Offensive focus; Game Planning, Establishing the Line of Scrimmage, and Handling Speed
This week’s focus from the close win over Central Florida will look at how Saturday’s storm delayed game really showed us what happens when teams are able to win the battle of the line of scrimmage against K-State’s offense. It certainly makes for an ugly performance, but fortunately for us Central Florida made enough mistakes and the Wildcats finally made enough plays to pull out a victory. You never apologize for a victory, even this ugly, but the lessons taken away will be huge for the rest of this season.
It appeared to me the K-State coaching staff game planned as you would expect against a speed team; run right at it with the power running game (pulling backside offensive linemen) and inside zone, utilize the quick passing game, try to exploit over pursuit with option and misdirection, and eventually try to get the ball vertical in the passing game. All of this is to create vertical creases somewhere in the defense. You must hit these creases quickly because while speed teams will often get themselves out of position, when those creases close without being exploited it can lead to a long game for the offense. Granted, coming into this game UCF had done a very good job not allowing this by their opponents, but we thought we had the size up front and athletes at the skill positions to get it done. Unfortunately outside of a few plays (that we badly needed) we failed to create much of this.
Throughout the game our formation of choice for the running game seemed to be 1 back, 1 tight end, 3 receiver sets, usually a trips formation. This allowed us to isolate CFU’s stud DE against our TE and OT on the short side of the field. The mentality was that we could run right at him, getting a push with a double team, and then handle their 2 young DTs one on one, allowing us to pull backside offensive linemen and get numbers at the point of attack. Unfortunately this rarely worked because the DE blew up the double team, the young DTs defeated one on one blocks and got penetration, or we missed blocks out in space on the LBs and safety. Simply put, for nearly three quarters of the game we got whipped up front, especially by CFU’s two DTs, and I don’t think we saw this coming. As the game progressed we tried to utilize Wilson a bit to provide an extra blocker in the backfield so we could double team the DTs more, but still we struggled to find creases and maintain blocks. This also created problems in the passing game, as early in the game UCF’s DTs created a bunch of pressure, and then as the game went along the DEs made some plays as well, specifically batting down several passes and getting pressure on Coffman several times flushing from the pocket or making him throw sooner than he wanted. This was then compounded by some poor play in the passing game by Coffman in the first half and early in the 2nd, namely a couple misses to Smith and the interception off of play action. The interesting thing about the INT is that earlier that same series we ran the same play; play action off of lead zone to Thomas, and after looking deep to the TE, Coffman checked off underneath to Wilson for a nice gain. I’m fairly certain on the 2nd throw when Coffman went deep that he anticipated the safety to help double on Smith, leaving the one on one match-up with a TE on a LB, which is likely what happened on the first throw. The check down throw to Wilson also wasn’t there the 2nd time as a CFU defender picked him up out of the backfield.
We eventually did get some offense going, gaining 213 yards on 23 plays on the last 4 possessions leading to our 17 points. Granted, we again saw Thomas’ biggest weakness when we really didn’t need to; a propensity to not keep the ball protected in traffic. Fortunately the defense held to a FG leading to the Coffman-led game winning drive. The success started initially by getting enough protection to find those vertical creases in the passing game. Both the big throw to Thompson to set up the FG, and the Quarles touchdown to tie the game, were set up only because the offensive line gave Coffman enough time to find the open vertical route. These looks were likely there all game considering the numbers UCF kept committing to the box to stop Thomas, but only when we got protection and Coffman made the correct throw and read could we take advantage. Then finally the last drive saw us play the type of football we likely expected the entire game, some nice running lanes for Thomas utilizing the game plan we had the entire game, power run game and inside zone. Add to that the two nice throws on 3rd down by Coffman, first the throw back to the TE that exploited UCF’s over pursuit of the roll out passing game, and then the bootleg pass, with Coffman showing incredible patience in the face of great pursuit to get the ball to Smith. Finally we ended the game with a well executed version of the “modern era triple option”; utilizing a great Coffman decision to not throw the shovel pass to Thomas, nor throw the pitch/bubble to Thompson, but to keep the ball himself for the score.
Overall there is a lot for the offense to learn, namely to not underestimate or handle UCF’s defensive tackles. Not doing that really created a ton of problems for us, as it was apparent that was the game plan for Saturday’s game. Perhaps some of this was caused because we gave CFU’s two DEs too much respect, and thus not effectively accounting for what their young DTs could do. Fortunately the defense did enough to avoid an insurmountable deficit which allowed the offense to make enough plays to win the game. And that’s good enough to get the Cats to 4-0, in what was likely one of the toughest ( if not the toughest) opening 4 game stretches to open a season for any Bill Snyder coached team.