Kansas State: Beyond the Box Score Offensive Preview

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.

So Mizzou's four-game gauntlet of A&M - Oklahoma - Nebraska - Tech ends on November 6.  On November 13, Mizzou welcomes Kansas State to town for Senior Day at Ol' Mizzou.  The Wildcats will likely not be as good as the aforementioned four opponents preceding them on Mizzou's schedule, obviously, but they certainly have their own challenges to offer.

When Mizzou and K-State meet, Mizzou could be reeling from a four-game losing streak, or they could be ranked in the Top 15 after pulling an upset or two.  The thing is, Kansas State could be looking at one of two similar extremes.  Their first eight games of the season are all winnable and almost all losable.  They will have at least a fighting chance in home games against UCLA, Nebraska and Oklahoma State; meanwhile, they will be facing three complete tossups away from home -- road trips to Kansas and Baylor and a battle at Arrowhead versus Iowa State.  After a visit from Texas the week before the Mizzou game, KSU could legitimately be 2-7 or 7-2.  If they are a little better than expected, then only Texas is a likely loss (then again, KSU strangely owns Texas...).  If they are a little worse, then Central Florida could be their final win of the season on September 25 (okay, they'll probably win at North Texas on November 27 too).

2009

Record: 6-6 (4-4 in Big 12)
F/+: 90th
S&P+: 104th
Scoring Margin: -4 (-0.3/game)
Conference Scoring Margin: -36 (-4.5/game)
Wins (F/+ Ranking in parentheses): #47 Texas A&M (62-14), #60 Kansas (17-10), #79 Colorado (20-6), #82 Iowa State (24-23), UMass (21-17), Tennessee Tech (49-7)
Losses: #10 Oklahoma (30-42), #17 Nebraska (3-17), #22 Texas Tech (14-66), #54 Missouri (12-38), #57 UCLA (9-23), #113 UL-Lafayette (15-17)

For those hopping on the K-State bandwagon, it's easy enough to point to the fact that they had a chance to win the North when they headed to Lincoln for their final game of the season.  That shows they were "in contention" and therefore had a solid season in Bill Snyder's second debut as Wildcats head coach.  But when you break it down with F/+ rankings, the season was not quite as impressive.  Against Top 40 teams, KSU was 0-3 with a scoring margin of -78 (125-47).  Against teams ranked No. 41-120, they went 4-3 with a scoring margin of just +28 (159-131), -20 if you take out the outlier that was KSU-ATM.  They couldn't take complete advantage of a schedule that featured two games against FCS opponents and three more against teams ranked 79th or worse, and while it felt like they were a more complete team after Snyder replaced the dastardly Ron Prince, the numbers only marginally back that up.  But Snyder was not exactly left a full cupboard upon his return.  He certainly gets a one-year pass free of any judgment because of the mess he had to clean up.

Coaching

Head Coach: Bill Snyder
Record at K-State: 142-74-1 (80-58-1 in conference)

Being that he is indeed the current Kansas State head coach, it is almost too much like a eulogy to focus on Bill Snyder's past accomplishments instead of his current, in-process body of work.  But if the four seasons since his retirement have proven anything, it's that what he accomplished in his first 17-year stint at K-State was just magnificent.  K-State won 11 games in six of seven seasons from 1997-03, went 54-0 in the regular season against teams not named Nebraska and Colorado from 1994-99, won a Big 12 title (the last team not named Oklahoma or Texas to do so), almost won a couple more, and came within an overtime period of the national championship game in 1998.  Damn.

Of course, it's not hard to see how he managed to pull that off.  While his own personal tenacity and skill got him pretty far, his ability to select great assistant coaches was staggering.  His coaching tree is one of the most impressive of any recent coaches in college football, if not the most impressive:

Image via Fan Nation

This time around, he has had to put together a talented staff all over again, and we have yet to see if it will work out.  Dana Dimel and Del Miller returned to Manhattan with Snyder to take over as offensive co-coordinators, while Chris Cosh (former Maryland DC and Snyder's LBs coach in 2004-05) is the full-time defensive coordinator after co-coordinator Vic Koenning left for Illinois.  We might find out that this staff has as much talent as the ones Snyder initially put together, but initial signs are not tremendously encouraging.

