_FANframes: Empty Backfield Success Against Oklahoma

K-State’s offensive foundation for winning in Norman was its running game and the 213 yards rushing at 4.8 yards per rush was very impressive against a tough Oklahoma defense. However, many of the key plays came when K-State emptied the backfield, spread the field with 5 receivers, and kept Mike Stoops and Oklahoma’s defense confused and ineffective to stop any scheme that K-State used. As you will see in this _FANframes, there was really only one play where you can say OU stopped K-State, and that was only because an OU defensive lineman made a great play to tackle Klein short of a first down on a designed draw. Even on its 2 incompletions, K-State had a scheme in place that led to an open receiver, one just had a slightly under-thrown ball and the other a drop by a receiver. At the end of the night, K-State only ran 9 of 65 total plays from empty sets, but 2 draws netted 13 yards and 5 completions gained 63 yards. More importantly, K-State converted on 3rd down four times, including once on each of the last 3 drives, plus another 3rd down throw came up one yard short and Klein converted the sneak on 4th and 1. In addition, OU used 2 of their first half timeouts when K-State lined up in empty formations.

One of the keys for the empty passing game to work is the threat Klein presents running the ball out of these formations. I’ll spend most of the time here breaking down the passing game, but you can see the two Klein runs here from the 1st drive of the game and here from the 4th quarter. The first run was the first time K-State came out in an empty set (OU called time out before this snap) and came up short of the 1st down, but the OU defensive tackle made a nice move to spin to make the play. Also, you can see that OU’s two inside defenders have responsibilities in both coverage and on Klein; Snyder and his staff would use this against OU plenty as the game progressed. On the 2nd run, Klein makes a nice play, but its especially effective because K-State is able to release the center to linebacker Tom Wort, who its clear that OU used as a spy on Klein on most empty formation plays. Overall the offensive line did an excellent job blocking and you’ll see in the plays that are broken down here that Klein had plenty of time on each pass attempt.

#1 – Double Move Against Man (click here for video)

The first pass attempt from empty came on K-State’s 4th drive during the 2nd quarter facing 3rd and 6 at the OU 39 yard line. K-State used two empty formations, here they are in a 3 x 2 set (trips to to top, twins to the bottom). The top two receivers in trips and the bottom receiver in twins will run vertical routes (purple arrows) to clear space against OU’s man defensive scheme (red arrows). That leaves an out route at the first down marker for the inside receiver in twins (bottom) and a stop and go move for Thompson as the 3rd receiver in trips. As you watch you’ll see that K-State clearly made attempts to get certain match-ups, and the primary one was with Wort in space. Wort trying to defend Thompson is nearly impossible, and K-State will go back after him later in the game. As you can see by the eyes of the inside two defenders (white arrows) in coverage K-State’s inside receivers, the run/pass responsibilities that both had contributed to help get receivers open. It puts a lot of pressure on a defender to have responsibilities on QB run in addition to man coverage.

As Thompson makes his initial move, a stop simulating a curl route, Wort is already beat. His shoulders and hips are facing upfield, making it easy for Thompson to slip by and get the first down yardage.

Here you can see the space created as Klein releases the ball. Thompson easily makes the catch and gains the first down.

On the last play of the 3rd quarter, K-State faced a similar situation with 3rd and 6 at the OU 34. (click here for video) Now K-State is a 4 x 1 set, with quads to the bottom and a single receiver to the top. Again, OU is locked in man (red arrows) with a free defender (top hashes, 20 yard line). K-State will use the two inside receivers in quads and a hitch route by the top receiver to hold that safety, leaving plenty of room for Lockett to work against his defender, this time #9, OU’s nickel defender #9 Gabe Lynn. This was the 2nd defender that K-State was able to get match-ups against and have success in the passing game from empty formations. Lockett will use a similar stop and go move to create space, again using OU’s man technique against them.

While Lockett doesn’t get Lynn in quite the same position that Thompson got Wort, he has created space by coming off hard on a vertical stem. As he stops his route, he gets Lynn to stop, easily opening up his move to the inside.

As the ball is thrown Lockett has the inside position at the 1st down marker, again allowing K-State to convert the 1st down. K-State ran the same play from the same formation here in the 3rd quarter. Klein threw the ball behind Lockett though, so he came up a yard short, but Klein gained the 2 yards on the 4th and 1 to get the first down the next play.

