The Chalkboard: Analyzing the West Virginia - Kansas State Big 12 Football Game

The idea of Kansas State as a plodding, less than flashy team is probably oversold at times. Still as with all characterizations, there's a germ of truth there – and it shouldn't be construed as a negative at all. That analysis and more in this week's edition of The Chalkboard.

Take, for example, K-State's use of the quarterback power running game. Watch that play develop, and it's the direct opposite of a more visually exciting jet sweep or a bunch receiver formation where the pass catchers scurry in different directions like ants from an overturned anthill. The excitement, though, should be there for football purists, who see that play, and offshoots of it, wear down opposing defenses.

The play itself is simple. The quarterback, taking a shotgun snap, often comes to a near complete halt as he reads the defense and his blockers. While letting the action develop, he often hops back and forth, but it looks like a big mess as the line moves its way forward. Sometimes there isn't a hole or seam that develops, but the play ends up gaining four or five yards as the line mushes and mauls its way downfield.

That's frustrating for a defense, which has to defend in a couple of different ways. First, the line can stand up and stonewall the offensive front. For WVU, with only three linemen, and guys that aren't massive to begin with, that's a tall order. The mike and sam linebackers can come down to help, with the spur supporting on one edge, but they aren't likely to win a ton of one-on-one battles with linemen who can lock on and sustain blocks.

The other is to bring more defenders than can be blocked, get penetration, and gum things up before the quarterback can get moving forward. WVU saw that happen against its own quarterback power on fourth and one last week, as BYU brought two safeties off the edge, met a block two yards in the backfield, and made a tackle for loss that gave it the ball. Sounds great, right? Except...

...K-State is great at the run-pass option (RPO) off the QB power. As the quarterback approaches the line, he's not only waiting for running space, but he's also surveying the defense. If safeties or linebackers crash too hard, he'll dump the ball over the line to a back or tight end, or even to a wide receiver running a quick slant or across the defense. That check, when executed correctly, almost always puts the defense at a numbers disadvantage.

This is the number one play and sequence to watch for in this week's game. If the Wildcats get into a rhythm with these plays, their whole offense can blossom. Again, it's not going to be visually exciting. Those passes aren't arcing fifty-yard missiles to speedy receives hauling buns downfield. But they can be just as devastating to an opposing defense.

* * * *

Both teams play Texas Tech in their next outings. K-State hosts the Red Raiders on Oct. 8, while the Mountaineers travel to Lubbock to square off with Tech on Oct. 15 following an open week.

* * * *

Although WVU's defensive statistics haven't been great, the Mountaineers have made up for that in some ways with an opportunistic, resilient red zone defense. Opponents have snapped the ball inside the WVU 20 on 12 different series this year, but only six times have they capped those possessions with touchdowns. The Mountaineers have held three other chances to field goals, and have prevented scores altogether on three others.

Compare that with K-State, which is a perfect 16-16 on red zone forays this year, including 14 touchdowns. The Wildcats have scored TDs on their last 13 red zone possessions. If you need one stat to watch in this game, this one is it. Give WVU one outright stop and a couple of field goals instead of TDs on K-State red zone forays, and the Mountaineers will have a good chance of winning the game.

* * * *

West Virginia Hall of Famer Ira Errett “Rat” Rodgers welcomed the Kansas Aggies, as they were then known, to Morgantown on Nov. 8, 1930. The Mountaineers, on their way to a 5-5 season, clipped the visitors 23-7 in what may have been its best win of the season.

in the game, played before an estimated 10,000 fans at Old Mountaineer Field, the Mountaineers and Wildcats were tied 7-7 at the half. WVU shut out the visitors in the second half, and secured the win with a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter and a safety in the fourth.

The win was also Rodgers' last during his first tenure as WVU head coach, which ran from 1925-30. Rodgers returned to helm the Mountaineers during the war years of 1943-45.

* * * *

The following isn't an excuse. It's a reason. And if you're inclined to view it as the former, you aren't getting the message in the way it's intended.

West Virginia's defense, admittedly, hasn't been what anyone was hoping for. But is that a disappointment, given the rebuilding that had to be done, coupled with injury losses? We've long maintained that most injuries, and injured players, are forgotten once a couple of weeks pass. There are exceptions, like Karl Joseph last year and Dravon Askew-Henry this season, but those are often just the tip of the iceberg. Those injured players, while perhaps out of the public consciousness, are still sorely missed.

Total up WVU's defensive losses this year. Defensive lineman Xavier Pegues hasn't played a snap, and although it's hoped he can come back sometime in October, that is by no means a certainty. Defensive lineman Jaleel Fields is out for the year, and like Pegues and Askew-Henry, never played a snap. Linebacker Brendan Ferns, who was working his way into a backup role at a minimum, fell to the same fate. Defensive backs Antonio Crawford and Toyous Avery missed much, and all, respectively, of the BYU game. Defensive lineman Adam Shuler was likewise banged up and missed several series.

There just no way that any unit wouldn't be affected by such losses. All of the players on this list would have been in at least significant supporting roles. Continuity is also crushed, as the roster of available players morphed dramatically since the start of fall camp.

Yes, there's “next man up” and “step up” and all of that. That's the correct mindset. But there's a reason for many of these struggles, and the absence of many of this players is a big reason for them.

* * * *

Hall of Fame head coach Bill Snyder has 195 career wins at Kansas State. Number two on the list? Mike Ahearn, with 39. Great googly moogly. No wonder they named the stadium for him,

Click for full game report!


BlueGoldNews Top Stories