Fee Fi Foe Film: Kansas State

Submitted by Ace on December 27th, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Tyler Lockett is a rather frustrating assignment (via)

We're back! I'm here to tell you, after watching Kansas State's 41-31 loss to Oklahoma, that Michigan's upcoming bowl opponent is very bad at defending mobile quarterbacks, which is a great sign for... wait, say that again?


Well, the Sooners pulled away in the second half of this game on the strength of a 200-yard rushing performance from RB Brennan Clay and another 82 yards on the ground from backup quarterback Trevor Knight, who filled in admirably for injured starter Blake Bell and is quite a bit faster than Shane Morris. The Wildcats, on the other hand, couldn't establish anything on the ground, tallying 66 yards on 19 carries (sacks removed) while playing from behind for most of the contest. Is any of this relevant to Michigan? I have no idea! Let's talk about it anyway.


Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. It's possible that KSU is closer to a hybrid, as they did show some I-form looks and utilize a fullback even in some shotgun formations, but in this game they were almost exclusively in the gun and utilized plenty of spread concepts.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? This game didn't provide a great look at KSU's run game; when they did, they mixed in a healthy amount of zone read with more traditional power runs, a couple end-arounds, and far less of the misdirection-type stuff Brian pointed out in his early look at the Wildcats—likely due to circumstance more than a change in philosophy.

Hurry it up or grind it out? Grind it out. The home crowd at Kansas State spent much of the game counting down the final ticks of the play clock to help out their quarterbacks; they take their sweet time between plays, and given how Michigan has fared against high-tempo offenses this year that's fine by me.

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Bill Snyder has utilized a two-quarterback system for much of the season; like Northwestern's Colter/Siemian duo, the Wildcats feature a pocket passer, Jake Waters, and a run-first threat, Daniel Sams. Waters is more mobile than Siemian and is utilized in the read-option game, though mostly as a means to keep the defense honest—he's not particularly fast or elusive, so I'll give him a 4. Sams, on the other hand, rushed 148 times at 5.2 ypc against just 52 pass attempts; he gets a strong 8, with the caveat that he barely featured in this particular game.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Dangerman: 5'11" junior receiver Tyler Lockett emerged as the team's go-to offensive threat this year after being a secondary pass-catching option and extremely dangerous return man in his first two seasons. Oklahoma opted to single-cover him for much of this game. It did not go well.

Lockett finished with 12 receptions for 278 yards and three touchdowns (the one not shown above came when Oklahoma's safety completely blew his assignment, allowing a Gallon-against-Indiana open bomb for a score). In addition to that, he returned five kickoffs for 162 yards (32 ypa) and would've had about 60 more yards if he hadn't been the victim of a touchdown-saving horse collar tackle.

On the season he has 71 catches at over 16 yards per pop; while he's yet to go take one the distance this season despite winning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year, he had four kickoff return touchdowns in his first two seasons. With great speed, solid hands, and exceptional elusiveness in the open field, he's going to be a very tough matchup.

Zook Factor: Nothing Snyder did qualified here.

HenneChart: While both Waters and Sams played in this one—albeit sparingly in the case of Sams—only Waters attempted a pass. This isn't unusual; excise the Oklahoma State loss in which he attempted 21 passes and tossed three picks and Sams hasn't had a game in which he threw the ball more than eight times—in the final two games of the season he didn't record an attempt. He was given the second drive of this game, had two ineffective runs, and was pulled for Waters on third-and-medium; he got one more snap, another QB keeper, the rest of the game.

Waters, meanwhile, had an up-and-down performance while alternating between chucking it deep and throwing quick hitches to the perimeter, mostly to Lockett. He throws a pretty nice deep ball despite lacking great arm strength; in fact, his arm hampers him more on the shorter throws, which often took a while to get to their target. He seems to overthrow the ball in an attempt to overcome this—he sailed several short-to-intermediate passes. Chart (chart).

Oklahoma 2 17 2 7* 1* 2 1 4 -- 66%

Not a bad day overall, though both the INX and BRX resulted in interceptions, the former a panicked throw in the face of a blitz that went to the wrong shoulder on a hitch (returned for a touchdown) and the latter a desperation heave into three defenders when down ten points in the last few minutes.


Formation chart:

Formations Run Pass PA
Gun 12 31 4
I-Form 4 -- --
Ace 2 -- --
Pistol -- -- --

Circumstance dictated much of KSU's playcalling. On their first two possessions, they finished run-run-pass while going four-and-out and three-and-out (the first play of their opening possession was a run that netted a first down). After the Sooners jumped out to a 14-0 lead, Kansas State started airing it out and continued doing so even after they'd tied the game at 14 and 21; it didn't help that their defense immediately ceded the lead back to Oklahoma each time.

