Once again Farmageddon featured two evenly matched teams and once again the Cats won a game that came down to the fourth quarter. Both teams showed strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day K-State was the better team. Each team had its fair share of mistakes; if K-State had eliminated mistakes they may have won by 14-17 points and if ISU had eliminated mistakes they may have won by 3-7 points. In the end, IMHO the better team won the game with a solid, but far from complete performance. My focus for this week is breaking down what both teams do to put pressure on opposing defenses; both feature the running game as their strength, but attack in very different ways.
While far from perfect, the Wildcat defense was able to get enough stops when needed, holding ISU’s offense to 13 points and less than 300 yards. At times it seemed ISU was moving the ball at will, and they did some things to cause problems, especially with their zone read running game and trips formations.
First, ISU’s offense puts a ton of pressure on defenses because they do an excellent job spreading the field by formation. On nearly half of their snaps, ISU had 4 WRs to spread the field using a variety of formations, mainly trips open (trips to one side, isolated split WR opposite) and doubles (2 WRS to each side) formations. The other half of the snaps ISU had 3 wide; on only a couple of snaps did ISU have only 2 players split out. Plus, they have a very good tight end, both blocking and in the run game, and he still puts pressure on a defense in 3 wide formations. Granted, some of these utilized the fullback in a slot position, but even then defenses have to treat the formation as a 3 wide or 4 wide set. This caused K-State to have to spread the field, usually leaving only 6 in the box to defend ISU’s running game.
ISU’s offensive strength is the zone read running game, and over half their play calls are zone reads, run plays off of zone read, and play action passes off zone read. They then mix in some speed option, some power running game (meaning they pull offensive linemen to get more bodies at the point of attack), and a few counter plays. The rest of their offense is mainly quick drop back passing game, usually looking for quick outs, curls, or slants. Then a few deep looks, including the RB follow route that they nearly scored on late to Robinson. This was a great play call because the leaked the RB late, after Hrebec had turned to help on the inside WR to the wide side of the field, leaving Robinson open down the middle which Arnaud fortunately missed. ISU gave us the biggest problems with zone read in trips formations because of the bubble threat to the trips side and the use of the fullback as an extra blocker at the slot position. This puts a ton of pressure on the safeties and linebackers because they have to pursue when the bubble is thrown, but still get run fits on both the RB and QB in the zone read scheme, which ISU runs very well. With the fullback the defense is still spread to defend the trips look, but ISU adds a better blocker, and utilized some motion, to add an extra body at the point of attack.
Considering our limitations in depth and talent on defense, we did a good job defending ISU’s scheme. Our DEs did a nice job keeping contain on zone read runs and our LBs did a nice job filling and getting off blocks. Granted, we had plenty of missed tackles and too often we are making first contact 2-4 yards down field, but some of that is because ISU’s big offensive line did a good job blocking our smaller front one on one allowing offensive linemen to get down field and get bodies on our LBs. And as I addressed on the message board Sunday, we definitely game planned to keep Arnaud in the pocket and force him to beat us with his arm. Most of the game in obvious passing situations we only rushed 3 and dropped a defensive lineman in attempt to have someone to account for Arnaud when he broke contain. We were very sound with this plan, unfortunately we missed some tackles when Arnaud did get out and run. On the last possession we finally started bringing more pressure, and several times flushed Arnaud from the pocket and got one sack. One time Arnaud did break contain and was able to find an open wide receiver down the sideline for a first down. In the end we were able to pressure enough to keep ISU from scoring a potentially game tying touchdown.
One final thought on our defense is the look we present to the opposing offense. Cosh’s philosophy is to present essentially the same presnap look to the offense, 2 high safeties, 4 down linemen, 2 inside LBs, and then covering up the split WRs in the formation. Given that look, we rarely run a zone or man coverage that utilizes 2 high safeties, most often our coverages are some sort of mix; zone on one side man on the other, man with 1 or 2 free, man outside and zone inside, etc. This often requires a tough match-up for our safeties, coming from their high safety spot 12-15 yards off the LOS to cover an underneath WR in man coverage. This contributed to ISU’s first score, a well designed route out of a doubles formation. The inside WR to the play side ran an outside route, turning our inside defender outside so he couldn’t help under the post route which Hartman was a little late getting to from his safety spot. I think this has been Hartman’s main issue this year, it is a tough adjustment for our safeties to make.
K-State does some of the same things as ISU, but our running attack and use of formations is much more diverse than ISU. Instead of having one main strength in the run game like ISU’s zone read, we run a very wide variety of formations and a very wide variety of running plays to attack a defense. This puts a ton of pressure on personnel and requires defenses to put in a ton of prep to get ready to defend us. Against ISU we ran 2 TE sets over 20% of the time, 3 WR sets around 40% of the time, and 4 WR sets a little under 20% of the time. We ran out of the I formation about 20% of the time as well. We ran out of the Wildcat a little under 20% of the time. The schemes we use vary widely as well; we come out and run leads, counter leads, power O, tosses, and speed option, all out of the I formation. From the shotgun we run speed option, zone read, zone read leads, and reverses. Then we’ll come out in power sets with 2 TEs and 2 backs, and even 3 backs Saturday, and run power football at the goal line. In the passing game we run various play action off our running game, in addition to some quick and intermediate passing routes, against ISU trying to find holes in their zone coverages. Out of the Wildcat our most successful play was a simple lead with Wilson leading for Thomas on a simple delay draw. We did try the option and a pass route, neither of which was very successful. In any case you can see a very diverse attack that will make it difficult for opponents to stop our running attack, even when they know its coming. You simply can’t completely be prepared for everything we can bring in our offense. After that, its up to execution and I believe our offensive line is solid enough to handle most of the teams we face.
Much of the time with our offense Saturday we gave Iowa State all kinds of issues. Even on the drives where we went three and out, we had some good play calls, but missed blocks or didn’t sustain blocks to allow for running lanes. And we did have a few miscues in the passing game that kept this game from being a comfortable win. Coffman had the miss to Smith on the sideline route between the squat corner and safety in cover two, but we overcame that mistake. Two stood out the most. The first was the miss on the seem route to McDonald. There was slight pressure, but when throwing to a target that big, that has to be completed. And then on the interception returned for the TD, Coffman actually did a nice job looking off the route initially, he just made a poor throw into a very tight coverage spot. But to be fair to Coffman, he made a great play before the McDonald miss by buying time outside the pocket and then lofting a perfect throw to Quarles that the ISU defender came in to knock away at the last moment. He also made several tight throws into coverage spots on slants. The deep throw off play action was mostly a great play by Smith.
We all know we are going to face more talented, faster defenses than we saw from the Cyclones Saturday. But what we did see was a very disciplined defensive scheme that we were able to find plenty of success against. It will be interesting to see how we prepare when we face some tougher opponents, but I think we have a system, even with our limitations, that will allow for success against nearly anyone on our schedule as long as we make good decisions and minimize mistakes.
Overall I’d give the defense a B- and the offense a B for Farmageddon. We had a solid plan on both sides of the ball, though a couple ISU wrinkles did cause our defense some problems and mainly our own mistakes on offense prevented us from putting up an additional 14-17 points. For the first league game a solid performance overall.