By Taylor Kolste
The success that Bill Snyder has achieved at Kansas State is unparalleled in comparison to the work done by any other coach in the school’s history. In Coach Snyder’s 26 years as the head coach, Kansas State has accumulated a .656 Win Percentage and 19 bowl appearances compared to a .331 Win Percentage and 2 bowl appearances in the 80 seasons in which Bill Snyder was not the head coach. Although there are many other things that have contributed to their success, scheme is something they have excelled at that has contributed to some degree to their success.
Ever since Collin Klein became the starting quarterback for Kansas State in 2011, the QB run has been a staple of the Wildcat offense. Over the past 7 seasons, KSU’s quarterbacks have averaged 1012 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns per season.
This article will focus on Kansas State’s 2014 season (ironically the season with the lowest QB run production over the past 7 years, but the only season that I have Kansas State film from). Over the first 10 games of that season (the games I had film of), Kansas State ran 85 QB run plays for 815 yards and 8 touchdowns. Their QB run game can be broken down into 2 general categories, designed QB runs and RPOs. They ran 37 designed QB runs which went for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns. They ran 48 QB run RPOs for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns. On those plays, their quarterbacks were 14 for 20 for 296 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions while rushing for 235 yards and 1 touchdown on 28 carries. Some of the RPOs that KSU ran were really unique in that the QB would read it as he approached the line of scrimmage. They would usually pair the run concept with some type of vertical pop pass that the QB could pull up and throw to just before he reached the line of scrimmage. As the stats show, they had a lot of success using these concepts.
Here is a statistical breakdown of each of their QB run concepts:
QB Iso RPOs
As the chart above shows, Kansas State most frequently ran their QB run RPOs off of their Iso scheme and did so with a high success rate. The thinking behind Kansas State’s RPOs was quite simple:
- Isolate one receiver on a vertical pop pass.
- The QB will only look at this designated receiver.
- If he is open: throw him the ball.
- If he is covered: tuck and run.
- The other receivers are simply trying to pull coverage away from the pop pass.
In a way, it is similar to the Baylor Deep Choice series in that they are giving the QB only 1 receiver to look at, while the others are just trying to occupy coverage, only Kansas State is doing it as an attachment to their QB run game. The QB will not read a certain defender, but most of these RPOs are designed to place a certain defender in a run-pass conflict. The reason they have the QB just read the route is that it is easier for the QB to tell if the receiver is open or not than to key a certain defenders movement. This also allows the QB to have a wider range of vision increasing his odds of noticing an unexpected defender “robbing” the pop pass. Mark Richt has explained this idea when discussing why he prefers progression reads over reading defenders in the passing game.
The most frequent RPO that Kansas State ran was to run their QB Iso play and slip the fullback pass the playside linebacker that he would normally block on Iso. This is similar to the pop pass that Baylor used to run off of Iso. In the following play, KSU runs the playside tight end on an arrow to help pull the playside safety away from the fullback pop pass. Both outside receivers just jog vertical routes to occupy the corners. The playside linebacker (#1) steps up and the safety is widened by the arrow allowing for the fullback to run to open space down the middle. As soon as the QB sees the fullback pop open, he will throw him the ball. Even though the QB is not reading the playside linebacker, the design of the play is to attack this defender. Also, throughout this article, note how Kansas State adjusts their line splits to create better blocking angles. They would usually use very tight splits to the 1-technique side to help with the double team, and would widen their splits in the gap they were inserting the fullback in.
Because the line is still run blocking, the QB can run the ball on this play if the pop pass does not come open. On the following play, the fullback gets caught up trying to release on his pop pass, so the QB tucks the ball and looks for open space. The defense has no one in the backside B gap allowing for an explosive run for the offense. This play is designed to throw the pop pass, but the QB run is still a good option if the pop pass gets covered.
Kansas State could also run this play from empty with a tight end running the pop pass.
In the following play, KSU runs the fullback from his wing position to the flat to pull the corner. This is a great play to run versus man coverage because the playside linebacker, who is responsible for covering the tight end on this play, will almost always step up when he sees the line blocking run and the QB running downhill towards him. The free safety also comes downhill to defend the QB run allowing for an easy 44 yard touchdown pass.
Kansas State could also just run QB Iso without the pop pass attached. This takes away some of the explosive potential that the pop pass provides, but gives the offense a better run option. While the RPO version averaged more yards per play, there are some situations in which this version would be better suited. When running their QB Iso play, KSU would normally spread the field with 10 or 11 personnel giving them light numbers in the box. They are able to gain an extra blocker by running the QB which allows them to block every defender in the box (unless the defense goes cover 0).