Down Run Pass PA
1st 10 15 2
2nd 7 7 2
3rd 1 10 --

Because their offense in this game was either throws beyond the sticks or runs well short of them, Kansas State ended up in a lot of third-and-long situations—their lone third-down run came from the Oklahoma one-yard line after Lockett drew a pass interference in the end zone.

The issues on offense mostly stemmed from a subpar performance from the offensive line. In the run game, they simply couldn't move Oklahoma off the line of scrimmage, and the right side of the line—featuring 290-pound guard Keenan Taylor and 280-pound tackle Tavon Rooks—often gave way entirely. In pass protection, they fared well when faced with a four-man rush but were overwhelmed when Oklahoma blitzed, allowing three sacks and several pressures in those situations.

Running back John Hubert finished with 17 yards on nine carries, mostly as a result of the line's inability to open a hole; he didn't look like the type to make big plays on his own. He was often lifted in the second half in place of a fullback for pass protection; KSU also stuck an H-back in the backfield—often directly in front of the fullback—and either flared him out or used him for extra protection.

While KSU prefers to be a run-heavy team, their most dangerous players line up at receiver. Lockett is obviously the primary concern—he's got 35 more catches than the next-closest Wildcat. Trumaine Thompson is another big-play threat, averaging nearly 18 ypc this year; he hauled in a 43-yard catch in this one and displayed impressive speed on a pair of end-arounds—it's notable that KSU utilized him in that role instead of Lockett. Curry Sexton plays the role of underneath possession receiver and had just one catch against Oklahoma.


For the most part, KSU's offense depended on bombs to Lockett in true boom-or-bust fashion. However, their most consistently successful play was a slick draw-bubble-slant packaged play, which they ran five times and got four solid completions, all to the slant. Here's the setup:

At the snap, Waters pauses before taking a stutter-step forward as the two backs lead block. The slot receiver runs a bubble screen while the outside receiver runs a ten-yard slant. Waters has a few options, of course. He reads the playside linebacker; if the defense is playing a soft man (as they are in this case) or a Cover 2 and the linebacker steps up to defend the run, Waters throws the slant. If the slot receiver is uncovered or the Cover 2 corner sinks too far with the slant, he throws the bubble. If the linebacker stays home, he pulls it down and runs a draw.

In this case, the bubble is covered and the linebacker is slowly shuffling towards the line of scrimmage, which becomes more apparent in the next frame. Oklahoma is playing man coverage with plenty of cushion on the outside. As the linebackers move towards Waters...

...he pulls up and throws the slant.

As you can see, there's a huge gap between the linebackers and the coverage behind them; the corner does well here just to keep this from going a loooooong way.


Packaged plays like this one are tough to defend when run correctly and Waters has this one down. Michigan plays more zone than Oklahoma did in this one, which makes it more likely that Waters has to pull the ball down and run—that's preferable given his lack of explosiveness.


I be like dang, Ryan Mueller (via)

Base Set? 4-3 over.

Man or zone coverage? KSU mixed up their coverages a fair amount, with one common thread—they played well off Oklahoma's receivers on the outside, either playing a soft man or dropping at least three defensive backs deep. More on this later.

Pressure: GERG or Greg? Quite GERG-ian. Kansas State barely blitzed and when they did it was sending their nickel off the edge in an attempt to slow down Oklahoma's read-option attack.

Dangerman: Weakside DE Ryan Mueller earned Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors this season, tallying 11.5 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and six pass breakups (tipped passes at the line, I assume). He's an explosive rusher off the edge and in this game was the only Kansas State lineman who consistently beat blocks, though the lack of help meant Knight was able to elude him without much issue. He had some trouble shedding blocks against the run against a physical Oklahoma offensive line.


Unless someone breaks tendency, this game will feature two bend-but-don't-break defenses. While KSU's raw numbers are solid, Brian pointed out that the advanced stats aren't kind to them; they certainly got thrashed in this game, ceding 5.8 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per pass.

Aside from Mueller, the defensive line really underwhelmed. While much of Oklahoma's success came from the read-option, Clay also had a huge day on non-option runs as his line essentially allowed him to choose which giant crease to run through:


Despite the disruptive presence of Mueller, the Wildcats are 85th nationally in tackles for loss. If Michigan's offensive line has progressed during bowl practices, they could find success pounding the rock, even without the threat of Devin Gardner out there.

