Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday check-up on the B12: Noting WV and talking K-State O

The biggest takeaway from week 7 in the Big 12?
West Virginia did something very interesting by going into Lubbock and smacking the Red Raiders around to such a degree that Kliff Kingsbury felt the need to apologize to the Texas Tech community.

It seems plain enough that Pat Mahomes wasn't 100%, thanks to a shoulder injury he's currently playing through, but West Virginia still whipped the Red Raiders at the point of attack and held them to 6.9 yards per pass attempt in a 48-17 stomping.

I'll have to deep dive into this film later on but I think we can at least take note that West Virginia is playing pretty good football right now. And as I noted when breaking down their defense recently, they get Baylor, TCU, and OU all in Morgantown.

Their OL was already pretty good a year ago and returned virtually everyone while adding Joe Wickline's oversight on their development. Skyler Howard was starting to find the range of an athletic WR corps at the end of 2015 and he returned, as did that skill talent.

Baylor continued to overcome shoddy accuracy from Seth Russell thanks to a run game that is really hard to stop. It'll be interesting to see how that holds up against teams with good enough DBs to play man coverage and load the box without giving up too many points to allow them to match points on the scoreboard with Baylor. Right now I'm not buying them as B12 champs but some of that is simply due to a difficult schedule ahead that takes them on the road to Norman and Morgantown.

Oklahoma smashed Kansas State, but this outcome was heavily influenced by Jesse Ertz being knocked out of the game. I was talking Wildcat football recently with Tye Burger of Bring On the Cats in a long-running email thread we have and discussing the issues with K-State's offense.

Right now Wildcat fan is reaching near and far for solutions that could fix their ailing offense which is threatening to waste one of Snyder's better defenses. One hopeful solution I've heard many times is putting in running QB Alex Delton to just run a full-time spread-option attack similar to what Ohio State is running with J.T. Barrett.

I see two considerable problems with that notion, one is that it would waste a WR corps that is actually pretty good, to say nothing of all the practice reps that have gone into the Wildcats' pass protection schemes and passing game in general.

Another problem is that it would make the Wildcat offense rather predictable and one-dimensional. Texas attempted this last year with Jerrod Heard at the helm and arguably better overall personnel than K-State has right now at OL or RB. It worked okay for a while until Iowa State cheated them by loading the box with seven and triggering both safeties downhill at the hint of run-action.

Texas couldn't punish them with the screen or passing game and were subsequently shut out.

Kansas State's offense is currently designed to run clock while sustaining drives with steady gains so as to shorten the game and limit the possessions that opposing offenses have to get after their own defense or come out ahead in the percentages from throwing the ball around. They achieve that result by having a huge arsenal of formations and concepts that they can utilize to hit weak spots in defenses and allow their own team to come out ahead in the limited number of possessions that occur over the course of the game.

Playing that style requires a team of veterans on both sides of the ball who are intelligent, versatile, and highly disciplined. Currently Kansas State only has that on defense while their offense features youth and inexperience at QB, WR, and OL.

They'd be in better shape if Jesse Ertz had played last season as they intended, but he blew out his knee. They'd be in okay shape this year if Jesse Ertz didn't keep getting hurt as he has the versatile collection of skills necessary to run such a diverse offense. You can see him getting close to figuring things out at times only to be thwarted by drops, poor blocking, or injuries.

All that to say, Kansas State's system makes a great deal of sense and is being held back by the fact that they haven't consistently had QBs on the roster for the past two years that could execute a very challenging and QB-centric offense. Here's some alternative universes where this wouldn't be a problem in Manhattan:

1) Jesse Ertz didn't have injury problems and was currently executing a system he understood very well, carrying the water for a young OL and WR corps and pointing towards a hopeful future on offense.

2) K-State had signed a JUCO QB in 2014, 2015, or 2016 that could have learned the ropes and executed this offense at a basic, functioning level if not better than Ertz.