On the following play, KSU utilizes a 3×1 formation from 11 personnel. The tight end will bump out to block the outside linebacker which allows the slot to climb straight to the safety. The offense now has 6 blockers for 6 defenders in the box with the free safety being the only unblocked defender. With no pass option for the QB, he is better able to read and set up his blocks on the Iso play. The QB jumps outside the lead blocker momentarily which helps influence the playside linebacker and remove the safety from the play. This creates an easier block for the fullback and an open lane to the end zone for the QB. Again, this is the advantage of using their designed QB runs instead of their RPOs.
In the following clip, Oklahoma plays cover 1 against KSU’s 4-wide formation, which again, leaves only 6 defenders in the box. With it being man coverage, each of the receivers will just run-off their defender rather than block them. With no pass option for the QB to read, he is able to better set up his blocks and find the open gap. After clearing the second level, the QB is able to make the free safety miss turning an already big play into a huge one.
QB Power RPOs
Although they did not run these as much as their QB Iso RPOs, Kansas State could also run some of their RPOs off of QB Power. While their QB Iso RPOs were designed to attack box defenders, the RPOs they ran off of QB Power were designed primarily to attack either third level or second level defenders removed from the box.
This time, Kansas State pairs their QB Power play with a frontside seam from their slot receiver. The outside receiver just runs a stop route to occupy the corner. As was the case on their QB Iso pop pass RPO, the QB will look at the “live” receiver as he approaches the line of scrimmage; if he is open, he will throw him the ball, if he is covered, he will keep the ball on the run concept. On this play, the rolled-down safety buzzes down to the flat and the playside linebacker is held enough by the run action to create a window to throw the seam. This play is also a good example of how using these RPOs can help other QB runs. Second and third level defenders are not as aggressive when playing the run because they are aware of the threat of the pass behind them. While some would argue that KSU should have been called from illegal man downfield on this play, the right guard is right around the 3 yard threshold and the flag is usually only thrown if the offense is blatantly violating the rule. In the 10 games I cut up, KSU was flagged for illegal man downfield only once on 20 RPO throws.
The following play is a similar, yet slightly different play from the last one. This time, KSU uses an unbalanced 5×0 set with 2 fullbacks in the game. The first fullback out of the backfield will run the pop pass up the seam while the second one will block for the QB Power play. The 2 receivers aligned to the field will run a smash concept to occupy the corner and safety. This play is a good example of why the QB reads the route rather than a specific defender. Even though the outside linebacker steps up allowing the fullback to gain a few steps on him vertically, the backside corner places himself in good position to take away the pop pass. If the QB were just keying the outside linebackers movement, he would be less likely to see the backside corner and more likely to throw the pop pass. Instead, the QB is just reading the route and keeps the ball on the Power play once he sees the pop pass is covered.
As was the case with QB Iso, KSU could also run their QB Power play without the pass element. Again, with the QB not reading any pass route, he would be more likely to find space on the run concept.
Similarly to the QB Iso play I showed earlier against Iowa State, the first fullback out of the backfield will bump outside of the box to block the outside linebacker on this play allowing the slot to climb straight vertically for the safety. The second fullback will attempt to kick out the defensive end on the Power play. If the end pinches down, as he does on this play, the fullback will “log” or pin him inside and the guard will pull around his block. The backside tight end will block the backside safety leaving the backside corner as the only unblocked defender. With no RPO element, the QB is better able to read and set up his blocks allowing him to crease through the second and third levels for a big gain.
QB Dart/QB Dart RPOs
Although Kansas State did not run their QB Dart play much, they did have good success with their RPO off of it when ran (3 plays, 50 yards, 1 touchdown).
The Dart or Tackle-Wrap play that KSU ran is pretty much Iso but with the backside tackle lead blocking on the playside linebacker instead of the fullback. Because the BST is pulling, they most frequently ran this play with a backside tight end to block the backside end. When running the QB, the offense will be able to account for 10 of the 11 defenders on the defense with the 1 unblocked defender being the ball-carriers counterpart. By using a trips closed formation in the following clip, the offense is able to leave the backside corner as the only unblocked defender, similarly to the last QB Power play I showed. The running back on this play provides a lead blocker for the QB and helps to make sure there is no defender in his face if he throws the ball. If no defender flashes through unexpectedly, the running back will block the first defender outside of the box. The #1 and #2 receivers will both run outside release verticals attempting to pull the corner and playside safety away from the #3 receiver. The #3 receiver, on his vertical route to the middle of the field, is the receiver the QB is reading on this concept. The offense is looking to run this play against any 2-high coverage in which either the backside safety or MIKE linebacker is responsible for #3 vertical. With the playside safety playing #2 vertical, either the MIKE or backside safety are placed in a run-pass conflict, depending upon the coverage. Between those 2 defenders, whoever that is responsible for #3 vertical also likely has run game responsibilities. In the following clip, the MIKE is likely responsible for carrying #3 vertically. He steps up as he sees the run action towards him creating a wide open throw to the end zone for the offense.