Given how easy it was to block the defensive line, the linebackers didn't get a chance to make many plays; if one did, it was usually MIKE Blake Slaughter, who leads the team by a healthy margin with 103 tackles. He's a very sure tackler and held his own when not eating blocks right off the bat. I was also quite impressed with weakside linebacker Jonathan Truman, who always seemed to be around the football despite being quite undersized at 5'11", 219 pounds.

Oklahoma only threw the ball 21 times, so I didn't get a great look at the secondary; if the vanilla schemes and soft coverages are any indication, however, these guys can be picked on. Oklahoma was able to do almost all of their damage on underneath catch-and-runs and broke a couple big plays when the safeties blew tackles; it didn't help that KSU's best defensive back, safety Ty Zimmerman, missed the game with an injury—he's healthy and should patch up some of the tackling woes that plagued KSU against both the run and the pass. That said, Jeremy Gallon should have every opportunity to break the single-season receiving mark, because...


...when I say soft coverage, I mean soft coverage. This is a third-and-six for Oklahoma in their own territory and they come out in a shotgun trips look. KSU doesn't hide the fact that they're playing man coverage. Those men are also lined up past the sticks even before the snap:

The inside slot receiver, Jalen Saunders, runs a quick slant that's so open Knight throws it before the two other receivers have started their breaks:

Saunders makes the grab in a four-yard bubble of open turf:

He proceeds to turn it upfield for a 48-yard gain before fumbling; Oklahoma is lucky to recover, but that's not the point. Video:

I'd chalk that up to a one-time RPS-minus but for the fact that this happened two more times in the same quarter. Both would've been similarly huge gains if not for inaccurate throws from Knight. This one forced Saunders to go the ground to make the first-down grab with even more running room than the above play:

Knight flat-out sailed this throw over Saunders' head, in addition to throwing behind him, and it resulted in a near-interception instead of a potential touchdown:

I'm pretty sure Shane Morris can make that throw. Al Borges may not like calling a bunch of underneath passes; Kansas State's scheme is just begging for death by slants, though. I won't dare guess how that will turn out.



December 27th, 2013 at 2:10 PM ^

This defense does seem ripe for simple throws down the field, and with a young QB you much prefer those than the deeper, more nuanced throws.  I suspect Borges will call a run-heavy game early on, maybe allowing Morris to make a couple of these early throws but concede punting at times and hoping the defense can keep the team in the game.  I don't know much about Morris from HS except that he seemed to start off slow and then got progressively better as the game wore on and the nerves/jitters quieted down.  I would hope that letting him work through these early moments without having him "run" the offense would be best.  Let him air it out on longer downs in the second half, but I'd be fine if this was a Carr-era game where the QB was tasked with not turning the ball over and just relying on the defense and, I guess, a somewhat-effective rushing attack.  I mean, Green, Smith, and Fitz should be able to get some yards against KSU.

Of course, that probably means he'll be throwing 50 times to double-covered Gallon all day.

Space Coyote

December 27th, 2013 at 2:15 PM ^

I wrote a bit on the defense, but will just touch on the offense.

KSU did run that formation with 2 backs to one side more against OU than I saw in most other games, but that play call was in their playbook all year with the little pop pass. They also ran it against Kansas out of a 2 TE Shotgun Ace look where they hit the TE running a seam and the WR running a fade (with the option to run a comeback route).

Their favorite pass play is probably a 3 vert with hitch to the outside. Basically the play that South Carolina used to beat Michigan last year. The three verts generally take advantage of cover 2 by overloading the deep coverage, and a seam and hitch combination take advantage of any signle high type of coverage. So it's a versatile play that isn't very complex. Michigan will need to tighten their coverage on the outside though otherwise they will hitch you down the field off their PA pass game.

I would also put them squarely in the Hybrid offense category. They spread a bit, but it's a lot of 21 and 12 personnel from gun/pistol (and they go undercenter maybe 20% of the time as well). Closest B1G comparison is something between Northwestern and Nebraska.


December 27th, 2013 at 2:26 PM ^

KSU hit their fair share of hitches in this one, but the video I had cut out a lot of replays and the Fox Sports cameras didn't do a great job of showing stuff downfield—I assume they were running that three verts play you mention. In retrospect, I may not have picked the best game to look at but I wanted to see them in a recent game against solid competition.

Space Coyote

December 27th, 2013 at 2:37 PM ^

Along with a few others. According to KSU fans, the reason Oklahoma was able to really succeed is because they were successful opening up the pass with the run, basically KSU couldn't stop anything and Oklahoma did what they wanted.