3) Alex Delton had mastered this "kitchen sink" offense by now so that the Wildcats had a more athletic one-dimensional back-up than Joe Hubener.

As it stands, K-State instead opted to sign Delton in 2015 and Skylar Thompson in 2016, which was basically the equivalent to betting on Ertz and hoping to develop talented youth behind him. If he was healthier, this would look like a great move, but he hasn't been so it hasn't looked so good.

If I could play the role of Capt. Hindsight for a moment, I'd say that K-State should be looking in Texas more for the types of versatile, gritty, undersized QBs with a high mental capacity for complexity that make this offense work. It's not as though there's a shortage of such players in Texas, after all Kansas State didn't offer Baker Mayfield either.

Dana Dimel gets a lot of criticism in Manhattan these days, which I think is rather silly given the brilliance of their offense and the obvious oversight that Bill Snyder has over it. However, if there's a criticism to be made it's that they haven't found enough QBs that can execute their system over the last few years despite the obvious fact that this system is rather hard on the physical health of the guys who play the position.

It'll be interesting to see if Ertz is healthy for the home game against Texas this coming weekend, if he is then I suspect some of these criticisms will pass away for at least a week.

Big 12 Power rankings:

1) Oklahoma
2) West Virginia
3) Baylor
4) TCU
5) Oklahoma State
6) Kansas State
7) Texas
8) Texas Tech
9) Iowa State
10) Kansas


  1. I'm betting on the B12 (de facto) championship game being in Morgantown on Dec 3rd. Seth Russell will come around and WV has shown they can score, but the defenses for both teams are the biggest areas of improvement. I'm not sure WV's LB's are as good as their DB's, but Baylor is deep at both spots which in unusual.
    I don't think the OU DB's can keep offenses out of the end zone.

    1. I would bet against Baylor coming out of Norman with a win.

    2. So, (1) I have no faith in Baylor's defense holding up against a WR corps like Oklahoma's. Any good WR corps, really.

      But (2) WVU looks legit. Tony Gibson's defense has enacted the strategy of "we don't care what you do on a per-play basis as long as you don't score" and its working. I think the Sooners are going to be in for one heck of a fight on November 19.

    3. 1) I'm not sure what to make of Baylor's D yet, I need to see more. I'll circle back when they play one of the more important games, like the showdown in Norman.

      2) "All or nothing" I call it. He understands the rules have been changed and he's playing by the new rules. He's like a pirate, the defensive version of Mike Leach.

      Their O has looked pretty interesting as well though. They have some nice concepts for giving Sterling Gibson a free release on vertical routes that make for an interesting time when they have the ball on offense.

    4. Oops, Shelton Gibson, not Sterling.

  2. Thanks for doing these Ian.
    You have an audience!

    Come at this from a Sooner perspective.
    Before making prediction about OU/WV/BU, I'd like to collect more data, and the next few weeks will provide meaningful insight into these teams.

    OU's biggest problems with BU will be on defense. OU'll will be tested by a strong passing attack in Lubbock vs Tech. Kingsbury has his best chance to beat Mayfield on Saturday.

    OU's biggest problems with WV will be if the Neers can stop an efficient OU running game. UT vs WV will give us a hint as to whether WV can render a team one dimensional. If not, OU's tough to stop.

    Perine is on the shelf for at least the next 3 weeks so OU's down to Mixon and a frosh (a good one, but a frosh). Perine is a great RB for several reasons: has a little wiggle and a lot of power, good hands, great blocker.

    Mixon is an adequate blocker and Adams is untested. Def coordinators should make OU prove they can pick up blitzes with these backs.

    1. Good stuff. The emergence of Westbrook over the last few weeks seems to be the main story in Norman, I had no idea he'd been hampered by injuries until I saw him run against Texas and was like, "oh yeah, there's that guy that was untouchable at Blinn..."

      West Virginia vs TCU this Saturday may teach us more about the 2016 Big 12 race than any other game on the docket.

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