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K-State Football Film Room: How Avery Johnson Opens Up the Run Game For Others

Drew dissects a play that went for 18 instead of nothing.

Kansas State Wildcats running back Treshaun Ward (9) is tackled by Texas Tech Red Raiders safety Dadrioin Taylor-Demerson (1) in the second half at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field.
Treshaun Ward had a game, and Avery Johnson helped make it happen.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There was so much cool and different stuff from the offense on Saturday night that I’ve had a hard time choosing what to show y’all. Hopefully I can get to a few other plays, but I want to start with this Treshaun Ward run.

Inserting a dynamic runner like Avery Johnson into the backfield changes everything. His ability to hold defenders with the zone read opens up the running lanes Treshaun Ward hasn’t been able to find all season. Remember, at this level, one step is the difference between a tackle for loss or a touchdown (or in this case a first down).

The defense’s respect for Johnson’s running ability makes the defense hesitate for a moment, and that extra moment is what Ward needs to unlock his potential.

Let’s check it out.

Pre Snap


Kansas State

Blue Square - Johnson(QB) and Ward(RB)

Yellow Circle - Poitier(RG) and Duffie(RT)

Pink Circle - Garrett Oakley(TE)

Texas Tech

Red Square - Defensive End

Blue Square - Inside Linebackers

Pink Circle - Outside Linebacker


Kansas State

Spread - 2 receivers to the field, 2 receivers to the boundary

11 personnel (1 running back, one tight end)

Texas Tech


3 Defensive Linemen, 3 linebackers, 5 defensive backs

Kansas State comes out in the spread with Johnson and Ward (blue square-offense) together in the backfield. They are in the shotgun with Ward to Johnson’s left. They are mirrored by Texas Tech’s inside linebackers (blue square defense).

This looks like a passing formation until you realize the extra receiver to the field side (short side) is 6’5”, 230 pound tight end Garrett Oakley (pink circle-offense). Use of personnel is crucial on this play. If that’s a different player, this play is in trouble, because Oakley has a 6’5”, 235 outside linebacker (pink circle - defense) lined up in coverage.

As always, the offensive line is key to the success on this play. What I love is that Coach Klein uses them as the misdirection aspect of this play. Keep an eye on the right tackle (Duffie) and right guard (Potier). They’re going to pull around to the left and make this play look like a counter for Avery. Instead, this is a fake counter with Ward taking the ball off the backside.

If you’re keeping track at home, Kansas State is faking the front side quarterback counter, and then using the fake zone read (Johnson isn’t reading the end, this is a designed run to Ward) to freeze the back side defensive end. The goal is for the defense to key on the pulling offensive linemen, over commit to the front side, and then sneak Ward out the back door.

Follow The Linemen

The misdirection on this play is simple. The linebackers (blue box-defense) are keying on the pulling linemen (yellow circle). That usually leads them directly to the ball against K-State. Ward (blue square) doesn’t need them to bite all the way. He just needs them to stay inside long enough to get the backside edge and turn up the field. Once that happens, they’re not going to catch him.

The right defensive end (red box) is the issue. The right tackle and guard are pulling, leaving him uncovered. The center, #55, comes off the nose and gives him a bump, but the defensive end is already in the backfield. If he realizes Ward has the ball, this thing is going for a loss, and K-State is kicking a long field goal.

On the outside, Oakley (pink circle-offense) is stalking the outside linebacker in coverage (pink circle - defense). Notice how Tech’s 6’5, 235 pound outside linebacker isn’t attacking the line of scrimmage (and the backside of the play) and instead is worried about covering the tight end?

That’s great play design. Klein cleans up the back side of the play by moving Oakley (pink circle-offense) off the line of scrimmage. Tech is in man, and that means the outside linebacker is coming with him. This happens because Tech wants to keep a safety deep, and because their strong safety is lined up on the front side of the play in run support, the only player left to cover Oakley is the outside linebacker.

Putting Oakley in the slot makes Tech use a seven-man box instead of an eight-man box. The more defenders you move away from the line of scrimmage in the run game, the better.

Everything But The Counter

The cool thing about this play is the ball is already gone. Ward (blue square - offense, #9) has the ball and the defense is still staring at Johnson and defending the quarterback counter. They’re expecting Johnson (blue square) to keep the ball and tuck in behind the pulling Duffie (Right Tackle, yellow circle) while Poitier (Right Guard, Yellow Circle closest to the bottom of the screen) kicks out the safety on the end of the line.

The quarterback counter is blocked perfectly. Poitier has the safety, Duffie has a full head of steam, and is looking for a linebacker (either one in the blue box) to squash in the hole. Everything looks like a counter, other than the minor detail of Ward having the ball.

The backside defensive end (red box) can still make this play. If he realizes Ward has the ball, it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the front side of the play. The thing is, he’s terrified of the quarterback keeper because Johnson can fly. He’s the priority, not Treshaun Ward (who can also fly). That’s how Johnson opened up the game for Ward. This is a quarterback counter if Will Howard is in because the back side defensive end would be more interested in the running back flanking him than the quarterback running away from him.