I would say that that slant or any of the QB run type pop passes are the real danger plays just as they were for Michigan under Rich Rod, so in that sense it was a good play to look at (and obviously I agree with the defense POV). Watching them, you get lulled to sleep by their run, and their run really sets up their pass, so even if that 3 verts is more common, it all fits into the same mold of really catching the back end off guard. The pop slant that you showed is a better view of the set up that the run game has overall on the pass game, so in that sense, it's probably better.

And don't feel bad for not watching KSU vs Kansas, because I honestly feel bad for watching KSU vs Kansas.

Indiana Blue

December 27th, 2013 at 2:13 PM ^

that the line is only -4.5, considering new QB.  I never saw this game as a defensive one ... guess we'll hope that the Michigan D plays its best game of the year!

Go Blue!


December 27th, 2013 at 2:41 PM ^

intermediate or deep balls thrown to mismatched recievers like Funchess and Butts if K-state employs one on one coverage?   Or was this a modification against the Oklahoma read option?   Also considering the sporadic run game Mich has to pass to move the ball it would seem to me.  I woudl think that K-state would opt to stack the run, blitz on 2nd & 3rd downs and force the freshman QB to make reads and try to beat you with his arm.  Not that I know what I am talking about....  What strategy do you think K-state will use against the maize and blue?

Space Coyote

December 27th, 2013 at 2:57 PM ^

Which generally turns into man coverage looks (which is what they ran against OU). They will blitz, and usually when they do so they run a single high look bhind that. If you want to have more short and intermediate game, you can do so with hitches against their cover 4 (as Ace noted, they tend to play soft on the outside) and with digs and shallow posts against their cover 3 to take advantage of their LBs.

One area where Michigan likely will not be able to take as much advantage of is how KSU adjusts to any trips formation, which is where those slants and such really open up. It'll be interesting to see how much those are rolled out with Morris playing QB.

As for KSU stacking the box, it'll likely be very MSU like in how they do so. It will rarely be a true 8 man front, but you'll often have OLBs and safeties in the gray areas. They tend to blitz the edges, but I'd suspect after watching film they pressure the interior a bit more than usual.

I wrote a pretty extensive post about it here if you're interested in how Michigan matches up, but that's the more general, high level jist of it.


December 27th, 2013 at 2:42 PM ^

After reading this I feel pretty good about Shane getting the start. Their defense is vanilla and doesn't blitz much plus it seems like it's easy to pick up on their coverages. 


December 27th, 2013 at 2:53 PM ^

they probably wouldn't have blitzed much, but with a true freshman starting, methinks they will blitz more.  Also considering they get back Zimmerman, they may have more confidence in their backfield and send their LBs...when UM changed their line up, seems like KSU may sense an opportunity.


December 27th, 2013 at 3:06 PM ^

Shane's had three full weeks of practice, knowing he'd likely start during his last week or two of practice. Bellomy had no time to prepare and Nebraska blitzed the guy mercilessly. 

As bad as Al's looked at times this year, I still expect he will have the gameplan to avoid Shane from having to do too much but not run-run-incomplete pass-PUNT.

I really expect the O-Line and receivers to play an excellent game knowing they MUST deliver to give Shane a chance to win for us.



December 27th, 2013 at 3:10 PM ^

Even though UGA is playing a new QB as well, their D has plenty of athletes and would have been all over our offense with blitzes and stunts. Earlier on (When I thought Devin could go), I was bummed we were playing here and not in the Gator Bowl va. UGA. Given Morris starting, now I'm glad because I think we have a chance to win this one - IF our D plays Iowa-well (3-4 turnovers) and our O-Line steps up.

Anyway...win or lose, the season is over and we'll get to see Morris in Spring Ball for the 1st time too!

Space Coyote

December 27th, 2013 at 3:15 PM ^

Georgia has athletes, but they are very prone to coverage busts and poor run fills, etc. Georgia's defense might have actually been a better setup for Morris because it wouldn't require working down the field consistently, but instead could look to get bigger chunk plays based off of Georgia's defense being fundamentally unsound.


December 27th, 2013 at 4:24 PM ^

If anyone is looking for a respectable prediction of the bowl game, I of course put Shane Morris at starting QB and handled the Wildcats rather easy, so I believe we can all breathe easy tomorrow!

NCAA XBOX 360 (Heisman)


December 27th, 2013 at 7:40 PM ^

I'm hoping this one doesn't come down to coaching. I like Coach Hoke a lot, and I mean no disrespect, but he is overmatched in this one. Be ready for plenty from ksu we've not yet seen