This past weekend found the well-rested Washington State Cougars headed down to Palo Alto, while the West Virginia Mountaineers sulked in a much-needed bye week. Just as we replaced Washington State with a fellow Pac-12 squad last week, we will replace WVU with an in-conference fill-in: Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats. In charting each squad this past weekend, there was a stark contrast of philosophies between the ‘my way or the highway’ Cougars and the ‘we’ll run whatever works for us’ Wildcats.
Starting with our old pal Mike Leach, Washington State finally showed some signs of life against a very solid Stanford Cardinal defense. While we knew Stanford would be able to get to Cougars’ quarterback, Jeff Tuel – and they did, racking up 10 sacks – Washington State's offense looked more like one of Leach’s old Texas Tech offenses then it had at any other point in this season. In Saturday’s contest, if you were to include sacks and quarterback scrambles as pass play-calls, the Cougars called a ridiculous total of seventy-seven pass plays to just six run plays. That equates a preposterous pass/run play calling ratio (12.8 to 1) that might even make Mike Leach blush.
But, you know what? The Cougars actually had a couple of justifiable reasons to abandon their ground attack. First off, when Leach actually did call a run play, it simply didn't work. Six planned Cougar rushes resulted in a grand total of minus-four yards. Stanford was simply too good in its front-seven for a team like Washington State to run with success. Second, the short, high-percentage passing game that Leach loves to use as a replacement for a running game was finally working this week. In previous weeks, poor accuracy, dropped balls, or bad downfield blocking prohibited Washington State from finding any sort of rhythm in their short, quick passing game. This past Saturday, the Cougars ran either a quick hitch or bubble screen with their receivers seven different times. On those plays, Tuel went 7-for-7 for 40 yards and a 5.7 yards/pass average. If the Cougars are able to sustain this type of success in the short passing game, then Leach’s reluctance to run the ball will finally be vindicated.
In further executing Leach’s longtime philosophy, Tuel was able to spread the ball around to a wealth of receivers. Against the Cardinal, eight different receivers caught at least two passes, while six of those receivers caught four or more balls. This even distribution of targets and catches has been a staple of Leach’s Air Raid offense. Tuel’s ability to play with patience and take whatever Stanford gave him on Saturday was the main reason behind his 72-percent completion rate and 401-yard performance. Washington State is finally out of the buzzsaw-portion of its schedule, and the strong performance against Stanford will hopefully serve as a stepping-stone towards some much-needed victories down the stretch for the Cougars.
All I have to say about Bill Snyder’s Kansas State offense is that when it get rolling, look out world! Two weeks ago against West Virginia, the Wildcats’ offense started the game by scoring on their first eight possessions (FG, TD, TD, TD, TD, TD, TD, TD). Well, this week the Wildcats waited until the second half before doing their thing. After leading, 13-10 at halftime, the Wildcats came out in the second half and scored touchdowns on each of their first five possessions, then simply run the clock to zeros on their sixth. If you combine the Wildcats’ first eight offensive possessions against West Virginia with their last five full drives against Texas Tech, the Wildcats’ scored 12 touchdowns and kicked one field goal. Simply unreal.
Credit Coach Snyder and his coaching staff for throwing a kitchen sink-style of play-calling at opponents on a weekly basis. While the versatility and play making ability of Heisman front-runner Collin Klein obviously is essential, the diversity of alignments and plays deserves an equal share of the acclaim. No other team in the nation has as much variation on a play-to-play basis as the Kansas State Wildcats. They run a plethora of things, and run them all well.
The Kansas State offense can go from an empty-backfield pass play, to a two tight-end, I-Formation power run play, to a three-receiver, pistol-formation speed option on three consecutive plays. If an opposing defense is lucky enough to hold them to a fourth-and-short, the Wildcats will simply have their 6’5, 226-pound quarterback line up in a Wildcat Formation and follow two blocking backs and a pulling guard. Nine times out of 10, Klein is going to ram his way forward and get the first down.
Kansas State's offense is only predictable in that everybody involved knows what they do well and will simply out-execute you while putting big numbers on the scoreboard. Klein is obviously the engine that makes this machine work. The talented quarterback is currently on pace to finish the regular season with 2,445 passing yards, 951 rushing yards, and 42 total touchdowns (side note: two of his remaining games are against Baylor and Texas, so who knows how high those numbers may go). When you can count on a quarterback to not only make good decisions but also make plays when things begin to break down, you are way ahead of the curve at the college level. While it may not always look pretty, Klein consistently makes the plays he should and has the Kansas State offense playing at an elite level.
With just four games remaining, in which Kansas State will likely be favored by at least a touchdown, the only thing that seems to be standing between the Wildcats and a 12-0 record is themselves. But if Klein continues to lead with such efficiency and so few turnovers, the BCS title game will likely be welcoming the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
The contrast between Leach and Snyder is a stark one. It seems Leach, unwavering in his gun-slinging ways, would never implement the type of balanced offense Kansas State has, even if he had a talent like Klein behind center. Snyder on the other hand, seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to put his players in the best position possible to succeed. While Leach will likely look to recruit players who are tailored-made for his system in the future, Snyder has done a remarkable job adapting his system to the talent he (and Ron Prince before him) recruited. While the respective track records of both coaches prove there is no single way to build a successful program, at least for one year, it is Bill Snyder’s squad that is making its coach look like an offensive genius.