Speed. Once again the Cats faced an offense with more speed than we have, and once again that offense gouged us for big plays. Unlike the Nebraska game, we got some offense and special teams plays to sort of make it interesting, but all three phases came up short in the end and the Cats came home from Waco with a disappointing loss. This week will look at some specifics, but overall this is a big picture look at K-State’s defense and many of the problems we have seen this season.
When I look at a game like this and the number of breakdowns we had defensively, I look at 3 things. 1st, are we aligned soundly. 2nd, did we execute the scheme. And 3rd, do we have the players to execute the scheme.
As hard as it is to believe at times, most of the time in the 1st area (alignment) we weren’t terrible. Granted, there are always times you could be another 3-5 yards in one direction or another with your safeties and LBs, but against spread teams that is going to happen. Especially against and offense like Baylor’s, even more so than against Nebraska. K-State continues to use a 4-2-5 look, mostly trying to have 2 high safeties and covering up the WRs with a 3rd safety, an inside backer, and the corners. The spread, and especially Baylor’s frequent use of bubble screens, quick outs, and quick slants forced us to play our safeties wide to help. Plus, more often than not Baylor stayed balanced by formation; utilizing doubles (4 WR to each side) or twin WRs to one side, a single split to the other, and then a FB with 2 RB looks or a TE, mostly to the split side. Overall in watching the replay, we had what most would consider sound alignments, though clearly not 100% of the time.
IMHO, much of our problem comes in area #2, execution of the scheme. We have way too many instances of players taking poor angles and/or fitting up against the run too wide or too tight. This is especially true of our ILBs and Ss. This was compounded in the passing game this week by the fact that against Baylor we played man coverage (or a man-zone mix of sorts) on more snaps than I can remember in the last several years. I didn’t chart the exact number, but we were in man well over 50% of the time, and it would be safe to say we were in man for 2/3 of Baylor’s offensive snaps. Baylor schemed against this well, both in the passing game and the running game. In the running game we would often have an ILB in man on Baylor’s FB or TE; Baylor would run a quick out with either of those players instead of using them as a blocker and essentially remove an ILB from being part of the play. Plus, Baylor was effective in using crossing routes and underneath routes to pick defenders off, namely on their first score. They used a trips bunch set and the inside receiver essentially picked off the defender allowing Baylor’s WR to be wide open over the middle leading to the score. On Baylor’s 3rd drive, Baylor picked up a big play by running the inside WR in a trips set on a slant; in this set the high safety had him man and was 15 yards off of the WR at the snap making it nearly impossible to cover him without ILB help. And our ILB help, especially from Childs, is not what it needs to be. Many times against doubles formations, the ILB would cover flats to help, getting underneath Baylor’squick out/slant passing game. The problem was too often our ILB was late getting to his flat, or too wide allowing the Baylor defender to get behind/under neither his pass drop. And finally we have our safeties continuing to struggle in our run fits and angles; this allowed Finley to turn several runs that should’vebeen knocked down at around 10 yard gains into 30+ yard runs, including the 80+ yard run/fumble.
Then you have the 3rd area, andwhether or not we have the players to consistently make plays. Last weekend really showed that this is a big problem as well. K-State had many, many opportunities where you simply need a player to make a play where we failed to do so. On Baylor’s 3rd drive, we had Griffin defended well on zone read, but a missed tackle allowed Griffin to get to the edge allowing an impromptu reverse making what should’ve been a 5 yard loss become a big gain inside the 5 yard line. On Baylor’s 4th drive, Garrett was in position for an INT on a sideline route but it fell out of his hands. Later on that drive Walker bit terribly on little curl move, allowing his WR to get open for a 50+ yard TD catch and run. On Baylor’s final drive of the half, Baylor has a 3rd and 15, and we have a safety step forward initially allowing a WR to get wide open on a seam route for the first down. A couple plays later Harold had free shot at Griffin, but he slowed down to contain, allowing the QB to step up and complete the pass down-field for another 1st down. Later in the same drive we had first Harrison, then Hrbec in position inside the 5 to make INTs that would’ve prevented Baylor’s FG. It was more of the same in the 2nd half.
The problem is really what can be done about this. Some of the issues will only be solved with recruiting better players, but continued questions about this scheme are valid. 1st, I have mentioned several times K-State’s continued use of 2 high safeties, and the fact that we give the same pre-snap read most of the time. In some ways this can be a benefit, but without the correct personnel, it continues to put a ton of pressure on certain positions, especially the safeties. For a “check with me” offense like Baylor’s it makes things easily because they know the angles we have, and can attack specific spots on the field. Even though we’ll disguise coverages and the movements we’ll make after the snap, the QB still has fairly easy reads andthey know where we’ll be, especially the players they want to attack when they think they have a match-up advantage. The counter to this is to move around more and show different alignments pre-snap, then move after the snap. IMHO, this can be more effective, especially against a “check with me” offense, because you can confuse the QB and OC making the calls from the booth. Plus, to run this scheme well you need at least one very good DT, one very good ILB, and one very good safety. Right now we don’t have any of those. We have a bunch of guys that would be really solid college players playing along-side dominant players, but a lot of bad college defenses have those. With spread offenses and zone blocking, you have to have some guys that will defeat blocks and make plays at the point of attack, and we simply don’t have that consistently right now.
At the end of the day, with our current personnel there is not a defensive scheme we can run that is going to shut down most of the opposing offenses we’ll see in the Big 12. But in the current scheme, and others, there are plenty of ways to limit the big plays, and create more big plays of our own. Obviously the current staff is not getting everything done to make this happen as we’ve seen too often this season. We did lose a couple pretty important players from last year’s defense, but to go from giving up 105 yards per game and 3.5 YPC rushing to 230 and 5.6 YPC this year is not acceptable. Most good college defenses are founded on stopping the run, and this is a big reason this defense is struggling, especially against teams with dual thread QBs. Until we can figure out a way to limit big plays, we’ll see more of the same, even though this team will still probably be a 7-8 win team. But K-State fan’s expectations are for more than that, and those expectations aren’t unreasonable.