Clearly the coaching on last year's team was decent enough to maneuver them through some close games and keep some other games closer than they should have been (they lost at OU by only 12, at Nebraska by just 14), but recruiting has yet to impress, and ... let's face it: it's hard to continue to hit home runs when you have to replace that many coaches.  It eventually did Bobby Bowden in at Florida State, and it appeared to be one of the main causes of KSU's downfall at the end of Snyder's first tenure.  After the 2003 conference championship, KSU went just 11-13, and Snyder retired.  In terms of both recruiting (KSU began to lose out on many recruits to the likes of MU and KU, and while Gary Pinkel never defeated Snyder on the field the first time around, he helped to do irreparable damage to the depth on KSU's roster by recruiting away the likes of Chase Coffman, Tony Temple, etc.) and game coaching/development, eventually staff departures took their toll on Snyder's program.

But hey, the return of even a mediocre version of Bill Snyder has to feel better than this guy roaming your sidelines again, right?

Offense

Overall Ranks

F/+: 95th

S&P+: 85th
Success Rate+: 84th
PPP+: 88th

Standard Downs S&P+: 71st
Passing Downs S&P+: 85th

Redzone S&P+: 86th

Q1 S&P+: 86th
Q2 S&P+: 53rd
Q3 S&P+: 40th
Q4 S&P+: 100th

1st Down S&P+: 69th
2nd Down S&P+: 65th
3rd Down S&P+: 94th

Rushing Ranks

Rushing S&P+: 87th
Rushing SR+: 89th
Rushing PPP+: 82nd

Standard Downs: 65th
Passing Downs: 79th

Redzone: 88th

Adj. Line Yards: 48th

Passing Ranks

Passing S&P+: 92nd
Passing SR+: 84th
Passing PPP+: 92nd

Standard Downs: 74th
Passing Downs: 83rd

Redzone: 97th

Adj. Sack Rate: 85th
SD Sack Rate: 81st
PD Sack Rate: 89th


It really is impressive to see what KSU accomplished last season without hardly any breakthrough talent.  And no, Daniel Thomas doesn't count; we'll get to him in a bit.  Snyder inherited small-but-explosive Brandon Banks at wide receiver (he was a magnificent return man and solid receiver), Prince signee Thomas, and a hodge-podge of decent talent on the offensive line, but there was no depth and no quarterback.  He brought in Grant Gregory as a one-year rental from South Florida and did the most with what he had, but the results were, to say the least, subpar for a BCS conference team.

When you don't have the talent, nothing you try is really going to work.  KSU ranked in the 80s in both success rates (efficiency) and points per play (explosiveness), ranked in the 80s in all three major rushing measures, ranked in the 80s and 90s in passing measures, and really only showed any true quality in run-blocking.  Their play-calling was solid (they ranked higher in standard downs than passing downs in every category), but they just didn't have the talent to dig themselves out of holes.  Now, with more experience at quarterback but almost no experience whatsoever in the receiving corps, how much of that will change?  The offense is in a place where it almost certainly won't get worse, but how much they might improve depends on a couple of transfers and whether or not Dimel and Miller are able to get a better read of their personnel.

Rankings History

Category 2005
Rk
2006
Rk
2007
Rk
2008
Rk
2009
Rk
F/+ N/A* 81 50 67 95
S&P+ 78 82 52 70 85
Success Rate+ 89 86 54 77 84
PPP+ 66 80 51 61 88
Rushing S&P+ 49 72 43 85 87
Passing S&P+ 98 84 51 58 92
Standard Downs S&P+ 67 73 34 78 71
Passing Downs S&P+ 75 101 56 102 85
Adj. Line Yards 56 77 99 62 48
Adj. Sack Rate 52 54 18 7 85
* F/+ data does not exist for offenses and defenses until the 2006 season.