Avery scared the Texas Tech defense and the fear of him breaking off a big run allowed Ward to run free.

Oakley and the outside linebacker (pink circle) are now engaged. It’s up to Oakley to shield off the linebacker, and keep him on the outside, allowing Ward to cut off Oakley’s rear end. If Oakley does his job, you should be looking squarely at the numbers on the back of his jersey from this angle.

Should Have Followed The Ball

The wild thing about this play is it’s blocked up perfectly for the QB counter, other than than the backside defensive end (red box) finding himself unblocked. That should have set off some alarm bells, but Johnson is too scary to ignore. The defensive end gets stuck inside staring at the quarterback as Ward (blue box) sprints by him untouched with the ball.

Fakes work because they look identical to the actual play. That’s why you see Poitier and Duffie (yellow circles) going all out on a play that’s going the opposite direction. They are selling this the same way a quarterback sells a play action pass or a pitcher sells a changeup. Everything needs to look the same until it’s too late for the defense (or batter) to react to something different than they were expecting.

It works perfectly on this play as both linebackers (blue box, defense) are stuck on the play side. Ward is too fast for them to change direction and get to the backside. The fake quarterback counter caused both linebackers to take themselves out of the play without being blocked.

Oakley (pink circle) is doing the job as well. He’s shielding off the outside linebacker, and giving Ward a huge lane (yellow arrow, backside).

Hit The Gas

I like Ward over Giddens on plays like this because Ward has a touch more burst, and that’s what he needs at this point. It’s his job to hit the gas and get to the second level. It’s hard to see, but the Tech defensive tackle does a good job of working to the backside. He might be the only Red Raider not fooled by the fake counter. It doesn’t matter though, because Ward’s too fast and blows by him untouched.

Busted Wide Open

I’ll cut down on the commentary now. Although if you want to know why Johnson is going to see a ton of zone coverage, take a look at the receivers. The defensive backs are in man coverage and have no idea Ward has the ball. They’re still covering down field.

Meanwhile, this thing is busted wide open. Ward already has the first down, and this thing is blocked up for a touchdown.

So Close

The Texas Tech safety (light blue circle) should send his outside linebacker a thank you card, maybe treat him to pizza, because the outside linebacker saved him on this play. Ward’s going to embarrass the safety if he’s untouched with a full head of steam.

Unfortunately, Oakley (pink circle) does everything right except anchoring. He’s got the outside linebacker walled off, but isn’t strong enough, and gets pushed into Ward as he runs by. Instead of a full head of steam, Treshaun stumbles. He expects Oakley to hold the block, and is focused on beating the safety. Subsequently, he doesn’t notice his tight end getting pushed back.

Even Closer

Despite getting tripped up by his tight end, Ward regains balance and still almost smokes the safety. I thought he had seven at this point. If he pulls out of this tackle, he’s taking it to the house. Shout out to Texas Tech safety Tyler Owens. He clearly doesn’t slack off in the weight room because he manages to pull Ward back from this position. He doesn’t make the tackle, but he stops Ward from reaching the end zone.

Effort and Leadership

Want to know why Tech Safety Tyler Owens doesn’t make the tackle?

Christian Duffie forcibly removes him from Treshaun Ward. Keep in mind, this play started way back at the 27 with Duffie pulling pulling around the left tackle to set up the fake quarterback counter.

Go back and look at some of the earlier pics. Check out all 6’5”, 300 pounds of #73 Christian Duffie moving faster than a man of his size has any right to move. He pulled, didn’t find anyone to block, but instead of standing around, he kept trucking down the field, looking for an opportunity to help out his running back.

That’s the effort and leadership I expect from the Kansas State offensive line. This is what it means to play from whistle to whistle. You won’t find many right tackles chasing catching their running back and peeling a safety off a tackle 20 yards down the field.

Sqashed Like a Bug

This clip was too good to leave out.

Do you notice the safety?

Check under Christian Duffie.

Wildcat First Down!

This looked like a touchdown, but Tech did a nice job of hustling down the field. Owens (the Tech safety) did enough to slow Ward down and a Tech defender brings him down from behind. Keep in mind though, this is only the second quarter.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the hustle had been beaten out of the Tech defense. That’s what Kansas State’s offense special. When the run game is clicking they can break a defense in the fourth quarter.

That’s doubly true with the new four-headed monster (Howard, Johnson, Ward, Giddens) sharing the load. Will wasn’t involved in the run game much in this one, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him tote the rock moving forward. If they can get their run game working, and use their passing game in key moments to pick up first downs, all four of Kansas State’s primary ball carries should be fresh for the second half.

A tired defense trying to catch Avery Johnson and Treshaun Ward isn’t ideal. A tired defense trying to tackle Will Howard or DJ Giddens isn’t ideal. If K-State can take a game into the late rounds, they should be in perfect position to win.

Things just got a whole lot more interesting in Manhattan, Kansas.