#2 – Wheel Route Against Combo Coverage (click here for video)

As the game goes along, OU switched up coverages and how they defended empty sets, trying to keep K-State off balance. However, the opposite happened, and Snyder seemed to be one step ahead of every adjustment that Stoops tried to make. Here, OU appears to be in man on the outside, and some sort of combo coverage on the inside receivers. Likely the nickel and safety had route reads on the #2 receiver in the formation causing both to stay on an inside track and allowing Thompson to be wide open outside. As the play develops, you’ll see #9 (Lynn) zone turn, and OU’s safety (#30) look inside as K-State’s bottom two receivers run inside routes. No one accounts for Thompson on the bubble route to the outside, leaving him wide open on the sideline. Also, right before the snap you can see all three have their eyes inside on Klein, further tipping off they are in some sort of zone/route read coverage and not locked on in man. Then at the snap you’ll see all 3 peak at Lockett as he comes off on his inside release. Whatever was actually the case, the defenders were confused and OU had no one to account for Thompson on the bubble route.

Here you see Wort and the safety peaking at Lockett, taking away the inside routes that K-State had already had success on 3 times. Lynn (#9) is turned inside to help and the corner is locked on to the outside receiver.

The success of the play is even better because as Lynn realizes Thompson has slipped outside on the wheel route, he runs into OU’s corner as he adjusts to the route. Klein threw the ball slightly behind Thompson, otherwise the play could’ve been even bigger down the sideline.

Still, Thompson makes the catch with on one around him and easily gets the first down, setting K-State up deep in OU territory on their way to a touchdown and an 11 point lead in the 4th quarter.

#4 – Crossing Route Against Inside Zone Coverage (click here for video)

On K-State’s game clinching drive to run out the clock, the Wildcats once again faced a 3rd down situation. Again, K-State executed well, and this time the offensive line had an even larger role because of the time need for Thompson’s crossing route to open up. Its likely OU was in some sort of combo/route read coverage, but K-State’s 4 outside receivers running verticals ended up getting OU matched up in man coverage. That leaves Wort and OU’s safety to bracket Thompson, but Wort’s responsibilities on Klein and poor coverage skills allow Thomspon to get open crossing the formation.

As Thompson gets to the middle of the field, you can see both Wort and the safety with eyes inside. In most zone coverage situations like this, its usually an inside linebackers responsibility to jam the crossing receiver and keep him from getting a free route across the formation. However, likely due to run responsibilities on Klein, Thompson easily crosses his face with no contact leaving him open. Again, the offensive line play was huge because of the time for Thompson to get open.

By the time Wort reacts to Thompson’s route, its too late and Thompson already has him beat. Klein’s throw is a bit high, but it probably needed to be to get over Wort as he attempts to break underneath the route.

Thompson makes the catch past Wort with plenty of space for the first down.

The previous frames show you the 5 completions from K-State from empty formations during the Oklahoma game. There were 2 other pass plays that ended with incompletions on back to back plays in the 3rd quarter. While neither was successful, its worthwhile to look at each and see a couple of more ways K-State attacked Oklahoma from empty sets and that on both the play call was set up to be successful.

#5 – Corner Route Against an Unconventional Defense (click here for video)

On this play OU brings two more defenders up to the line of scrimmage, giving the appearance that they will bring blitz pressure. Their 6 on our 5 offensive linemen will give them an advantage, so Klein brings the inside receiver from the top of the formation in to help protect. That leaves 5 defensive backs on our 4 receivers. As you’ll see, K-State gets the safety (#30) matched up on Thompson, the inside receiver in trips to the bottom of the formation. All 3 other receiver run quick in routes to hold the defensive backs leaving Thompson one on one with the safety, a match up K-State will take every time.

On the snap is when things get strange on this play. Likely because OU is anticipating a Klein run based on showing pressure, only one player brings pressure (circled) and OU drops 5  toward the middle of the field. OU’s 3 defensive backs are all moving forward (red arrows) while Thompson closes the gap on the safety (red line). Thompson is in position to beat the safety on a well run corner route, so its up to a good throw for a down field completion.

Unfortunately Klein wasn’t quite able to get the ball quite far enough down field, allowing the OU defender to make a play on the ball. But as you can see, Thompson has the defender beat by 2-3 yards and would’ve been open with a slightly better throw.

#6 – Deep Come Back Route Against Man (click here for video)

On the next play, K-State came out in empty again, but this time a 4 x 1 set. Again, OU is in man coverage with 1 free. K-State will use vertical routes by the inside 3 recievers to hold the OU free safety, while running deep hitch routes with the outside receivers. Again, K-State’s offensive line gives plenty of time for a route that takes longer to develop.

You can see the protection well in this clip as well as the 3 inside routes holding the OU defenders opening up the bottom of the field for Miller’s comeback route.

Miller does a great job of getting open and would’ve easily had a first down, unfortunately the ball went right through his hands and K-State was forced to punt.

Snyder, Dimel, and Miller had an excellent plan in place with their empty package for Oklahoma, this was magnified by the fact that even as OU made adjustments they were really never in position to defend what K-State was running. Only mistakes by K-State led to incompletions. As future opponents prepare for K-State, the success that empty sets had against Oklahoma will only make longer nights of preparation for opposing defensive coordinators as they attempt to scheme against the Wildcats.

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