Three thoughts from Kansas State’s 39-33 triple overtime victory over Louisiana Tech on Saturday:
1. The wildcat formation, at least with Charles Jones running it, doesn’t work.
The entire town of Manhattan groaned whenever running back Charles Jones lined up at quarterback in the wildcat formation Saturday. At least that is how it felt.
He never throws. He always runs straight up the middle. And defenses are consistently ready to stuff him at the line of scrimmage. It’s the most predictable play in K-State’s offense, and it is no longer effective.
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As the game went on, Louisiana Tech had nine defenders in the box, ready to bum rush the line of scrimmage, every time Jones and the wildcat appeared. Looking at the stats, I actually commend Jones for gaining 33 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He never had a chance on most of those touches.
Bill Snyder knew as much, and took some subtle jabs at Dana Dimel’s play calling afterward, saying K-State needs to do a better job of lining up in plays that can work against specific defenses. Handing the ball to fullback Winston Dimel on first down every time K-State enters the red zone has also become amazingly predictable.
When asked point blank about the wildcat formation, Snyder said the following:
"A lot of things have to happen. We have to be able to do some things out of that formation that we have not done that protect that formation. The ability to throw the ball, depending on who you put back there, sometimes can be taken away from you. Indeed, if that is the case, you have to be able to block more guys than you can, because they can put everybody else in the box. They don’t have to defend against the quarterback if they choose not to.
"We have that in our system, the ability to raise up and throw the ball, but we did not do it. When they put all those people up there we have got to have an answer and the answer boils down to being able to throw the ball. We didn’t do that, not that we can’t, but we didn’t. We just have to work on executing that particular option if it is presented to us again."
If throwing out of the wildcat is a must, K-State should use someone other than Jones. He didn’t attempt a single pass out of the formation last year, and he didn’t Saturday. I asked Jones if the wildcat formation had grown predictable before the season started. He nodded and said defenses went all-in against the run.
There are other options. Joe Hubener is a powerful runner who can throw. I understand coaches want to limit his carries now that Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton are both injured, but using him in a run-based formation won’t send up red flares to the defense like Jones. What about Justin Silmon or Dalvin Warmack, both better runners than Jones?
Something has to change. The wildcat formation is too predictable with Jones.
2. K-State showed serious poise in overtime.
Joe Hubener and K-State’s offense were both at their best when their backs were against the wall Saturday.
Most of the first three quarters were discouraging. The Wildcats wasted good scoring opportunities, turned the ball over and managed just two field goals out of their first eight drives. They trailed 13-6 and the Bulldogs were in control.
Then everything changed.
K-State scored two touchdowns and a field goal on its final five drives of regulation and then scored on all three possessions in overtime, including two improbable touchdown passes on third downs when momentum had shifted toward Louisiana Tech.
Hubener had a big day, and maybe it’s the type of game-winning effort that gives him a confidence boost moving forward. Snyder went so far as to say when Hubener is on he can be as good as any quarterback out there.
Dominique Heath thanked God for his touchdown grab, saying “there was definitely some luck involved” and Cook made a great catch for the game’s final score. Those plays can sometimes bring a team together and make it stronger. K-State was far from perfect Saturday, and the narrow victory should raise some concern about how it will measure up in the Big 12.
Still, the comeback certainly had Cook feeling confident.
"We don’t quit. We finish," Cook said. "At K-State, that is what we do. That is the word we breakdown to in the summer. We finish, finish, finish. If you keep scratching eventually something good is going to happen. You have to just keep going at it until something good happens. That is what we did."
3. There is no doubt about Justin Silmon now.
In two weeks, I promise not to include Justin Silmon in my three thoughts. He will be K-State’s primary running back against Oklahoma State, and all opponents moving forward.
The Wildcats finally let him free against Louisiana Tech, and he feasted against the Bulldogs, rushing for 114 yards on 25 carries. Best of all, he delivered when K-State absolutely needed him to. Silmon started the comeback late in the third quarter when he rushed for 58 yards on five carries (on a single drive) and set up his team with a touchdown opportunity, which Hubener and Cook converted.
K-State asked so much of Silmon on that drive that he requested a breather when it entered the red zone. He was gassed.
Silmon is K-State’s top playmaker on offense. It was nice to see his coaches recognize that and feature him.