Inside the Gameplan: Eternal Recurrence and KSU

Malik Jefferson. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Malik Jefferson. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once suggested that everything in the universe cycles on repeat, with the same events occurring over and over again in an eternal recurrence. When you examine Texas’ series against Kansas State you have to wonder if he was on to something.

Talented but occasionally sloppy Texas team meets athletically limited but fundamentally sound Kansas State squad, the latter team imposes their will on the game, Texas heads home with a loss and wonders how they lost to such an opponent.

Here’s a glimpse of Texas’ bouts with Kansas State since the “Snyderaissance” in 2009 when the purple wizard guided Wildcat football back into Big 12 prominence.

Texas two victories this decade were marked by positive turnover margins and playing at home. The series has been marked by beat up K-State QBs (Klein played hurt in 2011 and 2012, Ertz was out in 2015), Wildcat dominance at home, and an inability on the part of Texas to stop the K-State run game.

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Other than the triumph of Manny Diaz’s excellent 2011 squad, the Wildcats have run the ball either “fairly well” or “easily” against Texas’ defenses.

I think many of the recurrence in this series is largely due to the following dichotomies:

1). Kansas State has been defined under Snyder as a disciplined team while Texas has been defined this decade as a sloppy, underachieving team. The Wildcats spend the first few games of every season nailing down their assignments so they can attack tendencies against better opponents later in the year whereas Texas tends to spend the first few weeks of the season realizing that something went terribly wrong in the offseason and then scrambling to fix it.

The Wildcats consequently steal a lot of advantage back from Texas with turnovers, avoiding assignment errors, and of course with special teams which are a particular focus for Kansas State’s staff and basically an afterthought in Austin.

2). The Wildcats’ offense is all about a diverse run game that heavily involves the QB both in the option or in single-wing style direct snap runs. They focus on limiting penetration up front with their OL and then rely on option tactics and patient running from their backs to beat linebackers.

Texas hasn’t enjoyed much good, instinctive play at linebacker this decade and you certainly wouldn’t use those terms to describe the 2016 unit. This UT run defense is totally dependent on the DL and OLBs causing disruption and making a mess up front that frees Anthony Wheeler and Malik Jefferson to find the ball. If this game depends on Wheeler and Jefferson making good, quick, aggressive decisions against the run then it probably won’t go too well for Texas.

The Gameplan

For K-State the game plan is rather obvious and simple. They need to limit the damage done by D’Onta Foreman without giving up huge gains in the Texas passing game. In particular, they need to keep defenders over the top against Texas’ switch routes that have been producing deep touchdown lobs in almost every game this year.

The way they accomplish this goal will probably look similar to how they’ve defended everyone else this season. They’ll play their patented quarters defense with off coverage and the safeties at depth and they’ll give one of their safeties (depending on formation) responsibility to trigger downhill against the run to help control Foreman.

Their personnel for handling this task is actually the best Texas has faced this season. Here’s a glimpse of how they stack up to the rest of the run defenses that Texas has faced this year:

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With the exception of Oklahoma, who was actually missing starters across their DL, linebacker corps, and secondary when they faced Texas, Kansas State will be by far the best rushing defense that Texas has faced this season.

Scipio already did a great job introducing the cast of characters that make up their unit in his preview but here’s what their approach to Texas’ best formation will probably look like in terms of schematics:

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They’ll play their “2-read” coverage to the slot, which is a brand of patter-matching quarters in which the corner and safety can both play deep if both receivers run deep routes. Whether or not both of their corners will be disciplined enough to stay on top of switch routes will remain to be seen. They tend to be well aware of their opponent’s plays though and lean on the conservative side.

On the other side of the formation, expect free safety Kendall Adams to spend a great deal of time playing in the box to help control D’Onta Foreman and the run game. The Wildcats will also drop safety Dante Barnett down from time to time and play Adams deep. Barnett is the better athlete and tackler but Adams is big (around 210) and neither will be afraid to crash into Foreman.

The biggest issue for Texas is probably whether or not they can make headway running the ball against the Wildcat front. Both their linebackers (Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore) are quite good and nose tackle Will Geary is very active. If they can reduce Foreman’s effectiveness from his normal four yards per carry in the first three quarters to only two or three yards per carry that could put Texas behind the chains and lead to major problems for Buechele and the passing game.

On the other side of the ball, this mostly comes down to how well Texas handles Jesse Ertz and the K-State QB option game. Their best play this season is outside zone read, particularly when running the ball to the right behind converted center Dalton Risner (now a 6-foot-5, 300-pound right tackle) and guard Terrale Johnson (a 6-foot-1, 300-pound senior who’s quick and active).

If the DE isn’t disciplined on the backside, QB Jesse Ertz is more than quick enough to make them pay.

There’s a lot more to their running game but their varieties of zone read are the best component to the arsenal this season because their line is good when blocking zone and Ertz is very quick on the edge. When they get down into the red zone they’ll sometimes run a Wildcat package with fullback Winston Dimel (6-foot-1, 235, son of the offensive coordinator) taking the direct snap and plunging straight ahead.

They’re also a better passing team then you’d think from their numbers, often showing potential on one snap and then blowing the next one due to a drop, blown protection, or errant throw. Dominique Heath is the player to watch (#4), he’s small and speedy like Tyler Lockett (5-foot-9, 175) but not yet as skilled a route runner.

There’s a lot of different formations and concepts for the Texas defense to be prepared for, so if the game plan isn’t simple and straightforward like it was against Iowa State expect a lot of disastrous assignment errors. If Texas can stick to a few key calls and shows up ready to play disciplined, team ball against the option then they have a good chance of limiting this Wildcat offense and coming away with a win. That’s pretty much the story every time these teams face yet we probably already know the ending.