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K-State Football: Questions Answered

Last week, Drew adjusted his preseason expectations and offered suggestions. Who knew someone would pay attention?

Kansas State’s quarterback Avery Johnson (5) celebrates his touchdown against Texas Tech in a Big 12 conference football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Avery’s hand looks really small on that helmet, doesn’t it?
Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sometimes I get things right.

Last week I wrote and article titled “What I Got Wrong”. In it I wrote about why I completely missed on my preseason evaluation of the offense and asked a few questions. Now, I’m in no way claiming that the Kansas State coaching staff read my article and decided to answer a few of my questions last Saturday. I’m sure this is all one big coincidence, and I certainly have no ability to change the entire course of the season with my GOD LIKE BLOGGING POWERS!

Anyways, let’s get started.

Questions Answered

“Why is Kansas State relying on Will Howard to move the ball with these receivers?”

In the article, I identify wide receiver as my biggest preseason miss. Collin Klein was trying to utilize the worst position group on the team to move the ball.

It made no sense to me.

I got an unexpected two-part answer to this question last Saturday against Texas Tech.

I was right to question the focus of the offense, because the coaching staff changed the focus of the offense against Texas Tech. Instead of utilizing the receivers against Tech, Klein leaned on pretty much every other position. They bludgeoned the Red Raiders with a 3 headed rushing attack and timely Ben Sinnott and Phillip Brooks receptions. Instead of leaning on their worst position group, they leaned on the offense line, which happens to be the strongest position group when they are allowed to run block.

What surprised me was the addition of Avery Johnson into the mix.

My initial question needed a follow up.

“Why is Kansas State relying on Will Howard to move the ball with these receivers?” still works, but it should have been followed by, “and if Kansas State is going to focus on running the ball, why not let your best running quarterback play?”

In a way, it’s sad that I’m surprised Kansas State made this move. It speaks to the overall stubbornness of college football coaches. I must confess, I lumped Coach Klieman into that group, and once again...

I was wrong.

I’ll talk more about Avery below; on to the next quote.

“After the Oklahoma State game, it’s clear a shift in offensive philosophy is warranted. I hope Klein takes this generic spread offense, throws it in the trash, takes the trash to the dumpster, then sets the dumpster on fire, and once the dumpster stops burning, it needs to be hauled off and dropped into a quarry. It’s not going to get this team where it needs to go, and puts emphasis on skill players that aren’t good enough to win you the game. I’d love someone to ask Klein what he sees on film that dictates a balanced offense.”

The remains of Kansas State’s generic spread offense is sitting at the bottom of a quarry in a burned out dumpster.

There was nothing on film that dictated a balanced K-State offense through 5 weeks. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting 18 passes and 47 rushing attempts right out of the gate. Instead of a suspect wide receiver group pushing the team forward in fits and starts, Treshaun Ward, Avery Johnson, and DJ Giddens spearheaded a punishing three-pronged rushing attack.

To make matters worse for opposing defensive coordinators, Will Howard is still in the mix. What makes the Howard and Johnson combo unique is Will is a capable runner and Avery is a capable passer. I don’t like two quarterback systems where one guy is the designated runner and one guy is the designated passer. It makes calling the defense easy. With Kansas’s State’s duo, the “passing quarterback” has a history of breaking off huge runs and the “running quarterback” has a cannon for an arm. Defensive coordinators aren’t going to get much sleep K-State week.

Let’s keep this party rolling: on to the next quote.

“This coaching staff has gotten away from the things that Kansas State does at an elite level (running the ball until the defense is puking on the field) and instead are putting the game on Will Howard and a one-note receiving group.”

Texas Tech defenders did not enjoy Saturday night. The six minute, ten play (seven run, three pass), 80 yard touchdown drive authored by Avery Johnson featured several Tech defenders looking like they would rather be someplace else. I can only imagine that getting driven into the turf by the K-State line for four quarters isn’t a pleasant experience. Missouri and Oklahoma State looked fresh in the fourth quarter. Texas Tech looked as fresh as the sock that’s been sitting in the bottom of your gym bag for the last six weeks.

That was elite “run the ball until the defense is puking on the field” execution. The defense knew K-State was going to run the ball and they still couldn’t stop it in the fourth quarter. To make matters worse for the tortilla tossers, selling out to stop the run finally opened up things down the field. On his game-sealing fourth quarter drive, Johnson completed three passes to open receivers. He started the drive with a nice pass to a wide open Jadon Jackson. Jackson was open because the outside linebacker bit up on a run fake and couldn’t get back to his zone in time. The second completion was to Phillip Brooks on a wide receiver screen pass that finally had enough time to develop because Johnson’s running ability keeps everyone else in the box, allowing three K-State receivers to play against three Texas Tech defensive backs. There was no threat of an extra defender coming unblocked and blowing up the play. Finally, Johnson hit Jayce Brown for 21 yards on a slot corner route. The throwing window was opened up by a Tech linebacker waiting around a second too long to make sure Johnson wasn’t going to take off and run. In this case, running the ball consistently makes throwing the ball much easier.

The Texas Tech defense was in hell on the final full K-State drive of the game. They were a step slow on every run fill, allowing Johnson and Ward to run through arm tackles instead of running into a fresh defender with bad intentions.

Speaking of Treshaun, this seems like a good spot to work in another quote.

“He’s (Ward) been fine, but I was looking for more explosion and not a guy that has to earn it 3 to 5 yards at a time.”

Ward went for 118 yards on only 15 carries for a robust 7.9 yards a carry average. Putting Avery Johnson on the field open things up for Ward. Remember, Ward played with Jordan Travis at Florida State. The zone read game hits different when you’re playing with a quarterback capable of taking it the distance on every carry.

Will is a capable, even good runner, but he doesn’t get nearly the same attention as Avery Johnson. Looking back at the film, it’s amazing how much the defense reacts to Johnson in the zone read game. Defensive ends that were attacking the mesh point are now hanging out on the edge in case Johnson runs. Ward is at his best when he hits the hole at full speed and Johnson holding the ends allows him the room to accelerate.

It’s weird, but the two “starting” backs pair well with the two quarterbacks. I like DJ and Will together for a power run and play action game and I like Avery and Treshaun paired in a read-option speed backfield. The ability to change styles in the run game from one drive to the next is going to be tough for teams to defend. Allowing Avery to play not only gives you an elite playmaker at quarterback, but it turns Ward into the playmaker the ‘Cats have been missing this season.

Now let’s take it home with one last quote.

“There is still time to get this fixed. The solution is right in front of them. I once again hope to see a return to the ground and pound style against Texas Tech on Saturday. I don’t see any other way forward for this team.”

I’ve got to give the coaching staff credit here, they went above and beyond my “solution”. I wanted more running, but I wasn’t expecting an entirely new offense featuring Avery Johnson. This is the second time in as many seasons that K-State has made structural changes to the offense mid-season. Last season they switched from a run-heavy offense with Martinez to a more pass-friendly offense with Howard. Now they’ve switched back from a more pass-friendly offense under Howard to a run-heavy offense featuring both Howard and Avery.

Either way, I wanted ground and pound, and I got the ground and pound, and the Wildcats walked away with a must win road victory.

It feels good to be right again.