Courtney Messingham likes to run the ball behind fullbacks and tight ends. He values time of possession and play-action passes. And he doesn’t give a flip about the number of snaps his team takes in a game, as long as his team wins.
That makes him an outsider compared to most Big 12 offensive coordinators, but he should fit right in at Kansas State.
Messingham has no plans to change the run-heavy system he coached to impressive results the past two seasons at North Dakota State now that he is calling plays for Chris Klieman with the Wildcats, even though the rest of the league is filled with fast-paced, high octane attacks.
“If you went in there and tried to be a spread, totally zone-read (offense) and go fast and get a 100 snaps a game I just don’t think that would make us different,” Messingham said. “And we need to be different. We need to try and force defensive coordinators in that league to defend everything for us to truly be good and have something we can hang our hat on.”
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That means what you saw from North Dakota State during its 38-24 victory over Eastern Washington in the FCS championship game is pretty close to what you will get from K-State next season.
The Bison ran 54 times for 290 yards and three touchdowns, spreading carries across the roster with six different rushers. They completed 13 of 19 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, with quarterback Easton Stick often rolling one way and throwing the other.
They scored in diverse ways. One drive lasted two plays and 49 seconds when Stick connected with Darrius Shepherd on a 78-yard pass. Another drive went on for 10 minutes, 10 seconds.
Messingham’s offense is more diverse than what K-State fans are accustomed to, as it features lots of disguised formations, pre-snap movement and misdirection, but it will feature the same rhythm, pace and quarterback keepers that were prominent under previous coordinators Dana Dimel and Andre Coleman.
“It’s going to be similar, but we just have to see what pieces we can add to that puzzle,” Messingham said. “We are always going to be physical, we are always going to run some gap-scheme stuff and some zone-scheme stuff. We are going to try and run the ball well enough that we can then use play-action pass. You want the quarterback to be a big part of it, but you also have to be smart.”
Those are the principles he used last season at North Dakota State, and there is no arguing with the results. The Bison averaged 7.4 yards per play on their way to a 15-0 record and a national championship.
They were best on the ground, rushing for 286.2 yards and 3.6 touchdowns per game. But they were also effective through the air, completing 62.3 percent of their passes for 185.53 yards and 1.86 touchdowns each game.
At times, it felt like Stick was throwing the ball simply to keep defenses honest. At others, misdirection passes caught the opposition off guard. One of those moments happened Saturday when Stick rolled to his right and found Lance Dunn uncovered for a 20-yard pass down the left sideline.
“Even though there were a few play-action passes that didn’t work, it still forces them to understand that we will throw the ball off those formations,” Messingham said. “Fortunately we were able to move the chains a bunch of some quick passing game stuff and then run the ball between the tackles. The biggest thing still goes back to can you find guys who want to will themselves to a win?”
There weren’t many secrets in Messingham’s offense. Opponents knew North Dakota State was going to run on most plays, and it did.
Still, defenses could do little to stop it.
“The coaches do a really good job of finding ways to run the football,” Stick said. “It’s not always going to look the same. It might look the same to the naked eye or to the fan, but there are a lot of different things that we try to do in the run game and be diverse in how we’re doing things, and I think that’s huge.”
“It just starts with getting the right people, and we’ve got really good guys up front, and then getting people to buy in as receivers and stuff that block their tail off on the perimeter and just do their job. It’s a fun thing to be a part of.”
There is sure to be a learning curve for Messingham as he adjusts to life in the Big 12. The Wildcats are facing unprecedented turnover at running back and began to incorporate some spread philosophies under Coleman. But he knows what he is talking about. He has 29 years of coaching experience and served as the offensive coordinator at Iowa State under former coach Paul Rhoads in 2012 and 2013.
First downs were hard to come by those seasons, with the Cyclones ranking near the bottom of the conference at 364.2 yards in 2012 and 363.1 the following year. Rhoads fired Messingham and replaced him with Mark Mangino, who brought Iowa State up to 400 yards per game but was also let go two years later.
Messingham has learned much since then and thinks he is ready for a second chance in the Big 12.
“I think,” Messingham said, “it gives me an advantage.”
He took an unusual path to this point, but, much like his old-school offense, different could be a good thing.