On the surface, it seemed easy. Jake Waters dropped back to pass, saw Tyler Lockett streaking toward the end zone and lofted the football into his hands for a 35-yard touchdown.
Truth is, Waters only made it look that way.
The play Waters on Kansas State’s first touchdown against West Virginia last weekend was actually one of the most difficult things for a quarterback to do. He started that series on the sideline, and watched as Daniel Sams moved the Wildcats into scoring range. It wasn’t until they faced a third-and-long that K-State coaches called on Waters and asked him to make something happen with his strong arm.
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When he entered the game, he was out of rhythm, cold and tasked with throwing a perfect spiral down field the same way third-down specialists are asked to rush the quarterback or stuff the line of scrimmage on defense. Those plays require brute strength. This one required finesse.
Waters didn’t flinch.
“That strike he threw to Lockett is a tough thing to do,” senior receiver Tramaine Thompson said. “In a two-quarterback system you always have to be worried about who is going to be cold and who is going to be in a flow of the game, but he came in after sitting for two series and threw a perfect deep ball. That is a testament to him.”
Most quarterbacks don’t have to worry about staying sharp — both mentally and physically — for extended periods of time on the sideline, but for Waters it is a necessity. The Wildcats remain dedicated to their two-quarterback system, and Waters goes into every series unsure whether he will lead the offense onto the field.
He has to stay focused, because K-State coach Bill Snyder might ask him to go in or come out on a moment’s notice. The situation is new, but Snyder demands the same from all his players.
“If you don’t stay in the game then it is a different experience,” Snyder said. “If you stay in it and you play the game snap after snap no matter where you are located then you have a much better chance to have some success when you step on the field. So I think for he and Daniel both, when they are not in, they really play every snap even from the sideline. When you do that it is almost like taking an on-field rep.”
Waters expected to take the bulk of K-State’s on-field reps when he was named the starter before the season, but he has adjusted to the new quarterback rotation. He doesn’t mind taking “mental reps” from the bench.
“We always talk about complementing each other,” Waters said. “Daniel and I have a great relationship. Whenever we can come in and do that kind of thing out there, that makes the offense better as a whole.… That’s what I want to do, anything possible to get a touchdown.”
The Wildcats got plenty of touchdowns in their last game. After struggling early, they reeled off 28 straight points in the second half and won in a blowout.
All the while, K-State’s quarterbacks put up eye-popping stops. Waters completed 10 of 13 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Sams completed all eight of his passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Together, they threw for more touchdowns than incomplete passes.
No matter how much Waters plays, he can’t argue with those results. No one can.
“They have found what works for them,” K-State center B.J. Finney said. “They are both improving on their game and they are working hard at it. Guys have gotten used to the two quarterback system.… Eveything is just meshing together better than it was before.”