In true Ron Prince fashion, KSU's offense was all over the map in his three seasons.  The 2006 season was Prince's best -- he led KSU to an upset over Texas and a Texas bowl appearance -- but the offense was predictably brutal.  Josh Freeman was a true freshman quarterback handing to a couple of newcomers in the backfield and not finding much talent to which he could distribute the ball.  Things improved considerably in 2007, when James Johnson began to thrive and the passing game opened up a bit.  Of course, the defense was terrible, so KSU fell to 5-7.  In 2008, nothing worked.  The offense regressed, the defense was still terrible, and only non-conference games against North Texas, Montana State and UL-Lafayette allowed KSU to get back to five wins.

Over the past five seasons, KSU has been consistently good at ... nothing.  The passing game improved under Prince (or, probably more accurately, under Freeman), and the running game regressed (2007 aside).  The Wildcats have ranked between 54th and 89th in Success Rate+, 51st and 88th in PPP+, 43rd and 87th rushing, 51st and 98th passing, 34th and 78th on standard downs, 56th and 102nd on passing downs, 48th and 99th in line yards, and 7th and 85th in sack rates.  They have been all over the map, and it makes it rather difficult to predict where they might or might not improve in 2010.

If you look at just the 2005 and 2009 seasons (Snyder's last two), though, things get a little clearer.  Compared to 2005, KSU regressed considerably in both PPP+, rushing, and sack rates, but they held rather steady in most other categories.  They will need to rediscover the running game that abandoned them last season (again, we'll address Daniel Thomas momentarily), and at some point they will need to start generating easier points via long plays.  Can they?

Quarterback

2009 Unit Ranking: 92nd (11th in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Carson Coffman (6'3, 211, Sr., 860 passing yards, 60.7 completion%, 7.4 yards per pass, 2 TD, 4 INT)
Collin Klein (6'5, 233, So., 27 passing yards; 38 receiving yards, 6.3 per catch, 1 TD)
Sammuel Lamur (6'4, 221, Jr.)

Carson Coffman began the season as the No. 1 quarterback, but he was replaced by the conservative but mostly error-free Grant Gregory.  Coffman made more good plays than Gregory, but he also made more mistakes.  If he wants to hold off challengers and keep the job for his entire senior season, then clearly consistency is the key.  You cannot possibly have a better spring game than the one Coffman had this past April; he completed 38 of 51 passes for 440 yards and seven touchdowns.  Of course, a) that came against KSU's defense, so it's not entirely a good thing, b) one probably shouldn't try to glean too much from spring games, and c) Coffman had a very good spring game in 2009 too (though not that good).

If Coffman is to lose the job this time around, it is not completely obvious who might be vanquishing him.  Collin Klein was recruited as a quarterback from Loveland, CO, in the 2008 recruiting class, then moved to wide receiver last season.  He moves back now, but ... well, it doesn't fill me with optimism knowing that he apparently wasn't good enough to compete for the job when it was up for grabs last year.  That might be unfair ... we'll see.

Sammuel Lamur is another player who didn't compete last time around; he was redshirting after transferring with his brother Emmanuel (a strong safety and potentially their best defensive player).  He seems more of an athlete than a quarterback at this point (he completed 43% of his passes his sophomore year at JUCO), and he was far from impressive this spring (h/t BOTC), but we'll see what a redshirt year did for him.  Both Klein and Lamur strike a more imposing presence, for what that is worth.

Running Backs

2009 Unit Ranking: 75th (9th in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Daniel Thomas (6'2, 228, Sr., 1,265 rushing yards, 5.1 per carry, 11 TD; 257 receiving yds, 50 passing yds)
John Hubert (5'7, 182, RSFr.)
William Powell (5'9, 205, Sr.)