This time with the safety playing over the top of #3, it isn’t the greatest look to run the play against but the 3 receivers still help to pull 4 defenders away from the QB run. The blocking scheme likely would have looked cleaner if the PSG slid off on his double team for the backside linebacker rather than the playside linebacker but the running back was able to clean up the backside of the play allowing the QB run to still work.
QB Draw/QB Draw RPOs
Kansas State also had success with more traditionally ran RPOs such as stick-draw. They exclusively ran their stick-draw concept off of either QB Lead Draw or QB Draw from empty.
The thinking behind this play is similar to the other RPOs I have discussed in this article: use 1 route to place a defender in a run/pass conflict while the QB looks simply to see if he is open or not to determine if he throws the ball or keeps it. It takes at least 3 defenders to fully cover the stick concept, so the offense will have numbers in the box to run the Lead Draw play if the stick concept is taken away (unless the defense plays cover 0). The one difference between this concept and the other RPOs is that there is a second route that is also a possibility to get the ball. If the QB sees pre-snap that there is no defender to take away the out, then he can throw the out after quickly confirming his pre-snap thought. Otherwise, he will just read stick to run. With a defender lined up over #2, the QB gets off of the out route pre-snap and looks solely to the stick. With the safety over #3 playing at depth and the linebacker not expanding fully to #3, the QB will throw the stick giving the offense an easy 5-7 yard completion with run after catch potential.
In the following clip, there is no defender lined up over #2. The QB also knows that the corner will likely be running with #1’s vertical because there is no one else in position to play #1 vertical meaning there is good space for the out route. Given this pre-snap look, the QB will look to the out to quickly confirm his pre-snap thought process before throwing him the ball.
On this play, the QB knows that both the out and stick will likely not be there based on the pre-snap look. He will still look at the stick though to confirm this, and this action also helps to freeze the safety leaving the offense with favorable numbers in the box. The left guard slides off to pick up 1 blitzing linebacker while the running back picks up the other leaving an open lane up the middle to the end zone for the QB.
Although they only did so once, Kansas State could also run the QB with their pin and pull sweep play, a blocking scheme that they commonly used, just not much in their QB run game.
The tight end will down block the playside end allowing for the pullers and ball-carrier to get the edge. This is the key block on this concept, a good down block by the tight end will likely lead to a good play and vice-versa. With a 3-technique on the playside, the PST will also down block and the PSG and C will pull. If the offense were to run this play towards a 1-technique, the PSG would down block and the PST and C would pull. The backside of the line reaches and tries to cut off backside pursuit as they would on the backside of outside zone. Ideally, the first puller (PSG) would block the safety against this look and the second puller (C) would block the playside linebacker. The flash fake away from the play is designed to help the BST cut-off the backside linebacker. On this particular play, both linebackers read the pullers and are not influenced at all by the flash fake away. Because of this, the 2 pullers will take on these 2 linebackers leaving the playside safety unblocked, but the offense is still in great shape because of how much movement they got out of their 2 playside down blocks. The playside receiver just runs off the corner instead of blocking him because of it being man coverage.
Kansas State runs one of the most creative plays I have ever seen in their QB screen. Although this may not necessarily be correctly categorized as a running play (I guess it would show up on the stat sheet as a running play), it was too good to not include in this article. This play is essentially a slip screen, but the QB runs the ball instead of throwing it to a back. All receivers will just run verticals attempting to pull as much coverage as they can. The offensive line will block it just like their slip screen, with the only exception being the playside tackle. The PST will attempt to “over-set” the defensive end inviting him to the inside, this will allow the offense to gain the edge more easily. If the PST is not able to set the end to the inside, the running back will help on the end to still allow the QB to get the edge. The QB will pump fake and roll out behind his blockers just as the interior offensive lineman throw the interior defensive lineman up the field.
Here are a few examples of Kansas State running this play. Both times, the PST is successful in setting the playside end inside, so the running back just becomes an extra lead blocker for the QB. Both times, the offense is able to get the QB in open space behind 4 lead blockers. Even though none of the 3 lineman out in front touch anyone on both plays, they still both worked for positive gains. One of the advantages of this play versus a traditional slip screen is that there is a lower chance of the defense “sniffing-out” the screen. Usually when the defense recognizes a slip screen, it is because they recognize the back’s path and are able to take away any throwing window to the back. Well, on this play, there is no throw involved so the defense will likely only be able to recognize the screen once the lineman release.