Getting Away from Running Game Costs K-State

| October 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Cole Manbeck

Kansas State put itself in a great position to upset the 2nd-ranked team in the country Saturday night. The Wildcats had executed the perfect offensive game plan in the first half to take a 35-17 lead into the locker room. And then K-State got away from what led to its 18-point advantage.

K-State was pounding TCU with its running game. The Horned Frogs came into Saturday’s contest allowing 4.2 yards per carry, a mark that ranked 74th in the country. The key to the Wildcats springing an upset was to establish long, sustaining drives that ate up clock and resulted in touchdowns. The execution of this couldn’t have gone much better in the first half. K-State ran for 170 yards on 27 carries in the opening half, an average of  6.3 yards per rush, while possessing the ball for nearly 23 minutes.

The Wildcats offensive line, which probably played its best all-around game since 2013, was punishing a TCU defense that started two converted safeties at linebacker. Those two safeties weighed 190 and 208 pounds. K-State gashed the Horned Frogs with the quarterback-run game to go along with the best game of Charles Jones’ career.

And then the second half arrived. The K-State offense played like a team that was trailing by 18 points rather than leading by that margin. The interception on the opening drive was the biggest play of the game. But the Wildcats still had a terrific opportunity to regain momentum and control of the game. Instead, it was as if they panicked. From the 13:30-mark of the third quarter until the 4:50-mark, K-State ran 11 designed pass plays and just two running plays. During those three offensive series, the Wildcats gained 23 yards of offense on 13 plays and managed just one first down. There were eight incomplete passes, an interception and a 1-yard quarterback scramble on a designed pass play. All in all, K-State was 1-of-10 passing during that stretch. This was a stretch in the game that proved to be crucial.

After that 13-play stretch, the Wildcats, leading 35-31, got the ball back with 3:07 left in the third quarter. And what did they do on the next offensive series? They ran 10 plays. All 10 plays were on the ground. There was not a single pass attempted. The result? A 45-yard touchdown drive that ate up 5:50 of clock. On the ensuing drive after that, the Wildcats chose to throw the ball three straight times. The result? A three-and-out and a punt.

For the second straight week, K-State’s coaching staff did a terrific job in the first half putting the Wildcats in a position to win against two very good football teams. And on both occasions, they got away from what got them there. Against Oklahoma State, the Wildcats ran 22 designed running plays for 116 yards in the opening half, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. In the second half, they ran just 14 designed running plays for 70 yards, still an average of 5 yards per rush. In the second half against TCU, K-State called 18 designed running plays and they went for 82 yards, an average of 4.6 yards per rush. So in the past two weeks, the Wildcats, have significantly reduced the number of times they run the ball in the second half while playing with the lead. And the above stats show it’s not as if the offense wasn’t having success on the ground in those second halves.

I recognize that some of the plays are being changed at the line of scrimmage, and that defenses adjust at the half. But K-State did not need to throw the football as frequently as it did in the second half Saturday night against TCU. My biggest critique is this: why would you not continue to pound the ball on the ground against a defense that was exhausted. K-State won the time of possession battle 39:45 to 20:15. But if the Wildcats had stuck to the running game, they could have likely possessed the ball for 45 minutes. TCU’s defense was tired. The Horned Frogs were giving some different looks in the second half and played a lot of single-coverage looks. TCU was daring K-State to pass. The Wildcats took the bait. The Horned Frogs were trying to take away the running game, but truth be told, no matter how hard they tried, they weren’t very successful at doing it. The only thing that stopped the Wildcats was the decision to continue to throw the football in the second half.

For example, on K-State’s final drive of the second half, it executed a seven-play, 40-yard touchdown drive. All seven plays on that drive were running plays. So the Wildcats had two touchdown drives in this game – a seven-play drive and a 10-play drive – where it didn’t throw the ball once. And TCU could do nothing to stop it. When K-State defeated Texas 39-14 in 2010, the Wildcats ran the ball 50 times for 261 yards. They threw it four times for 9 yards. In that game, K-State stuck with what was working. In my opinion, that’s what they should have done against TCU.

And then there is the issue of the types of passes K-State chose to throw. It’s no secret that K-State isn’t explosive at wide receiver. The Wildcats struggle to separate from defensive backs on vertical routes. Yet K-State attempted 14 passes of 20 yards or more Saturday night. Joe Hubener only completed one of those 14 passes and it occurred in the first quarter (two of those 14 passes resulted in pass interference calls, so Hubener was technically 1-of-12 throwing on 20-yard routes or longer). The Wildcats continually tried to attack TCU’s corners with vertical routes down the sideline and it wasn’t working. The receivers were never able to get a step on the TCU corners.

I could get into the decision to kick the field goal and not go for it on fourth-and-1 at the 20-yard line with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game. For the record, I thought K-State had to play for the win there. The TCU offense was rolling against a Wildcat defense that was playing with nearly an entire secondary made up of backup players due to injuries. But the bottom line is I don’t believe the Wildcats are even in the position for that decision to come into play if they had just continued doing what worked in the first half, and in the second half, when they gave it a try.

K-State has now scored just 16 total points in five games in the third quarter this season. It has scored 7 points in the last three games combined. And over the last two games, the Wildcats have run 35 plays for 80 yards in the third quarter, an average of 2.3 yards per offensive play. They’re averaging 3.2 points in the third quarter this season, which ranks 114th in the FBS.

K-State needs to remember what got them the leads the last two weeks in the opening halves. Instead, it has gotten away from what led to those leads. And the result has been two great opportunities getting away from the Wildcats.

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