Each year that I have created POE ratings for Football Outsiders, there has been a runner who stopped and made me say, "Holy crap, he was rated that low??"  This time around, that runner was Thomas.  His peripheral stats were great -- he gained over 1,200 yards, averaged over five yards per carry, and scored 11 touchdowns.  Plus, he added 257 receiving yards and a Wildcat Offense threat.  So how did he rank so low?  Let's break out his season based on the opponent at hand.  Below is a table showing how Thomas performed against teams ranked in the bottom third of Rushing S&P+ defense (#81-120), the middle third (#41-80) and the top third (#1-40).

Range of Rushing S&P+ Rk Carries Yards TD Yds/Carry
Bottom Third
(UMass, Tennessee Tech, #112 Kansas, #102 ULL)
100 564 4 5.64
Middle Third
(#88 Iowa St., #86 A&M, #60 Texas Tech, #56 MU, #42 UCLA)
92 369 5 4.01
Top Third
(#30 Colorado, #10 Nebraska, #3 Oklahoma)
55 332 2 6.03

Thomas is getting a lot of preseason hype because of the big games he had against big opponents.  Justifiably so.  However, all of the "+" rankings I run are based on one simple concept: output versus expected output.  While Thomas generated probably a yard and a half more per carry against the three best defenses he faced, he also generated probably a yard per carry less against those in the middle third, and at best, he performed right at the expected level against the terrible run defenses.  So any gains he made against the good defenses, he gave back against the bad ones.

(It should be noted, by the way, that Thomas rushed for 7.7 yards per carry against Kansas, the only terrible run defense he faced after the season's first month.  He also averaged over five yards per carry in five of his last six games, with Mizzou the only exception.  He certainly improved throughout the course of the season; if that carries over, then that obviously suggests good things.)

The other rating I introduced in the POE column linked above is Highlight Yards.  The idea behind both this measure and Line Yards is to assign credit to both the runner and the blocking in a given play.  Highlight Yards are the yards that are left over after Line Yards are given their share.  It is an explosiveness measure, one intended to derive how much a runner generated beyond what his blockers gave him.  And of the 41 FBS running backs who were given at least 45 carries last season, Thomas' 1.77 Highlight Yards per carry ranked him just 30th.  As a means of comparison, West Virginia's Noel Devine was 6th, with 3.22.  Heisman winner Mark Ingram was 8th, with 2.59.  Thomas' 1.77 ranked him directly between Rutgers' Joe Martinek and BYU's Harvey Unga, both of whom were known more as power rushers than big-time, All-America caliber backs.  What this measure suggests is, an All-America caliber back would have generated 0.8 to 1.5 more yards per carry than Thomas did, considering the opponent and the quality of his blocking.  Thomas thrived in big games, but he left something to be desired in all the others.

So all of this is a really long way of saying the following: Thomas is a solid back who improved as the season progressed, but he almost certainly isn't as good as he has gotten credit for being this offseason.  With a reasonably experienced line and theoretical momentum from the end of 2009, he should have another strong year in 2010.  But it won't be a level of success that a number of other running backs couldn't accomplish given the same situation and number of carries.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

2009 Unit Ranking: 88th (11th in the Big 12)

Projected WR Depth Chart
Brodrick Smith (6'2, 206, So., 50 receiving yards, 10.0 per catch in 2008 at Minnesota)
Chris Harper (6'1, 234, So., 122 receiving yards, 13.6 per catch in 2008 at Oregon)
Aubrey Quarles (5'11, 202, Sr., 407 receiving yards, 12.0 per catch in 2008)
Sheldon Smith (5'11, 180, Sr., 27 receiving yards, 9.0 per catch)
Gage McKinnis (5'7, 185, Jr.)
Tramaine Thompson (5'7, 165, RSFr.)
Adrian Hilburn (6'1, 195, Sr.)
Zach McFall (6'2, 184, So.)
Darius Johnson (6'5, 196, RSFr.)

