on short yardage. When it came time to fire off and gain a tough yard, South Dakota did a pretty good job of holding the line.

The 2nd half was what I was expecting all game. The only reason this isn’t an A was the difficulty on short yardage.

Running Back: B-

Barnes was much better in the 2nd half. He was hitting the hole with more authority and easily picking his way through the 2nd level of the defense. I didn’t think there was any way he was breaking 100 yards after his 1st half performance, but an 80 yard 4th quarter put him over the century mark. Barnes put the team on his back and helped grind down a tired South Dakota defense.

We need to talk about fumbling, though. There is no way an experienced back like Barnes should put the ball on the ground 3 times in one game. The only chance South Dakota had at the end of the game was for Barnes to put the ball on the ground, and he obliged. I’m sure ball security will be a big talking point in the running back room this week.

I would also like to see him become a bigger threat out in the passing game, because both Thompson and Delton could use and easy check down, but that’s still a work in progress for Barnes. He just doesn’t look like a natural receiver.

Wide Receiver/TE: B-

What a no good, lousy day for Dalton Schoen. After dropping a touchdown in the 1st half, he dropped another possible touchdown in the 2nd half. He not only dropped it, he tossed it into the air for the safety to intercept. It was a weird, “Yes, Yes, Yes....NO....WAIT! WHAT?” moment in the game.

Isaiah Zuber almost single handedly pulled this game out. His punt return was electric and breathed life back into the stadium. After giving the Wildcats new life with his punt return, he scored the game winning touchdown on a great catch as he was running the back of the endzone. I’m not sure K-State pulls this out without Zuber.

Quarterbacks: B-

Alex Delton: Alex can’t see linebackers and it’s going to limit his opportunities to play if he can’t figure out what they look like soon. Delton started the 2nd half and should have been rung up for another interception when he tried to throw a late slant into bracket coverage. There is no way he saw the underneath linebacker and still decided to throw the ball, so I assume he just didn’t see him. This is exactly what happened in the first half, except it led to a pick 6.

I will say that Delton’s deep ball looks somewhat better, although he still struggles to throw the ball across the field from the far hash to the opposite sideline. When he can step into a throw that’s in front of him, he’s able to put decent touch on the ball. I still question his overall arm strength because DB’s are able to break on his passes, but I’m not sure that’s something he has much control over. It appears that he doesn’t physically have the ability to throw the fast ball. His mechanics look OK, but the ball floats out of his hand instead of coming out on a line.

I don’t want to seem like I’m attacking Delton too much, because he once again showed his elite running ability. He’s deadly on the quarterback power and makes good decisions in the zone read game. He had 12 carries for 78 yards, which is exceptional production from a quarterback.

Skylar Thompson: After two stalled Delton drives to start the 2nd half, Thompson came in and led the Wildcats to victory down the stretch. He looked more confident in the zone read game and pulled the ball on occasion. He would still rather hand it than pull it, but at least he’s showing teams that he’s willing to pull it if necessary (although I guarantee Mississippi State is going to play the hand-off all the way).

Thompson showed what he really brings to the table in the 4th quarter, coming through with 3 clutch completions, including a bullet touchdown pass to Isaiah Zuber. He is able to put effortless velocity on the ball when he can step into a throw.

My only complaint in the 2nd half was his accuracy on short passes. It looks to me like he can’t decide if he wants to throw the fastball or float the ball in to the receiver and instead, does neither. He has the arm and the accuracy to make those throws, but he tends to short-arm stuff. That needs to continue to improve.

Overall: D

Don’t panic just yet. That was a poor performance, but some weird stuff went down. I doubt you’ll see another game where the Wildcats drop 3 touchdown passes, commit 13 penalties, lose 2 fumbles, throw 2 interceptions, including a pick 6, and have a punt return called back.

I also wouldn’t worry too much about the game plan. It looks like the plan going in was to keep things simple and not give away too much for the Mississippi State game. That plan almost backfired. I didn’t see any of the creative RPO’s from Delton or Thompson that K-State utilized so well at the tail end of last season.

So, crisis averted, but it’s going to need to look much better next week if the Wildcats plan on knocking off the physical defense of Mississippi State.