Projected TE Depth Chart
Travis Tannahill (6'3, 254, So., 37 receiving yards, 18.5 per catch)
Andre McDonald (6'8, 282, RSFr.)
Gabe Gantz (6'5, 253, Sr.)

Twelve players are listed above.  They caught a combined five passes last season.  Let that sink in a moment.  There's green, and there's that.  That said, there is plenty of hope in Manhattan that this unit can improve upon last year's achievement, and ... well, being that the unit can't get a whole lot worse, that is probably legitimate.  This is not a completely inexperienced unit -- Brodrick Smith was a relatively highly-touted recruit who signed with Minnesota and caught five passes his freshman year; Chris Harper, meanwhile, was a quite highly-touted quarterback who moved to receiver and caught a handful of passes himself for Oregon in 2008.  Smith had a great spring and likely starts the season at No. 1 on the list of Coffman's targets, with Harper second and 2009 redshirt Aubrey Quarles third.  Quarles was KSU's fifth-leading receiver in 2008.

Youth abounds at tight end, where a reasonably physically impressive sophomore, Travis Tannahill, looks like the No. 1 option in front of a gigantic redshirt freshman and third-string lifer.

Offensive Line

Image via Daylife

2009 Unit Ranking: 91st (11th in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
G Zach Kendall (6'2, 312, Sr., 17 career starts)
T Clyde Aufner (6'5, 300, Jr., 12 career starts)
C Wade Weibert (6'4, 303, Sr., 12 career starts)
G Kenneth Mayfield (6'4, 338, Sr., 10 career starts)
T Zach Hanson (6'8, 313, Jr.)
C Trevor Viers (6'4, 297, Sr., 8 career starts)
G Colten Freeze (6'4, 300, Jr., 4 career starts)
G Jordan Allred (6'2, 300, Jr.)
T Kaleb Drinkgern (6'5, 283, Jr.)
T Keenan Taylor (6'4, 278, RSFr.)

K-State returns 63 career starts to a line that was solid in some ways last season and less-than-solid in others.  Of the 30 offensive categories from 2009 that I listed above, the only two in which K-State ranked in the Top 50 were Q3 S&P+ (not going to try to figure that one out) and Adj. Line Yards.  They appeared to be at least decent at opening holes, though their sack rates lowered their overall OL rankings quite a bit.  Sack rates are, to me, the least telling stats that I measure.  They are an attempt to evaluate the offensive line, obviously, but a quarterback's own tendencies, or the quality of his receiving corps, make such a difference here.  Grant Gregory was patient in the pocket, almost to a fault.  If he was patiently waiting for iffy receivers to get open, then obviously he was going to get sacked a few times.  It is hard to gauge just how many of the sacks were the fault of the line and how many weren't.

Regardless, this clearly ranks as the No. 2 unit on this offense, after running back.  It looks like KSU will have three senior starters (potentially four), with only one underclassman making the projected two-deep above.  If Thomas really did make individual strides last year and he's running behind an improved and experienced line, then the running game could at least once again reach the Top 50 of the S&P+ rankings.  That isn't enough to threaten for the Big 12 title, or even the Big 12 North, but with such a touch-and-go early schedule, that could help them out considerably.

Summary

Unless both newcomers at receiver thrive at a level at which newcomers rarely do, this will still only be a mediocre offense at best.  But for Bill Snyder's style, that might be okay.  He has shown that he can reasonably effectively take the air out of the ball when the offense is overmatched and keep his team in the game one way or another.  This offense could represent a poor man's Virginia Tech offense, in which KSU runs as much as they possibly can and hopes to complete a bomb or two along the way.  But as we'll see tomorrow, KSU does not have anything resembling Virginia Tech's defense, and that will hold them back, to say the least.

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